Notre Dame entrepreneur helps patients ‘sleep easy’
A medical technology entrepreneur who is working with the University of Notre Dame IDEA Center is preparing for the commercial launch of a pillow that can improve oxygen flow for patients who struggle with emphysema and COPD. The Oxyllow System creates an oxygen-rich environment near a patient’s head. The device is intended to help people who require supplemental oxygen when they sleep, but struggle with wearing a nasal cannula, a medical device that consists of tubing and two prongs placed in the nostrils.
“Our product just creates that oxygen-rich environment. So as you lay your head on your pillow, it’s blowing the oxygen to your face,” explained Sleep Easy Technology founder and CEO Anthony Esplin in an interview with Business of Health reporter Kylie Veleta. “It builds up like an oxygen cloud in front of your face.”
He said the system creates and maintains oxygen levels for someone that would use a nasal cannula and is ideal for a side-sleeper. Esplin explained his technology is not a replacement for continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, which is used for people with obstructive sleep apnea.
“We do not forcibly put air oxygen down somebody’s throat to open up that airway,” said Esplin, who is a biomedical engineer by training.
Esplin says he developed the idea after talking to a neighbor in Utah whose son had Down Syndrome and sleep apnea. The child did not want to wear a nasal cannula while sleeping.
“So, I was inspired to build him a pillow that would solve this need,” said Esplin.
He earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Utah and worked in the industry for a short time. A friend noted Esplin’s entrepreneurial drive and urged him to apply for Notre Dame’s ESTEEM program to earn a master’s degree.
The name stands for engineering, science, technology, entrepreneurship and excellence. As Eplin puts it, the master’s program can “take science people and teach them business to start companies.”
“I started out as a very science person, like all about the nuts and bolts and how to build the thing. [But] I had no idea what it would take to actually market and build a company,” Esplin explained. “I was looking for more of a program that could help me and hold my hand in some sense of how to do this from step one to launching the product.”
Esplin says the company startup has received some seed funding. It has also secured manufacturers to produce some of the parts of the system, including one in Elkhart County.
Even as the company prepares for a commercial launch, Esplin says the Oxyllow System is just the beginning.
“We are fairly certain that this product is going to get bought up. And for us, this is just the beginning of being a serial entrepreneur. And we’ve got a handful of other medical device products that we want to develop and launch here in the future.”