By Fred Grier
Meet Shiv Shukla, a UC San Diego clinical researcher-turned-entrepreneur who aims to disrupt the chronic pain epidemic through his MedTech startup.
The start of his journey began at the grassroots level, working as a clinical researcher at the VA San Diego Healthcare System, UC San Diego. Shukla and his colleagues discovered a new treatment for chronic nerve pain, a major breakthrough in the challenging neurotic pain field. Together, the team obtained a patent with the University’s help and launched Theraflux Medical in 2013, which focused on pain management devices. Like many newborn startups, the co-founders failed to find a product-market-fit, forcing them to shut down operations later that year.
Despite early failure, Shukla was committed to finding a better solution for patients with chronic pain issues. He took a year off from graduate school, turned his apartment into a research lab, and began to build what is now known as NeuraLace Medical, a medical technology startup that provides non-invasive therapeutic solutions for patients with chronic nerve pain.
We chatted with Shukla, Co-Founder an d CEO of Neuralace Medical, about his experience being a UCSD entrepreneur and the journey to successfully launch his company.
Year Founded: 2016
Headcount: Two full-time employees and 15 consultants
Technology: Clinically approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), NeuraLace leverages its technology, Axon Neurostimulation, a magnetic stimulation device mounted on a robotic arm that creates targeted magnetic pulses to activate peripheral nerve factors to alleviate pain.
The Need: Roughly five million U.S. patients suffer from chronic nerve pain, also severely impacting the veteran population with a representation of at least 270,000. Shukla explained that he feels a sense of urgency to find new ways to reduce these disturbing numbers. “Currently we lose around 22 veterans a day from traumatic brain injury (TBI) and various pain-related conditions, our team wants to help significantly reduce this number in the upcoming years.”
Clinical Trials: Before the Axon Therapy can be utilized by medical professionals and pain specialists, NeuraLace has begun conducting clinical trials through collaborations with UC San Diego’s VA and Scripps Memorial hospitals. Shukla stated that these clinical trials would not have been possible without the financial support his startup received from winning San Diego’s biggest annual pitch competition. “In 2018, we won a total of $50,000 from the Quick Pitch competition, which helped fund our multi-site clinical trials.”
Competitive Landscape: Before NeuraLace entered the saturated pain solution industry, many pain patients used treatments from service providers including Ten Units and SmartRelief, which offer patches and simulator solutions leveraging electric current technology to relieve pain. Shukla shares how his company takes a unique approach from its competitors.
“Our technology uses a more natural mechanism; specifically our device activates A-beta nerves and blocks C-fiber activity. Our competitors only temporarily alleviate pain – once you remove their device, the pain comes back. NeuraLace customers won’t have to worry about that.”
Funding: In total, NeuraLace has raised $3.9 from seed rounds, pitch competitions, and through friends and family. In 2020, the startup will actively seek Series A funding and anticipates to close the funding round in July. Local venture capital partners include Mesa Verde Venture Partners, FusionX Ventures, Mooring Ventures, and Teal Ventures.
Cool Company: In 2019, NeuraLace joined CONNECT with San Diego Venture Group’s Cool Companies list, which includes 33 of the ‘coolest’ companies in San Diego, providing the startups access to exclusive investor meetings and events year-round. Shukla said being a SDVG ‘Cool Company’ helped boost his funding opportunities and investor network.
“It can be really difficult raising money from investors you don’t have a connection with. Being a cool company made that connection for us; the value there was huge.”Mentors: Entrepreneurship is a group effort, and it takes a tribe of mentors and advisors to successfully build a sustainable company. Shukla thanked everyone who helped him along the way. He specifically credited his first mentor, William J. Mazzei, an anesthesiologist and vice-chair of Technology Transfer at UC San Diego.
“There were multiple times where I asked him, ‘Is this crazy?’; he would always encourage me and believed this could be something that could help many pain specialists. If I didn’t have that level of support, I would’ve stopped immediately.”
Resources: Making use of every resource he could while he was working at UC San Diego, Shukla is grateful for the support he received from the university, “Being new to this field and not having my M.D., I had to lean on others to fully understand the pain and science side of things. I was really appreciative of Linda Sorkin and Tony Yaksh , experts at the pain level who took the field forward.”
In regards to the overall UCSD community, he added, “The doors were open all around. I was able to ask faculty ‘green or red flag?’ In that type of environment, you can go build an idea and that’s essentially what happened with Neuralace.”
What’s Next: Looking ahead, the team looks to generate positive cash flow entering the new year. When asked about the company’s future milestones, Shukla answered, “We’re preparing to scale globally to over 50 clinics and hospitals in the next few years. Our goal is to treat 20,000 patients a year, in addition, onboard 20 employees to further our mission.
Entrepreneurial Advice: When giving advice to new founders looking to build their own startup, Shukla said, “Get guidance from the right people. They should have relevant experience and multiple demonstrated successes”
“The worst thing entrepreneurs can do is to work in a silo and miss out on the proper guidance,” he added.
San Diego Tech Ecosystem: When asked whether San Diego has what it takes to foster a growing startup community, Shukla said, “San Diego is an incredible community. We have a lot of hardworking people who crush it when they have the right guidance. There are organizations like Connect, incubators, and accelerators whose job is to literally connect and support people.”
Tacos n’ Tech: San Diego is home to some of the best taco restaurants in Southern California. When asked what his go-to local taco spot is, Shukla picked Tocaya Organica. “It’s fresh and has a new twist on tacos; my favorite location is the one downtown.
Off the Clock: When Shukla is not busy working on his startup, you can find him either riding mountain bikes or out in the wilderness camping.
Editor’s Note: Welcome to Triton Tech, original series on UC San Diego created by Fresh Brewed Tech that showcases the innovative ideas born in the halls of academia that are making a great impact on our ecosystem and beyond.