Entrepreneur Profile: Anthony Esplin
Sleep Easy Technology
Anthony Esplin originates from the Western United States. This Idaho native completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Utah and received his Bachelor of Engineering degree in Biomedical/Medical Engineering. After completing his studies, Anthony was one of a few undergraduate students chosen by GE Healthcare to take part in the Edison Engineering Development Program (EEDP), a rotational program which allowed him to gain valuable experience in Research and Development of Medical products. The sector that Anthony participated in was acquired, at which point he was offered a full-time Research and Development job at GE Life Sciences. During his time at GE, Anthony developed a car seat pad that cooled kids in hot climates. His idea gained enough traction that he was able to go to China to get quotes on what it would cost to get initial prototypes made. However, the cost was too much for him and his business partner at the time, ultimately leading to the idea being shelved.
Developing Sleep Easy
During Anthony’s time at GE, his neighbor approached him about another problem. The neighbor’s son needed to use a nasal cannula to deliver supplemental oxygen while he slept, but refused because it made him so uncomfortable. This inspired Anthony to create the initial version of his Sleep Easy Pillow. Sleep Easy is a supplemental oxygen pillow which gives individuals who need to use nasal cannulas a comfortable alternative. Although this is not a replacement for those with obstructive sleep apnea, where the throat closes, it is a useful alternative to the 1.5 million other people with non-obstructive sleep apnea. Of these 1.5 million people, there is a 50 percent non-compliance rate in terms of not using their nasal cannulas. Additionally, it is estimated that there are millions of other individuals all across the United States that should be using nasal cannulas, but don’t because of the negative connotation associated with the devices.
Journey to Entrepreneurship in South Bend
Anthony’s development of this idea coincided closely with the ESTEEM graduate program at the University of Notre Dame recruiting him to participate in their 11-month long program. When asked if he would be an entrepreneur if he didn’t participate in ESTEEM, Anthony said, “I always had the itch when it came to entrepreneurship” but “the ESTEEM graduate program was great because it teaches science people business and gave me that extra push.”
Because of his experience in ESTEEM, Anthony was able to develop a great network, not only within the University of Notre Dame, but the wider South Bend community as well. Through his participation in ESTEEM, Anthony was able to develop a relationship with Elevate Ventures, Startup South Bend – Elkhart, and the IDEA Center, all of which inspired him to stay in South Bend after his completion of the ESTEEM program in 2021. Anthony reflected on a conversation he had with his wife about where they were going to live, saying, “We have people here that are familiar with Sleep Easy and want to support us, if we go back, I would have to start from ground zero.”
Perfecting Sleep Easy
After coming to his decision to stay in South Bend, Anthony started to work full-time on Sleep Easy. One of the first steps in the development process was getting in contact with end users. In order to do this, Anthony had to reach out to local medical services providers and ran into an unforeseen roadblock. He still had a number with a west coast area code and had service providers screening his calls because they thought it was spam. He quickly resolved that by getting a number with a South Bend area code and was able to navigate through the red tape with all of the different privacy aspects of medical care, allowing him to get his foot in the door. He was then able to develop relationships with companies that deal with sleep and oxygen therapy and developed a product with which he was able to conduct studies.
From his studies, Anthony came into contact with a veteran, who explained that the nasal canula impacted his self-identity, and added “I actually get less sleep with it, than I do without it.” After trying the product, this individual gave absolutely glowing reviews and has been anxiously anticipating the commercial availability of this product. Moreover, out of the studies, Anthony was able to identify and fix some flaws in his product, leading to a 95 percent confidence that there is no difference in maintaining oxygen levels with his product in comparison with nasal cannulas. From there, Anthony was able to raise over $300 thousand for the development of his product, spending just over $250 thousand – extremely low compared to other medical device startups – to get where he is today.
Anthony anticipates his product being commercially available by the end of March, which coincidentally lines up with a medical devices conference that will be occurring in Dallas. Here, Anthony anticipates securing multiple new investments in his company and optimistically hopes for some acquisition offers.
Hardships and Advice
Although things are very promising for Anthony and Sleep Easy, it was not without some hardship and learning curves. First, Anthony is very family-oriented, as evidenced by him and his brother, Aaron, being the only two employees within Sleep Easy. Additionally, Anthony is the father of a 6-year-old son and a 5-month-old daughter. Reflecting on this, Anthony noted how time consuming being an entrepreneur is, and stressed the importance of finding a good work and personal life balance.
“My family is always going to be my number one priority, which can be difficult sometimes, given that my startup is how I provide for my family,” he said.
He then went on to stress the importance of having someone in your corner that can act as a sort of “business therapist” and further stressed the importance of developing relationships, like the ones he has developed with James Ruprit, Nick Kuhn, and the IDEA Center. A piece of advice he would like to impart on others thinking about taking the entrepreneurial leap of faith is to not undervalue yourself when it comes time to think about compensation, and not to be naïve in your relationship developments. Anthony explained that assistance from local non-profits are plentiful and trustworthy but stressed that “if someone is really going to help you, get that in writing” because it is better to be safe than sorry in your other business dealings.
To learn more about Sleep Easy and how the product works, visit his website.
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