Startup Spotlight: Gentoo
GH: What is Gentoo?
Greg: Gentoo is a company focused on improving the lives of people who undergo outpatient infusion treatments. I’m the CFO technically. Ben Nadeau is CEO. But with just the two of us we both do pretty much everything except file taxes.
GH: What was your Eureka moment: how did Gentoo get started?
Greg: Both Ben and I had loved ones who were undergoing outpatient infusion chemo and witnessed them struggle. For people who were already battling a life threatening illness to be impacted by such a poor treatment set up was unacceptable to us. We knew we had to find a better way for them.
GH: How did you build your team?
Greg: Gentoo grew out of Wentworth Institute of Technology’s Accelerate Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center. One of the only requirements for a team is that you’re interdisciplinary (members are part of different majors). Ben and I were both RA’s in the same building; I majored in Industrial Design and Ben in Electro-mechanical Engineering. Despite our personality differences, we both grew up in entrepreneurial families so we shared a similar passion and work ethic.
GH: What is your company philosophy driving your company culture?
Greg: We say our product, the Gentoo Vest, allows a patient to “Never miss a moment.” With the current treatment setup, even simple day-to-day tasks are difficult, if not impossible for patients. Whether it’s doing laundry or going to work, the shoulder bag is either in the way and exposed to damage or out in the open for co-workers and strangers to stare and ask questions. The Gentoo Vest brings normalcy back to the patient’s life. Recently we had a gentleman ask for a vest because he couldn’t play with his daughter while undergoing treatment, the shoulder bag made it not only difficult but dangerous if the equipment was damaged and his chemo leaked. Honestly, playing with his daughter shouldn’t just be possible it should be a priority. The Gentoo Vest allowed him to do that.
GH: Startup life is full of failures and ‘make it work’ moments – can you identify how you bounced back from one of yours?
Greg: The very first prototype we created incorporated plastic cases. For over a year we spent countless hours refining these cases to get them water tight or more ergonomic. One day we just gave the entire set up to someone who had no idea what it was designed for and asked “What do you think?” The first words out of his mouth were, “These cases are kind of big.” What was a very obvious thing to him, we had been completely blind to. We immediately nixed the cases and worked to design a soft pocket. Talking to people early and often, getting feedback even from people unfamiliar with the project is crucial. Often you get so deep that it’s tough to see shortcomings. From that moment on we made external feedback more integral to the design process.
GH: What did you learn from your first users?
Greg: Given the nature of our product, people receiving infusions for diseases, we didn’t get anything on a patient till we were 100% comfortable with the design and quality of the product so our first users were ourselves and our friends and family. Ben and I would run simulated treatments for several days, recording the experiences, iterating, giving those to friends and family. By the time the Gentoo Vest got on patients the only change that patients asked for was the removal of our logo from the zipper pull because it would show through white shirts, otherwise they loved it. We were a little bit sad though because those zipper pulls had our Hugo the Penguin logo and were really cute.
GH: What has the Boston ecosystem provided you?
Greg: We were extremely fortunate to be finalists at MassChallenge in 2013. That was an incredible experience and we’re still working with our mentor Geoff Seyon. Monique Fuchs (founder of Accelerate wit.edu/accelerate) is insistent that teams get off campus and into the ecosystem as fast as possible so even early on we were attending events at Mass Innovation Nights and Greenhorn Connect. We’ve worked with Nancy Cremins of Gesmer Updegrove for the past couple of years and she’s by far one of our most valued connections.
GH: What is the Boston ecosystem lacking from your perspective?
Greg: Boston is flush with resources for entrepreneurs. It’s more about understanding who you’re working with before you get involved and making sure the fit is right for your needs and what the organization is offering. That being said, areas like the Seaport District which were once hubs for startups and entrepreneurs, now have some of the most talented and passionate people being priced out of the community. If the city isn’t careful it’s going to start alienating the very individuals it claims to embrace. Boston would benefit from more places like Fringe in Somerville. The work coming out of the companies in Fringe is incredible.
GH: What’s the best/worst piece of advice you were given along the way?
Greg: The best piece of advice, and I forget where I heard it originally but Google tells me it was Uri Levine (WAZE), “Fall in love with the problem, not the solution.” As far as the worst piece of advice goes, there are a population of people who’s only exposure to startups and entrepreneurship is watching Shark Tank and we always get told to go on there. Even if we were the right type of company for that show, it just seems like an awful idea to make a deal with one of the Sharks. Going on for the publicity is another story.
GH: What was the best thing that happened to you last year?
Greg: Ben got engaged and my girlfriend and I moved in together. Ben and I spent so much time alone working on Gentoo that it’s a wonder they put up with us for that long. Shout out to all the spouses of entrepreneurs! Thank you for the support! We love you! We also tested the vest with 22 patients and had unanimously positive feedback. Which was pretty awesome!
GH: What does the future hold for Gentoo
Greg: We finally have all the pieces of the puzzle in place. Product development was only halfthe battle in the medical space, a big part of it was figuring out marketing and distribution. While our patients were validating our design last year we nailed down manufacturing and distribution. If all goes well 2016 will see not only the Gentoo Vest making a huge impact on the market but hopefully the roll out of our second product.