Anders Olmanson had known since he was an undergraduate that he wanted to be an entrepreneur.
So leaving a stable job he loved at Medtronic to spend nine months traveling the world and learn about health care issues in countries like China, India and Vietnam wasn't totally out of character.
"That was my big leap," Olmanson said. "I could see my path at Medtronic was, 'OK, in like, 10 years, maybe I can start to go after the problems I want to go after.' Whereas [after traveling,] I thought, 'I can do it now.' And that was that."
The biomedical engineer eventually became the CEO and founder of REMastered Sleep, a startup based in Eagan with a product that aims to relieve snoring and might help those with sleep apnea.
The product is a nozzle, technically a myofunctional therapy device, that helps strengthen facial muscles, mouth and tongue. Drinking through the nozzle — attached to a long straw — from a cup, glass, bottle or tumbler strengthens airway muscles and reduces snoring, Olmanson said. "Drink water to improve airway health for better sleep," as his website says. (Water is the suggested healthy beverage option, as the company hasn't tested the nozzle with other drinks.)
Some 93% of snorers who took part in a study reported improvement in their snoring after one month of using the company's REMplenish Myo Nozzle, Olmanson said. His company received a $293,000 federal Small Business Innovation Research grant that has helped pay for research and development, nozzle design and a clinical study with the Mayo Clinic — which should begin in June — to see whether the nozzle benefits patients with mild to moderate sleep apnea.
The patented, Minnesota-made nozzle — available with or without a REMastered water bottle — went on the market in late 2020 with sales primarily through health care professionals. Olmanson now looks to step up direct-to-consumer sales and projects this year's revenue will hit seven figures. The company has six employees.
Olmanson began thinking about ways to improve breathing and airway health after observing a patient with severe obstructive sleep apnea. That was during a clinical immersion he took part in while completing his master's degree in medical device innovation at the University of Minnesota.
Obstructive sleep apnea is a serious medical condition that occurs when the throat muscles intermittently relax and block the airway during sleep, causing breathing to stop and start repeatedly, according to the Mayo Clinic. Symptoms include loud snoring, while complications include daytime fatigue and cardiovascular problems.
The primary treatment for obstructive sleep apnea is using a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. Olmanson, however, pointed to studies showing at least 50% of patients stop CPAP use within a year while a significant share refuses to use the machine at all.
To come up with a different, more usable product, Olmanson drew inspiration from unlikely sources.
One was the didgeridoo, a wind instrument that originated in Australia. Olmanson cited a study from Switzerland that found people who played it 20 minutes daily for four months experienced reduced obstructive sleep apnea. The improvement might result from upper-airway muscle training, thanks to the circular breathing technique that produces the didgeridoo's continuous drone.
The "big, lightbulb moment" came when Olmanson noticed Comet, his springer spaniel, doing something she often does: chewing a Kong dog toy stuffed with peanut butter. His pet dog was exercising her mouth and tongue muscles without realizing it.
Olmanson pondered how he could induce people to do similar exercises without realizing it, making it more likely they would continue. He found the answer through observing an activity many people do multiple times every day: drink from a water bottle.
The key, Olmanson said, is drinking through his specially designed nozzle. It provides targeted resistance to the mouth and throat muscles to reduce the risk of vibration and collapsibility of the airway. A healthy airway can lead to better breathing, better sleep and reduced snoring.
When drinking with REMastered's nozzle, a user creates negative pressure with the tongue and draws in water. Don't do it right, and no water comes through the straw. Olmanson and his team went through hundreds of prototypes, producing some on 3-D printers, and sought feedback from speech therapists and myofunctional therapists.
For now, REMastered's nozzle has a wellness-device classification, Olmanson said. The company can only say it might reduce the risk of obstructive sleep apnea. While a lot of studies report myofunctional therapy can help obstructive sleep apnea, the product would need to earn approval as a medical device before the company could claim it treats the disorder.
Data from the Mayo Clinic study — set to complete in January — might help Olmanson decide whether to pursue that approval.
Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Lake Elmo. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.