Student-Entrepreneur from Wisconsin Named 2018 Thiel Fellow
A student-entrepreneur from Oregon, WI, who runs a medical supplies company based in the Twin Cities, where she’s attended college the past two years, will receive $100,000 to take a leave from her studies and continue building the business following her selection as a 2018 Thiel Fellow.
The Thiel Fellowship program, named for PayPal co-founder and Silicon Valley icon Peter Thiel, recently announced that Meghan Sharkus and 19 other young entrepreneurs were part of its latest class of Thiel Fellows. The Thiel Fellowship program gives funding—as well as mentorship from a network of founders and inventors—to students who drop out of school to pursue their entrepreneurial ambitions.
Sharkus, 20, is the founder and CEO of ExpressionMed. The startup develops and sells medical tape designed to comfortably hold in place electronic devices, such as the continuous blood glucose monitors many people with diabetes wear around the clock. ExpressionMed is based in St. Paul, MN; the city is also home to the University of St. Thomas, where Sharkus recently finished her sophomore year.
Sharkus says she plans to remain in the Twin Cities for at least one more year but has put her studies on hold, for now. Entrepreneurs who are selected as Thiel Fellows are prohibited from being enrolled as full-time students for two years, she says.
“I filed an appeal, so if I do end up coming back, my scholarship still stands,” Sharkus says. “A large percentage of the Thiel Fellows do not go back to school. The ideal plan would be to completely drop out due to this fellowship.”
ExpressionMed’s flagship product is a flat, round adhesive with a rectangular hole in the middle. The adhesive is designed to fit snugly over popular glucose monitors—also known as sensors—that people with diabetes fasten to their bodies. Compatible sensors include ones manufactured by Dexcom (NASDAQ: DXCM) and Medtronic’s (NYSE: MDT) Enlite devices, Sharkus says.
Many varieties of glucose monitors, which can be worn on the arm or stomach, can last for up to six weeks, Sharkus says. However, she says that according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average diabetic wears a monitor for about a day and a half before the adhesive fails.
It can be cumbersome having to apply additional tape or glue every few days to keep a monitor in place, Sharkus says. Given that a monitor typically costs between $60 and $200, getting more life out of each one can help diabetics and their families save money, she says.
ExpressionMed also makes adhesives for other wearable medical equipment, including infusion sets—the tubing that connects an insulin pump delivery device to the patient’s body.
Sharkus, who does not have diabetes, says she got the idea to develop a new type of medical tape in 2015, when she was still a student at Oregon High School in Wisconsin. The first product she developed was an adhesive designed to help a friend keep her infusion set in place.
Mothers of children with diabetes began to take notice, and urged Sharkus in Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) posts and messages to create tape that could do a better job fastening a glucose monitor to the body than the products that were on the market at the time.
“I created [Facebook] pages and groups in which I would send them handmade samples,” she says. “I continued to do that for about two months, until I could afford continuous glucose monitor inventory. That tape became really important to our sales and our impact.”
The startup’s revenues in 2017 were a little over $60,000, she says, and ExpressionMed projects that figure will climb to more than $200,000 this year.
The company had also received about $105,000 in grant funding—largely from its success in pitch competitions—prior to Sharkus being named a Thiel Fellow. She says she’s the sole owner of ExpressionMed.
Earlier this year, it graduated from gBETA Medtech, a seven-week entrepreneurial training program held in the Twin Cities. The program, which does not provide participating companies with cash or take equity stakes in them, is organized by the Wisconsin-based startup accelerator Gener8tor.
“Working with Meghan during the program was always high-energy—you don’t need a midday coffee if you’re meeting with the ExpressionMed team,” says Adam Choe, director of gBETA Medtech. “The Thiel Fellowship will allow ExpressionMed to have the full attention of Meghan and based on the seven weeks we got to spend [together], we know there are big milestones on the horizon.”