UC Berkeley alumnus’s startup develops mechanism to treat urinary blockage

Idan Geva/Courtesy

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Editor’s note: This is one of The Daily Californian’s two articles written for Impact Journalism Day. You can access more articles from other student publications here.

Butterfly Medical, a social impact startup, has developed a device to treat urinary blockage from noncancerous enlargement of the prostate.

The company won a prize reward of $15,000 last April in a competition led by LAUNCH, UC Berkeley’s leading startup accelerator, to develop the minimally invasive device — an alternative treatment to traditional benign prostatic hyperplasia, or BPH, a noncancerous enlargement of the prostate. The device’s design fits the specific shape of the prostate and dilates the prostate by retracting its lateral lobes, restricting the flow of urine.

The device resembles a butterfly, the inspiration for the company’s name.

As men age, their prostates grow, which can restrict the flow of urine and cause them to make multiple trips to the bathroom per night, according to Idan Geva, CEO of Butterfly Medical and former UC Berkeley graduate student in the Haas School of Business.  

“It is considered the most prevalent disease in aging men,” Geva said. “It’s affecting tens of millions of men around the world.”

Butterfly Medical’s device is made up of a unique metal with shape memory called Nitinol and is placed in the prostate, pushing aside the restrictive tissue and allowing urine to freely flow out, according to Geva. Additionally, the device can be quickly obtained and used, offering patients instantaneous relief.

Geva added that the procedure takes no more than 10 minutes and that afterward, the patient is symptom-free.

“That’s the big innovation,” Geva said.

LAUNCH’s intensive three-month accelerated program is open to the entire UC system and aims to propel prototype-ready businesses into their next stage of growth. In the fall, LAUNCH judges choose 20 to 25 of the most impressive startups in the UC system.

At the end of the three-month program in late April, Butterfly Medical and its competitors participated in Demo Day, which included a startup showcase expo, final pitches to judges and an audience of more than 300 people.

Geva said he started working with Butterfly Medical in the early stages of the company’s development. The LAUNCH accelerator program brought “friendly eyes” to observe and advise Butterfly Medical, he said, while also allowing the company to win some money.  

“LAUNCH brought things to the front of the stage and helped me shape my perception on how I’m going to market my product,” Geva said.  

Helpful Village — an online platform that creates communities of senior citizens called “villages,” through which members can assist and advise one another — was among the 19 teams picked to participate in Demo Day last spring.

Manuel Acevedo, founder of Helpful Village, said LAUNCH “gets you out of your safe zone” and also serves as a way for a company to address its weaknesses.

During the accelerator program, LAUNCH also provides startups with entrepreneur mentors who lead teams through a “rigorous curriculum” by UC Berkeley faculty, according to the LAUNCH website.

Cathy Schwallie Farmer said she was matched specifically to advise Butterfly Medical because of her experience with information technology and health. She served Geva by providing instructions, offering helpful suggestions and introducing him to large medical organizations, such as Kaiser Permanente.

“I was … (Geva’s) creative bouncing board,” Farmer said.  

According to Farmer, the LAUNCH program requires startup founders to interview 100 customers.

“That is not trivial, and it is profoundly valuable for any entrepreneur,” Farmer said.

Farmer added that she has family members with prostate cancer, piquing her interest in helping Butterfly Medical succeed.

Robert Moore, co-chair of LAUNCH, said Haas will hold its next Demo Day on April 27.

Contact Ahna Straube at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @akstraube.