Up & Running with Greg Sommer, from Silicon Valley to Medical Alley and the Future of Healthcare

Greg Sommer is a PhD-level engineer, entrepreneur, and executive in consumer healthcare and clinical diagnostics. In 2012, Dr. Sommer co-founded Sandstone Diagnostics, a Bay Area diagnostic and digital health company developing sophisticated connected wellness products that allow consumers to measure, monitor, and improve key health markers at home. Sandstone’s Trak® Male Fertility Testing System allows men to measure, track, and improve sperm count at home to boost a couple’s chances of conception.

Dr. Sommer was recognized as a 2015 Bay Area “40 Under 40” by Diablo Magazine and has won numerous entrepreneurial competitions including the 2016 Molecular Med Tri-Con Swimming with the Sharks Competition, the 2015 UPS X-Port Challenge, and the 2013 Sierra Nevada Innovation Challenge. Sandstone was also named a 2014 “Most Innovative Life Science Company” by the San Francisco Business Times.

A North Dakota native, Dr. Sommer received his PhD and MS in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Michigan, and BS from Iowa State University.

Will the future of healthcare be most significantly defined by reining in costs or accelerating outcomes?

Reining in costs will make the biggest impact. Lowering costs is the best way to improve access to care, which will lead to better outcomes. Costs will come down as the healthcare system continues to shift from being less reactive to more proactive: Assessing and investing a little in one’s health early can greatly reduce costs and improve outcomes down the road. We see this already in the male fertility space: Men who take steps to improve their reproductive health while they’re young and trying to conceive have a lower risk of developing chronic disease later in life.   

What is the definition of value in healthcare today and what should it be?

The definition of value today depends on the stakeholder. Thankfully most entrepreneurs and innovators today focus on value for consumers, who are increasingly demanding more from the healthcare system. With increasing competition and transparency, solutions will likely fail if they’re not providing value to the consumer.

What’s the biggest “blind spot” in healthcare today?

The healthcare system is still trying to figure out how to incentivize healthy, proactive behaviors rather than reactively treating conditions. Employers are starting to do this well; employer data increasingly shows that incentivized wellness programs are both improving employees’ health and reducing the employers’ overall health spend. Expanding that mindset more broadly across healthcare will make a big impact in overall cost-reduction.

What’s your company’s or sector’s biggest “blind spot?”

Infertility is still viewed as a female problem, even though nearly half of all cases of infertility are attributed to men and sperm counts are plummeting worldwide. The stigma’s that surround male infertility prevent a lot of couples from properly assessing and managing their ability to get pregnant. At Sandstone, we’re working hard to change that with our Trak Male Fertility Testing System ­­– a device that allows men to conveniently assess and improve their fertility at home, early on in a couple’s fertility journey.

Why is a presence in Minnesota, known as the Medical Alley, critical to your company?

I’m a “Silicon Valley-to-Medical Alley” transplant and can attest to the very real advantages for medical device startups here in Minnesota. The proximity to major strategic healthcare and device partners is of course unmatched, but the quality of life, cost of living, outstanding schools, outdoor activities, kind neighbors, craft beer scene, etc. are what really make Minnesota a one-of-a-kind place to live and grow a new business. 

What is the one thing, other than time or money, you wish you had more of?

Men’s health advocates. Overall, men are pretty bad when it comes to taking care of themselves, and we’re especially lousy when it comes to talking about fertility. I think men’s health has a communication problem and would greatly benefit from more outspoken advocates who can inspire healthier habits and mindsets in young guys. That, and sleep. Between running a startup and raising three little girls, I definitely wish I had more sleep.

About Sandstone Diagnostics

Sandstone Diagnostics’ mission is to make high quality medical testing ubiquitous by bringing powerful, portable CentriFluidic™ Technology to the point of care. Sandstone’s lead product — the Trak® Male Fertility Testing System — is a direct-to-consumer, FDA-cleared device that helps men assess, manage, and improve their reproductive health at home. We are a team of scientists, developers, health, and business professionals. But most importantly we are fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, and friends who care deeply about improving consumer access to medical testing and health information. For more information, visit sandstonedx.com and trakfertility.com.

Up & Running is an interview series with Medical Alley’s early stage leaders on what they see as the future of healthcare and why their company is well-positioned to be part of it. Medical Alley Association’s membership includes leaders in healthcare delivery, payment, technology, and policy, which gives us – and in turn, you – access to diverse perspectives on how healthcare is changing and what lies ahead.

Medical Alley is the global epicenter of health innovation and care; Up & Running, is meant to share insights and spark discussion. If you have a perspective on the future of healthcare, feel free to share it by reaching out to Frank Jaskulke, Vice President of Intelligence at fjaskulke@medicalalley.org

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