By Catherine Lyons
Last March, William Kethman, a Tulane medical student, got on stage at New Orleans Entrepreneur Week in front of powerful venture capitalists and investors to pitch a life-saving product, SafeSnip. The device, which aims to prevent infant deaths by cutting and disinfecting the umbilical cord of a newborn in developing countries, garnered the most votes from the audience. Kethman and NOvate Medical Technologies (his company that created SafeSnip) won NOEW’s IdeaPitch competition, the pinnacle prize being a trip to San Francisco to meet with TPG and investment giant Jim Coulter.
NolaVie caught up with Kethman before his trip to the Silicon Valley this week to meet with investors and try to find funding for his budding business. We’ll bring you updates next week on his trip and what came of it.
NolaVie: What is SafeSnip, and how did you come to invent it?
WK: My father is an engineer; I was born in Louisiana, and grew up in Houston. I always wanted to be an engineer, so I studied biomedical engineering in undergrad before going to Tulane Medical School.
I have experience working with NASA to develop the next generation of the lunar rover – it was my first experience developing technology. I learned a lot about the process of concept to device, taking an idea and making it tangible.
Before med school, I developed a couple of assisted technology devices for quadraplegic and paraplegic individuals, and delivered it for my thesis. I like to try to solve problems and combine my knowledge.
SafeSnip came into being when someone from Tulane’s Public Health school came to the medical school and asked for help with developing a device to prevent babies from dying. She had an idea, and she wanted to put it into action. I volunteered to help, and we developed the solution we have today. Tulane patented it.
NolaVie: What have you been doing since winning the IdeaPitch Competition at New Orleans Entrepreneur Week in March?
WK: The biggest thing that we’ve done since March is we’ve worked with TPG (Jim Coulter’s company who participated in NOEW) and the New Orleans Bioinnovation Center to put together my final business plan to bring to the meetings in California this week.
The biggest thing I was concerned about was presenting to the investors. We had a solid presentation from the IdeaPitch competition, but we revised the business plan and went back over the numbers again.
NolaVie: What’s your schedule like in California?
WK: I left for San Francisco on Tuesday, and I have meetings all week. I’ll be meeting with TPG, and with at least 4 or 5 investors representing various venture capital firms. We are focusing our efforts on the Silicon Valley.
NolaVie: What do you hope to gain from these meetings? What is your goal for the week?
WK: I think what I hope to gain from these meetings is, since my business experience is very limited, and everything has been self-taught, I’m interested in being around like-minded people and learning a lot from them. My goal from NOEW is to try to find some funding interest and more importantly, we are looking for a management team. My hope is these investors and Jim– one question he asked me during NOEW is what are you going to be for the rest of your life? You want to be a doctor, and yet you’re going down this path. I hope I will find a lot of the answer to that question out there. My ultimate goal is to come back with more knowledge than when I left.
NolaVie: Why are you looking for a management team? How do you see that working out?
WK: I love solving problems and developing solutions and doing the technology side. One of the things I lack experience in is the business side. I want experts to be the ones running the company. I want to still be involved, but I respect the fact that there are people a lot more experienced than I am.