an Interview with Eline Vrijland-van Beest, CEO of nightbalance

Five lessons learned by experience as a CEO of NightBalance

Sleep apnoea is a growing problem that impacts millions of people across the world. 56% of apnoea patients have Positional Obstructive Sleep Apnoea Syndrome (POSAS), for whom changing their sleeping position can be very effective. Eline Vrijland-van Beest gratuated at the Delft University of Technology on a new device to provide positional therapy effectively and comfortably for these patients.

With this strong motivation, Eline Vrijland-van Beest founded NightBalance together with Thijs van Oorschot and developed the Sleep Position Trainer (SPT). This innovative sensor system is designed as a comfortable and easy to use treatment alternative for people who suffer from positional obstructive sleep apnoea. The SPT gently prompts them not to sleep on their back, avoiding the apneas from occurring during sleep and thereby improving their sleep and quality of life.

Eline Vrijland-van Beest, CEO of NightBalance: "We brought the SPT to the market in select European countries. Philips strength in connected sleep therapy solutions and global reach will accelerate the accessibility of the Sleep Position Trainer."

In May 2018, Philips announced the acquisition of NightBalance and expanded its sleep and respiratory care portfolio with the SPT. A big step towards entering the global market for NightBalance, according to Vrijland-van Beest. "We brought the SPT to the market in select European countries. Philips strength in connected sleep therapy solutions and global reach will accelerate the accessibility of the Sleep Position Trainer."

Vrijland-van Beest is pleased to share her lessons learned about her business plan and getting investors on board:

  1. Talk to your potential customers
    Perform a thorough market analysis when you write your business plan and talk to as many customers as possible. A good medtech device all starts with a valuable solution to a true medical problem. Understanding the problem and what exactly makes your solution valuable is crucial to building a strong plan. “I started out with a device for back pain. By talking to doctors however, I understood that I was solving a much bigger problem for sleep apnea”, Vrijland-van Beest says.

  2. Stress test your business plan
    "To gather knowledge and feedback for our business plan, we participated in several programmes and competitions”, Vrijland-van Beest shares. Although it is important to focus on your business, participating in such programmes allows you to sharpen your business plan and avoid costly and time-consuming mistakes. On top of that, it also brings your startup to the attention of possible investors. NightBalance won the Venture Challenge of LS@W in 2010.

  3. Look further than just the financial terms in selecting your investor
    Don’t focus solely on the financial aspects when you close a deal with an investor; also consider your personal match and their knowledge in the field of your company. By accepting an investment, you enter a long-term relationship with that investor. During that period your business will encounter ups and downs and you will need investors that stick with you. Also, it is very favourable if they have substantial knowledge and network that your company can build on. “I always had a chat with a couple of portfolio companies to understand both elements when selecting the right investors”, Vrijland-van Beest shares.

  4. Be proactive in your contact with investors
    “I always made it a point to follow up with a fast and thoroughly respond to questions from possible investors. And I also shared those reports with other investors I was in contact with. This has two effects: (1) the investor knows you are also in contact with other investors, and (2) everyone has access to the same level of information.”

  5. Discuss with health insurers which trials are necessary for reimbursement
    “We made many mistakes in setting up the right clinical trial”. For medical devices Vrijland-van Beest advises to start with a small clinical trial to narrow down the right patients for your study and better understand how an optimal study protocol would look like. Also consider talking to insurance companies, to understand what their clinical requirements for reimbursement would be before starting your trial. That way you can include their requests in your study protocol and improve your chances for reimbursement.

Eline Vrijland-van Beest and her team won the Venture Challenge Fall 2010.