Back in the mid-1980s, Richard Bonato read a National Geographic story on why we sleep. He was fascinated by the article and what researchers didn’t know about the subject, and thought there just might be a career in it for him.
He was right.
Today, Bonato is the CEO of a medical devices company that develops, manufactures and distributes home sleep monitoring products that are sold all over the world to test for sleep apnea, a serious condition that often goes undiagnosed.
Braebon Medical was created in 1998 with partner Don Bradley in the basement of Bradley’s Ottawa home.
Bradley was a software expert who had developed a powerful program called Sandman that eliminated the reams of paper required for monitoring hours of patients’ sleep. Bonato – who by then had been involved in sleep research for more than a decade at both Brock and Carleton universities – had also worked for one of the largest U.S. manufacturers of sleep monitoring products for sleep laboratories.
While convinced that home sleep testing was the way of the future, the two knew they had to generate revenue from the start. They began by selling high-quality sleep sensors they developed and manufactured themselves.
Sleep laboratories were impressed with their products, and within the first 30 days of business, Bonato and Bradley were making money. By the end of the first year, sales were $100,000. By the end of year two, sales had jumped to $250,000. They were on their way.
By 2003 they had expanded twice and were working on a home sleep testing product. In 2006 they released their MediByte monitor. At the time, it was the world’s smallest sleep monitor – measuring 2.5 x 2.25 x 0.75 inches (66 x 60 x 19 mm) and weighing in at just 3.2 ounces (91 g) – but it packed the quality of a sleep laboratory into a palm-sized device.
“Line-ups at hospital sleep labs were growing. In many cases they were months long,” says Bonato. “Our MediByte home monitor meant that people could get a diagnosis of sleep apnea much faster – and at about 10 per cent of the cost.”
With sleep apnea, which contributes to hypertension, stroke and heart attack – a growing problem in an aging population – Braebon’s timing was perfect. MediByte was a hit.
A few years later, Braebon released a smaller version, the MediByte Junior. It can do everything a laboratory sleep monitor can do and it’s so simple to use, Bonato’s nine-year old daughter was able to put it together in minutes without even consulting the instructions.
It, too, was a success. In fact, Queen’s University in Kingston deemed it a fantastic method of screening.
By this time Bonato and Bradley had started to expand into the dental sleep market.
“It was a natural progression,” says Bonato. “Dentists can provide their patients with appliances to stop sleep apnea but they need to confirm the diagnosis first and that’s where we come in.”
MediByte provides dentists with a baseline of a patient’s snoring and apnea and then checks the effectiveness of the appliance.
And because patient compliance is required by private insurance payers, Braebon has developed a new product called DentiTrac. It’s a micro-recorder that’s inserted into an appliance to monitor how long a patient wears it each day. Data from the recorder is stored internally and then uploaded to cloud-based (computer service) ‘virtual’ storage where it can be shared with the patient and the dentist as required.
DentiTrac is slated to launch by the end of the year in Canada and in mid-2012 in both Europe and the U.S. and Bonato sees a market for it down the road with orthodontists.
“How many parents are investing thousands of dollars in their kids’ orthodontics? With DentiTrac they’ll know whether or not their child is actually using the device the way it’s intended.”
The focus for Braebon in 2012 is sales, sales, sales.
“We’ve been successful, particularly in the U.S. market,” says Bonato. “We want to expand our export markets. We see tremendous potential for growth in Europe and Asia.”