Lonny Stormo was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in his mid-30s. He soon learned that managing his condition relied heavily on carefully monitoring his blood sugar readings with a blood glucose meter. But as an avid runner, Stormo craved an easier solution that would allow him to quickly check his blood sugar levels while he was out jogging.
Over the next 20 years, Stormo noticed that the technology for the meters he used had hardly changed. By 2015, he was still carrying around a black zip-up bag, and feeling increasingly irritated that the meter wouldn’t interface with his Apple computer.
That year, Stormo left Medtronic after 30 years and founded a startup he hoped would make managing diabetes easier for people like him. The premise of the startup, which he called POPS! Diabetes Care, was to take the principles of elegant consumer electronics design that had been inspired by Steve Jobs and apply them to the traditional blood glucose monitor.
Combining an iPhone case with a blood glucose meter
Working out of a garage, Stormo and his colleagues developed a monitor that’s slim enough to be used as an iPhone case. Packed within this thin device is an entire blood glucose monitoring system that integrates with a mobile phone app.
“In a nutshell, what we are trying to do with POPS! Diabetes Care is not create another medical device company, but create a consumer company,” Stormo says. “We don’t believe in the word ‘diabetic’ — we are people.”
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Unlike many other startups that have created diabetes apps, Stormo says he and his co-founders had the benefit of their work as high-level managers and executives at Medtronic and other major device companies that make FDA-approved blood glucose monitors.
“A lot of companies come up with apps, or they try to dress up the meter in one way or another,” Stormo says. His device, conversely, was designed from the ground-up with the user experience in mind. “One the the benefits coming from Medtronic, is [designing a new device] wasn’t something we tried to stay away from.”
Stormo spent years perfecting this consumer product – it needed to be as sleek and easy to use as an iPhone itself. To accomplish this goal, everything was packed into a space smaller than a deck of cards. The system was designed in such a way that there are never any exposed sharps, and the cover slides away to expose three integrated tests and low-profile lancet.
The device is also Bluetooth-enabled, so it automatically sends readings to a smartphone application. That mobile app data then generates coaching advice, and can be shared with family members or providers.
With a device that is a blood glucose monitor combined with an iPhone case, people with diabetes are more likely to test often, Stormo says. The app also provides insights and reminders to its users — all of which could serve to bolster testing rates and improve health.
Joining the T1D Exchange Diabetes Innovation Challenge
In 2016, POPS! Diabetes Care was chosen as a semi-finalist in the Diabetes Innovation Challenge, presented by T1D Exchange and M2D2, and supported by the American Diabetes Association and JDRF. That year, POPS! also won the American Diabetes Association’s Venture to Stop Diabetes Challenge.
Stormo says that competing in these challenges helped the small team at POPS! Diabetes Care to “clarify our message” and find better ways to describe the technology so that “people get it, and understand it.”
In 2018, POPS! Diabetes Care was named one of Pepperdine Graziadio Business School’s Most Fundable Companies. And once again, the company participated in the T1D Exchange Diabetes Innovation Challenge.
In December 2018, POPS! Diabetes Care landed a major regulatory victory when the FDA formally cleared its blood glucose monitoring system, called the POPS! One, for sale in the United States.
Pops! launches its first commercial project
Though the company is in the midst of its commercial launch, you still can’t buy POPS! One on Amazon. Stormo says he’s first focusing on developing relationships with employers and health plans, many of whom are looking for better and more modern diabetes management and care options for their covered members.
But one day he hopes to make the POPS! System accessible to anyone who might benefit from discreet and more frequent blood sugar monitoring.
Stormo describes how his creation has helped him. A few years ago, he was gearing up for the annual 5K race held each year at the American Diabetes Association Conference. Decked out in his running gear and armed with his cell phone, he decided to test his blood sugar levels while he was hanging out among the throng of people, all waiting for the race to start.
Within seconds, the app informed him that he should probably eat something. He dashed off to grab a quick snack, readily available on the sidelines of the race, and without missing a beat, hit the road will all the other runners.