Swallow Solutions Gulps Down $700K to Develop Thickened Beverages

Xconomy Wisconsin — 

Swallow Solutions, a Madison, WI-based startup that develops therapeutic devices and other products for people with swallowing disorders, has raised more than $726,000 in new equity financing.

Seventeen investors participated in the funding round, according to an SEC filing. The company has raised nearly $4.9 million since launching in 2009, says Eric Horler, president and CEO of Swallow Solutions.

Horler says that his company plans to use most of the money raised in the latest funding round to continue developing thickened beverages for patients with dysphagia—a difficulty swallowing often caused by weak mouth and throat muscles—and other conditions. Each year, about 4 percent of U.S. adults experience swallowing problems, according to a 2014 study.

Swallow Solutions has been working to develop and commercialize thickened beverages for several years. However, the company has been best known for its SwallowStrong device. The system includes a custom-molded mouthpiece that’s placed on the roof of a patient’s mouth and has sensors to measure the strength of mouth and throat muscles. Sensor-captured measurements are routed to a mobile device and displayed in real time, so patients and their healthcare providers can monitor progress.

Horler says his company plans to continue renting out and selling SwallowStrong devices for patient use, and that the thickened beverages represent a separate business line.

“We did market research and discovered that there is a significant unmet need around thickened beverages,” he says. “There is not an option for a protein drink that is the right thickness, for someone with a swallowing disorder, that is also refreshing.” (Thickening a drink can make it easier to swallow without going down the wrong pipe.)

Swallow Solutions’ beverages would be available for over-the-counter purchase, Horler says, rather than ordered for patients through a prescription. He says his company is still deciding how it would market and distribute the drinks. Most producers of thickened beverages for dysphagia patients sell through large food distributors such as Sysco (NYSE: SYY) and US Foods (NYSE: USFD). Swallow Solutions could elect to go a similar route, or work directly with retailers like Walgreens to put the beverages on store shelves, Horler says.

The startup plans to produce large quantities of beverages by the end of the year “for the purposes of a test market evaluation,” Horler says. If that goes as planned, Swallow Solutions would begin selling its drinks in the first half of 2018, he says.

JoAnne Robbins, the company’s founder and a professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, helped develop some of the standards used to diagnose dysphagia and other swallowing disorders, Horler says. Typically, diagnosing a patient involves not only determining whether he or she has dysphagia, but also assessing the severity of the condition. One way of doing this is by having the patient drink liquids of different thicknesses, Horler says. The idea behind Swallow Solutions’ beverages is to match the flow properties of diagnostic fluids so that drinks given to patients are safe for them to consume.

Horler declined to say what his company’s revenues were in 2016 or share projections for the current year. However, he did say that Swallow Solutions has not yet reached profitability. The company hopes to change that with the launch of its thickened beverages business.

“We think that getting these beverages over the finish line is what’s going to drive this company toward profitability and growth,” Horler says.