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SA hardware tech incubator Savant invests over R9m in medtech startup SmartBlade

Savant fund manager Nick Allen

SA hardware tech incubator Savant has invested R9.5-million in Cape Town based medtech startup SmartBlade.

Savant venture fund manager Nick Allen (pictured above) — who was earlier this year succeeded as CEO by Francois Malan — revealed today in a phone call with Ventureburn that the deal, which Savant made via its venture fund, was signed earlier this week.

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The deal marks the fund’s first investment since it announced its first close of R110-million in February (see this story). Savant’s venture fund invests in hardware tech businesses with products that are ready for market.

SmartBlade has developed a device, which consists of a smartphone app that is linked to a video laryngoscope, that enables single operators of varied skill levels to intubate difficult airways.

The investment in SmartBlade is the first by Savant’s venture fund which earlier this year announced its first close of R110-million

The startup was founded in 2016 by husband and wife duo Nick Nevin (who serves as managing director) and specialist anaesthesiologist Dr Caroline Corbett.

Allen said the funding will allow the pre-revenue startup to acquire moulds to manufacture its device and to attain certification, which he said includes US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) registration.

The investment, which Allen said is in the form of a convertible note, will see Savant take equity in SmartBlade at a later stage on future valuation.

“We want to end up with between 25% and 35% equity. Our goal is to incentivise growth and to ensure we incentivise follow on funding,” explained Allen.

Last year SmartBlade received R500 000 from the Small Enterprise Development Agency’s (Seda) Technology Transfer Fund.

In 2017 Dr Corbett won the WFSA-Fresenius Innovation Award, along with $25 000, for developing SmartBlade’s device (see this story).

The Cape Craft and Design Institute (CCDI) in 2017 shortlisted SmartBlade as one of seven startups that it would provide with seed funding of up to R500 000.

Nevin said the startup has begun independent mannequin trials with an international airway expert and that the results so far have “exceeded expectation”. He added that clinical trials will follow shortly.

He pointed out that both consumer and non-consumer markets are already requesting orders for the device.

“The consumer demand for the device has been overwhelming already and we look forward to both local, African and the broader international patients benefiting from this lifesaving and long awaited technology solution,” said Nevin.

SmartBlade, Nevin said, intends to manufacture its device locally. “As we scale, will see an exponential rise in job creation right the way through from our manufacturing site, to our sales and marketing divisions,” he explained.

Although he did not disclose just how much the device will cost, Nevin said the price point will be “very competitive and certainly affordable” to the individual clinician, or end user. This, he said will be “a first” for a device of this type in this market space.

“This technology will be the first in its space for long overdue market disruption,” he added.

Nevin said to date SmartBlade has raised around R2-million in funding. This, he explained, includes self-funding, prize money, angel investment, government seed funding through the Technology Innovation Agency and Seda.

“Our funding needs will escalate over the next two years in order to scale, meet consumer demands and in order to compete on an international scale. We will be raising further funds,” he added.

‘Proof of pudding’

Allen said the investment was “proof of pudding” of the incubator’s model. He said Savant is currently looking at backing five companies. He would not disclose the names of the companies but said the majority of  them are from the incubator.

Said Allen: “We are likely to do the next deal within the next month or two”.

Read moreSA SME Fund commits R110m to hardware tech incubator Savant
Read more: Hardware technology incubator Savant looking at setting up venture fund
Read more: SA incubator Savant in process of raising funding for 11 tech companies [Q&A]
Read more: State, private sector must partner to ride out Fourth Industrial Revolution – Zulu
Read more: CCDI to back seven innovative Cape projects in second round of seed fund

Editor’s note (7 June 2019): The article has been updated to include comments from SmartBlade co-founder and managing director Nick Nevin.

Featured image: Savant Fund manager Nick Allen 

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