The Fast & The Curious: Sinead Miller, founder & CEO of PATH EX

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Interested in reading our interviews with the other Fast & Curious honorees? Head over to the nominee hub to meet the rest of the Curious Six.

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“As we grew and improved our technology, we really needed to be in an accelerator ecosystem that provided three things: Mentors, key opinion leaders, and a robust lab space that we could use to further develop the technology. JLABS provides those things and more for us.”

It’s no secret that being an entrepreneur requires an appetite for risk. In 2019, PATH EX founder/CEO Sinead Miller learned the true meaning of that phrase, as she uprooted her comfortable life in Tennessee and moved her entire company to Texas to attend Johnson & Johnson’s JLABS accelerator.

Almost two years later, Sinead and her team have become a fixture of the prestigious program, building a complex Class 3 medical device that’s revolutionizing how human beings battle life-threatening infections.

Nominated by JLABS for this year’s Fast & Curious list, Sinead sat down with us to discuss risk-taking in entrepreneurship, the importance of choosing the right accelerator for your business, and the advice she’d give to other founders on a similar path to hers.

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First off, Sinead, congrats on the nomination!

Thank you so much! I’m honored that JLABs thought of me for it.

For those of us who don’t know, can you tell us what you and your team do at PATH EX?

PathEx is a medical device company. We’ve developed a breakthrough device for the treatment of sepsis, that rapidly captures and removes bacteria and other toxins directly from the bloodstream.

“There’s an equity part [to accelerators] that you have to consider. My background is in engineering, so it’s a little different being on the business side of raising money and things like that.

JLABS doesn’t take any equity. There are a lot of accelerators out there that do take equity, and in our view they still didn’t offer all the various resources that JLABS offers.”

How did you start the company, and why did you choose to apply for an accelerator?

I did my PhD at Vanderbilt, so we actually started the company in Nashville, Tennessee. We spun the technology right out of the university.

In those early days, we actually went through a great local accelerator in Memphis that was a short, three-month program. It was very different from JLABS, but it helped us tremendously toward starting up the company, making connections, and growing in those formative days of the business.

But as we kept growing and improving our technology, we really needed to be in an ecosystem that provided three things: Mentors, key opinion leaders, and a robust lab space that we could use to further develop the technology.

That’s how we ended up applying to JLABS. It’s an amazing facility unlike anything I’ve seen before outside of academia. If you go into JLABS, it feels like a high-end, state-of-the-art, academic research facility in a lab. You really can’t find anything like it anywhere else, and it was exactly what we needed at the time.

“Outside the lab, every company within JLABS has the opportunity to partner with a mentor, or what we call a “J-Pal.” This is a person from within Johnson & Johnson who’s higher up in the company, and specializes in the same area that your company’s focusing on. It’s been a huge help to us.”

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Did you shop around for different accelerators before choosing JLABS? If so, why did you choose JLABS specifically?

We definitely looked at other programs. We had a good idea of what we needed – lab space was obviously a big thing for us – but while lab space mattered, it was about way more than just that. We found that JLABS was extremely unique; it provides all different types of resources beyond lab space that are really important for growing companies like ours.

For example: Outside the lab, every company within JLABS has the opportunity to partner with a mentor, or what we call a “J-Pal.” This is a person from within Johnson & Johnson who’s higher up in the company, and specializes in the same area that your company’s focusing on.

Our J-Pal has decades of experience within the infectious disease space. That’s huge for us. He’s worked on technologies that are similar to ours, and can mentor us in a specific, highly personalized way along this road that we’re on right now.

And all of this is at no cost, by the way, which still blows my mind. It’s incredible that JLABS offers this to companies for free. That’s really uncommon and you won’t find it anywhere else. It’s been a huge help to us.

“We started the company in Nashville, and we made a lot of good connections in Tennessee. We were well-known there. We knew that wouldn’t be the case anymore if we made the jump to Houston.”

What are the key criteria you look for when choosing an accelerator?

For us, the big thing was variety of resources — not just networking, but “lunch and learn” sessions to learn about the mechanics of raising a round, personal relationships with mentors in our same space, things like that.

There’s also an equity part that you have to consider. My background is in engineering, so it’s a little different being on the business side of raising money and things like that. JLABS doesn’t take any equity — there are a lot of accelerators out there that do take equity, and in our view they still didn’t offer all the various resources that JLABS offers.

You risked a lot going into JLABS. What was at stake for you, and what were you nervous about?

(Laughs) Man, so many things.

The big risk for us was the fact that we had to relocate. I mean, we started the company in Nashville, and we made a lot of good connections in Tennessee. We were well-known there. Simply because there aren’t very many medical device startups in Nashville. We knew if we made the jump to Houston, that wouldn’t be the case anymore.

“What I really love about JLABS is that the day-to-day criteria is dependent on each individual company’s personal needs.”

So we had to really weigh the question: Is it worth it to go to JLABS, move the entire company to Texas, and leave our comfort zone in Tennessee? Did we want to risk moving into a bigger pond? There were a lot of unknowns. That was something we felt pretty nervous about.

In the end, we decided it was worth the risk, so we made the jump. Looking back, it’s definitely paid off — even more than we thought it would, honestly.

Right away, JLABS helped us connect to everyone we needed to know. They’ve made it really easy for us to get connected to clinicians within the hospitals in Houston, which is huge for us. We need key opinion leaders to help promote PATH EX, and our technology, and our goals. Things like that have been priceless for us.

“We decided it was worth the risk, so we made the jump. Looking back, it’s definitely paid off — even more than we thought it would, honestly.”

Was there anything that surprised you about JLABS, that you didn’t originally expect?

It was actually a good surprise — basically, we’re in the infectious disease space, right? We work with bacteria everyday. That’s what we do. I wasn’t really sure what to expect going into JLABS, but what I honestly didn’t expect was that there would be so many other companies in our same space, and that they would all be so insanely collaborative.

If you think about it, you’d assume other companies wouldn’t want to help you. We’re all fighting for the same investment dollars, after all. But that really isn’t the case at all, and that’s been a huge surprise. If I’m doing an experiment, and suddenly find out that I’m running low on certain chemicals I need, I can just ask the guys in the lab next door, and they’ll stop what they’re doing to help set me up for success, no questions asked.

Little things like that are huge when you’re building a startup. You need all the hands you can get; the benefit of accelerators is that they help you find lots of hands, often in places you don’t expect.

“Little things like that are huge when you’re building a startup. You need all the hands you can get; the benefit of accelerators is that they help you find lots of hands, often in places you don’t expect.”

You’ve been in JLABS since 2019. How long is the program, and what’s the day-to-day like?

The idea behind JLABS is that they help you grow to a certain point, but there’s no specific time horizon in place. Once your company gets to a certain size, you might start needing more lab space, more office space, and so on. At that point, you begin phasing out of JLABS and into your next stage.

What I really love about JLABS is that the day-to-day criteria is dependent on each individual company’s personal needs. For example, if your company is making a Class 1 medical device, it’s going to be really fast to market, and you might expect to not be in JLABS for a shorter time. For us, we have a Class 3 medical device — which means we have the most stringent regulations terms of the FDA.

This means we have to do a lot more testing and development. Our our timeline is much longer than you’d see for a Class 1 or Class 2 device. It’s going to take a more time for us to grow and complete all the testing we need. The great thing about JLABS is that they’re more concerned with helping you progress your company than holding you to a strict deadline.

“The great thing about JLABS is that they’re more concerned with helping you progress your company than holding you to a strict deadline.”

What advice would you give to other founders who are thinking of applying to accelerators?

On the application, it’s difficult to show everything that you want to show. For us, what we really wanted was to highlight not just the technology, but the huge and unexpected need for it.

In your accelerator application, be sure to speak to your goals for the specific program you’re applying to. How would your team and company benefit from that program? Why are you applying to that program above all others? And what are the milestones that you expect this accelerator to help your company hit?

Then, once you get into an accelerator, be very ready to take advantage of all the networking opportunities. Especially take advantage of the resources and learning opportunities your accelerator offers for free. Make it a point to to get involved.

Some people aren’t as comfortable doing those sort of things, but for us in JLABS, it I think it has really helped to branch out and network as much as we could within the program. All the other opportunities will inherently present themselves through that network — go the the panel discussions, and put yourself out there to meet one-on-one with those individuals. Focus on your learning.

“In your accelerator application, be sure to speak to your goals for the specific program you’re applying to. How would your team and company benefit from that program? Why are you applying to that program above all others? And what are the milestones that you expect this accelerator to help your company hit?”

Thanks for your time, Sinead, and congratulations on all your success with PATH EX!

Thanks so much for having me be a part of this. It’s been really cool to talk about the experience!

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