Up & Running with Greg Sommer, Co-Founder of Sandstone Diagnostics

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 medical technology and tools company enabling lab testing anywhere, anytime by bringing the centrifuge to the patient.

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.

Give us your company’s elevator pitch.

Sandstone’s Torq™ Zero Delay Centrifuge System is enabling lab testing anywhere, anytime by bringing the centrifuge to the patient. The patent-pending Torq System includes a handheld, battery-powered centrifuge and single-use ZDiscs providing automated sample prep at the point of blood collection (instead of waiting until samples arrive at the lab), dramatically improving sample quality, stability, test sensitivity, and reliability.

What led you to found your company?

I founded Sandstone to make real world impacts in healthcare. Prior to Sandstone, I was a research scientist at Sandia National Labs leading a research group developing biodefense diagnostic devices. We built a platform technology based on centrifugation that was outperforming existing laboratory methods. Before long, my cofounders and I were bit by the entrepreneurship bug and decided to start Sandstone to turn our core technology into commercial products.

How do you balance leading a startup with your everyday life?

Leading a startup IS part of everyday life. The company requires tremendous effort and time (of course), but it’s very much a fulfilling, educational, and rewarding life experience. If you don’t enjoy your work, I think it’s going to negatively impact the other aspects of your life and vice-versa. I’m lucky to have a supportive and patient wife who shares the highs and lows of startup life with me, and together I think we do a pretty good job of keeping our family’s priorities in check. Most of my time outside of Sandstone is spent being a husband and dad to our three little girls, which is the MOST fulfilling, educational, and rewarding experience.

What’s one thing people get wrong about startup life?

A lot of people think investor meetings are like what you see on Shark Tank, where all of a sudden you find yourself in a room with five rich people, you give your one minute pitch, and in 10-12 minutes they decide whether or not to write you a check. The reality is that most business partnerships, including those with your investors, require a lot of time and effort; you really need to be committed to building long term relationships. 

What’s the best advice you received in your career? What’s the worst?

The best advice I’ve received came from one of our earliest angel investors, who told me that growing a startup is a contact sport. It’s too easy to get stuck behind your computer or phone – you need to be physically out there meeting people, making connections, observing your customers, etc. I’ve found the most successful people tend to be those who built relationships, selflessly make introductions, and enjoy connecting the dots to help others succeed. Making yourself an “active node” in the network tends to lead to good things for the entire ecosystem, including you.

The worst advice I’ve received is that you need to specialize your talents in one highly focused, narrow niche. I think it’s far more effective to have a broad skillset, and that learning new things in new fields will lead to a higher likelihood of success in the future. True innovations occur at the nexus of different disciplines and skills.

What do you enjoy most about the Medical Alley community?

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 next big milestone for your company?

We’re on the cusp of wrapping up our clinical trials and filing our next FDA 510(k) application for the Torq zero delay centrifuge system – a big milestone for Sandstone and the culmination of a lot of hard work from our team. This device is going to change laboratory medicine by ensuring the highest quality clinical samples collected anywhere, anytime. Centrifuges haven’t really evolved in over 100 years… until now. We believe our Torq System is a game changer for the diagnostics industry and can’t wait to get it out there and demonstrate its impact all across the healthcare spectrum.  

REGISTER: gBETA Medtech Pitch Night Spring 2020

APRIL 2, 2020 | FREE EVENT

gBETA Medtech is a free, seven-week accelerator that works with medical device, healthcare-related software, biotech and diagnostics startups for no fees and no equity. Each gBETA program is capped at five companies to ensure meaningful engagement with sponsors and other resources. Participants receive intensive and individualized coaching and access to gener8tor’s national network of mentors, customers, corporate partners, and investors. The program is designed to help startups gain early customer traction on their product or idea, and establish metrics that can make them competitive applicants for full-time, equity-based accelerators or seed investment.

gBETA Medtech’s Spring 2020 cohort kicked off on Feb. 13 with five startups who will be working over the next seven weeks with the gBETA team to meet mentors, gain customer traction, and pitch to investors. The cohort graduates on April 2 at a Pitch Night (“demo day”), where each company will deliver a five-minute pitch to an audience of mentors, investors and community members. There will be an opportunity before and after the presentations to mingle with the startup companies and other attendees.

gBETA Medtech is held once a year with five companies accepted per cohort to ensure a high level of individualized attention. Startups interested in applying should contact gBETA Medtech Director Jackie Mejia (jackie@gener8tor.com). For more information visit gBETAmedtech.com.

gBETA Medtech is a program of University Enterprise Laboratories and gener8tor, and is sponsored by Boston Scientific with additional support from Mayo Clinic, University of Minnesota and Medical Alley Association. UEL and gener8tor also receive support through a cooperative agreement with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), a component of the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response.

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