Usono: From ‘three dudes who just graduated’ to a medical devices company in one year

(Editor’s note: Eindhoven is becoming such a startup Mecca that it’s increasingly difficult to keep up. It’s important Dispatches does, because by our count, at least half of the teams at HighTechXL demo day included expats including Usono from Eindhoven, UVisio from Berlin and Crayonic from Slovakia. Of course, it’s not what happens in the accelerator that’s most crucial. It’s what happens afterward in the crucial period when startups become real companies. And as we always say, it’s not real till somebody writes about it.)

Good things come to those who hustle.

Last week, one of the promising Eindhoven-based startups Dispatches been following for a year reached a significant mile marker.

Usono signed with a distributor, Mermaid Medical Group in Stenløse, Denmark outside Copenhagen, said Victor Donker. Donker is COO, and his Usono team includes CEO Benjamin Tchang and CTO Jori Verbeek.

Since we first wrote about Donker, Tchang and Verbeek, they’ve done what many startups fail to do … taken an idea and turned it into a market-ready product. Now, they’re there, ready to distribute.

Mermaid will sell Usono’s Probefix ultrasound devices in the Netherlands, United Kingdom, the Nordics/Scandinavia and Iceland. The deal took shape during six hours of Skyping with Mermaid’s director, Donker said.

Next up are negotiations with a Belgian distributor as Usono moves into other European Union countries including Belgium, Spain, Italy, France and Germany now through 2018, he said.

This was the latest step toward making the year-old startup into a full-fledged early stage medical devices company.

Pretty amazing considering one year ago, Usono was, Donker notes, “three dudes who’d just graduated from university.”

It’s all about execution

Earlier this year Usono raised 176,000 euros via Leapfunder, with 33 people investing in Usono via the angel network that gives investors an equity option. (Their target raise was 150,000 euros.)

Usono received a CE mark for the ProbeFix and ProbeFix Dynamic during the last week of July.

While acquiring the CE marque, which verifies compliance with European health and safety rules, Donker and Tchang have contacted 54 hospitals in the Netherlands and have pre-sale pledges with 40 of them.

With a distributor, Donker projects sales will be 100-plus units as they ramp up.

Outside Europe, the United States and Indian markets are on Usono’s radar. “Then, it’s a matter of hundreds or thousands” of units, Donker said. “Once we figure out how to price it for hospitals … the question becomes, ‘How the hell do we know how much product we can sell in India?'”

Back story

Usono – which began as Medacc – is developing devices that allow clinicians to attach ultrasound scanners to patients rather than hold them. They are versatile enough to be used in conjunction with – and without interfering with – other monitoring technology. They are also adapting deep-muscle sonogram scanning to sports medicine and training.

The startup came out of the HighTechXL tech hardware accelerator in Eindhoven last February. They graduated to HighTechXL Plaza, a cluster of startups working out of Building 12 on High Tech Campus Eindhoven.

Five months later, Donker, Tchang and Verbeek are submerged in the minutiae of selecting vendors, stocking inventory and costing out the graphics on their product boxes. They’re also learning the arbitrage of business – how parts made in China might be less expensive, “but it’s nice to be able to drive around the corner and talk to (the supplier),” Donker said.

Tchang and Verbeek also are reaching out to potential clients. “They’re impressed when they find out we’re the inventors … the guys behind the product itself, not just a salesman,” Donker said.

But the company is about to pivot, with Tchang and and Verbeek focusing their full attention on new-product development while Donker hits the road. The goal is to release a game-changing product in two years.

A lot of things are about the change.

Process … and attention to detail

In a way, this is a typical Silicon Valley story … just transplanted to the Netherlands.

Donker, Tchang and Verbeek started up by diving into their passion Facebook-style, pretty much ignoring the fact they were on the verge of graduation, Donker said.”We started in a small room in the university. I talked to the secretary the other day, and she remembered we spent more time on Usono than on graduate projects.”

They only registered the company when they knew they had a concept, business plan and had acquired financial risks.

The team built relationships with doctors and hospitals, going to the hospitals with note pads and cameras asking, ” ‘Doctor, why do you do this, why do you do that?’ ” Victor said. “That’s how you have a specialized project … it’s something Jori and I learned during our studies. Combining this with Benjamin’s medical insights leads to great innovative power.

It’s not industrial design, it’s user-centered design, Donker said: “First the user, then the pricing and the business plan.”


Here’s how Usono has fallen into place:

• In spring, 2016, Usono was accepted into the 6-month HighTechXL accelerator.

• After they raised their initial 25,000 euros – 15,000 euros from HighTechXL, five government funds and their own pooled capital – they developed and tested prototypes.

• Hospitals started calling them inquiring about their technology: “That’s how you know you have something,” Donker said. After they signed six hospitals in a few weeks last year, the Usono team had to stop “because we said we can’t handle more hospitals,” Victor said.

• They’ve assembled an expat staff that includes a person from Brazil, one from Colombia, a guy from Syria and a woman from Bulgaria. “It’s the people – seven people who are making us go way faster,” Victor said. “If we can keep the structure and pace of how we did it, we can really make it grow in the next few months.

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Co-CEO of Dispatches Europe. A former military reporter, I'm a serial expat who has lived in France, Turkey, Germany and the Netherlands.

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