|Vital View Technologies, Inc.
|Co-Founder & CEO
|MBA Business Administration & Management
As a small child, Ray Fraser’s worst nightmare was that his older brother Hugh, who had been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at 13 months, would go to sleep and never wake up due to complications from low glucose levels known as hypoglycemia. His fear was so great that he’d wake up early, sneak into his brother’s bedroom, and stare at him to see if he were still breathing. If there was any doubt, Fraser would shake Hugh to see if he were alive.
Needless to say, the late-night concern was not appreciated. “He’d be really angry with me,” Fraser admits. “But glucose monitoring tools weren’t great back then and family trips to the emergency room were a common occurrence. It reached the point that every time Hugh went to bed, I was afraid something would happen.”
Fortunately, both of the Fraser boys survived their growing up years in Hartford, Connecticut. Their parents were immigrants from Jamaica who did all they could to make a good life for their sons.
“When I was in third grade, one of my mother’s friends told her she’d enrolled her daughter, a friend of mine, in ballroom dancing classes. Mom looked at me and the next thing I knew I was in an afterschool program called the Hartford Youth Dancing Initiative learning to waltz and foxtrot,” Fraser recounts.
“I was good at it, too, and by the fifth grade I was competing in dance competitions across the state with my partner.”
For the next six years, Fraser honed more than his steps and posture. He learned the power of presence, how to battle through adversity and smile through missteps. “My grade school was primarily Black and Hispanic so performing in huge, crowded ballrooms, just me and my partner, was very intimidating. The experience opened my eyes to different types of people and situations. I learned to be confident in any setting, which was a big lesson at a young age.”
That confidence stayed with Fraser long after his competitive dance career ended his sophomore year in high school. He went on to earn a degree in Finance and Marketing from the University of Richmond. While in college, he co-founded his first startup, Snooze Systems, a B2B edtech SaaS company for higher education. Designed to make the lives of college registrars easier, Fraser succeeded in signing up his college as the first beta site.
Three years later, Fraser shut Snooze Systems down. “We couldn’t raise capital. We didn’t have any experience, which made fundraising harder. We tried to bootstrap but that didn’t work either.” What he did have was a powerful lesson learned: the importance of understanding how much capital it takes to launch and scale a company.
The idea for his next startup, TreeSleeve, came to Fraser while sitting in a Starbucks. “At that point, I wanted a project I knew would get to market. I noticed the volume of coffee Starbucks went through and wondered, ‘Could I bring reasonably priced coffee sleeves made of recycled sugar cane to market and save millions of trees in the process? Was there a message around reusability and planting trees to combat deforestation? Would it resonate with customers if we funded seedlings to be planted in deforested areas for every sleeve we sold?’”
Fraser pursued the concept with enthusiasm. Over the next two years, he and his founding team secured two patents for TreeSleeve’s technology, landed 40-plus coffee shop pilot customers from Connecticut up to New York City, and sold over a thousand units. But like Snooze Systems, TreeSleeve was ultimately shutdown. The issue? Failure to raise enough capital to support growth.
“Potential investors would ask me, ‘Is this a must have or a nice to have?’ Looking back, to succeed at scaling TreeSleeve, bringing a strategic partner such as Starbucks, 7-11, Peets, or Caribou Coffee to the table early on would have been a game changer. They understand the market including the proper milestones we’d need to hit that could have made TreeSleeve a must have and de-risk the investment for potential investors,” Fraser says.
Recognizing the need to broaden his business experience, Fraser went on to work for Uber before joining Mohegan Holding Company in an intrapreneurship role. In two years, he rose from a business systems analyst role to technical program manager focusing on operational execution within a new business unit. At this point, his mentor, the controller for Mohegan, encouraged him to take the next step in his career by earning an MBA.
“I always knew I wanted an MBA; I just didn’t know when. There was no delaying it after that coaching,” he says.
At the top of his list of schools was the University of Notre Dame, which checked a number of important boxes. “Notre Dame had a highly rated MBA program, a strong alumni network, a large endowment which means more resources for students, and a strong football tradition,” Fraser says. “As soon as I stepped on campus, I knew I wanted to be there.”
Fraser enrolled in the fall of 2017 and by December, had landed a job in South Bend with Lime, a startup in the micro mobility space. He came in as a brand manager, but his role soon expanded to business development, spearheading merchant services and establishing relationships with companies in the San Francisco Bay area, Boston, Philadelphia, and New York. During Fraser’s time with Lime, the company grew to 5,000-plus local business partners in the United States, LATAM, European Union and Asia Pacific.
The experience gained with Lime was invaluable. Early investors in Lime included Andreessen Horowitz, Google Ventures and Uber, which provided insights into how great venture firms support their startups. The most valuable lesson learned, says Fraser, was that brands don’t win without talented teams behind them pulling in the same direction to achieve a common mission.
“The year 2018 was the start of what became known as the scooter wars where Uber and Lyft both wanted to enter the micro mobility space and challenge Lime’s niche of ride sharing electric scooters. Yes, they had recognizable names, but they didn’t have the tribal knowledge, nor the breadth of operational infrastructure needed to support the business model. Our team did. To this day, Lime is one of the only companies that has done it profitably.”
After graduating with his MBA, Fraser left Lime to become an entrepreneur-in-residence at the Pit Road Fund, Notre Dame’s early-stage venture fund, part of Notre Dame’s Idea Center. His reason for the career move was simple: knowing he would one day launch a startup with fundraising needs, he wanted to work with a venture fund to demystify fundraising from the investor’s perspective. He was not disappointed.
“While at the Pit Road Fund, I had an ‘ah-hah’ moment: so this is how it works,” Fraser says.
He experienced another “ah-hah” moment when he was introduced to contactless sensor technology developed by Notre Dame Engineering research professor Thomas Pratt. An expert in multi-port radio frequency systems, Pratt had disclosed his technology to the IDEA Center for commercialization. The technology has applications in multiple industries, including turbo machinery, food processing and healthcare. Analysts who looked at Pratt’s technology agreed that if it worked, it could be big. However, in addition to getting the technology to work, the IDEA Center wrestled with which use case to pursue.
As the IDEA Center’s entrepreneur-in-resident, Fraser was given the opportunity to take a crack at Vital View Technologies, the startup based on Pratt’s contactless sensor technology. “When I came onboard as CEO and co-founder of Vital View, it was like starting from scratch,” he says. “Health care was one of the use cases, and that’s what attracted me. When I read a review by a key opinion leader in cardiology, Dr. Rick Snyder, I was intrigued. He said if the technology could detect changes in a patient’s fluid levels, it would be a game changer.”
Fraser immediately set up a call with Dr. Snyder, who is a Notre Dame alumnus, president of the Texas Medical Association and president of HeartPlace, the largest physician-led cardiology practice in North Texas. “We discussed the applications for heart and kidney failure, the ability to predict complications and prevent hospitalizations, improve patient outcomes and reduce healthcare costs. Our team had been looking at multiple use cases, but after talking with Rick, the decision was made to focus on fluid monitoring in heart and kidney patients.”
In addition to providing Fraser and the Vital View team with a north star, the conversation brought other unexpected bonuses. Not only did Dr. Snyder join the Vital View steering committee, but he also became an early investor. He now serves as Vital View’s chief medical officer and will play a role in future clinical studies.
As part of his early product-market fit conversations with cardiologists, hospital administrators and insurance companies, Fraser also tapped into market research on commercialization opportunities done via the Notre Dame ESTEEM capstone program. ESTEEM graduate students identified healthcare monitoring as the beachhead market. To this day, Vital View continues to partner with the ESTEEM capstone program and Fraser keeps former students in the loop on Vital View’s progress.
As he built a war chest of business intelligence, Fraser also built his team. He reached out to Notre Dame alumnus Chris Rauh as a potential product engineering vendor partner. Rauh soon became a technical advisor and consultant to Vital View. In 2021, he joined the company full-time as chief technology officer. Fraser also reached out to Cassandra Adams to consult on regulatory and reimbursement pathways and the funding required to complete these critical steps to commercialization. Her advice was solid. She now serves Vital View’s chief operating officer.
As Vital View’s team has taken shape, the technology’s creator, Pratt, continues to advise Vital View and its engineering development partner, Fidus Systems. Says Fraser, “Tom is kind and generous with his time. He knew he’d discovered something significant with his contactless sensor technology. We have a great relationship between Tom’s research team and Vital View’s commercialization team. That really helps!”
After a year of early prototype development, Vital View’s product took shape. In a nutshell, it is a patented medical IoT platform that provides in-home and in-hospital remote, contactless monitoring that enables healthcare providers and patients to make health decisions based on data from wireless, touchless, connected care technology. The novel system, which detects changes in a patient’s total body fluids, aims to provide a greater understanding of a person’s health in near real time, thus facilitating the timeliest delivery of healthcare services and avoiding unnecessary hospitalizations.
Initial “customers” of the technology are care providers of individuals with congestive heart failure. Currently, 6.7 million Americans suffer from heart failure. That number is expected to swell to 8.5 million by 2030. With congestive heart failure, the heart's capacity to pump blood can’t keep up with the body's need. Blood backs up and forces liquid through capillary walls. This fluid builds up in the ankles and feet, arms, lungs, and other organs. Patients often don’t notice until the fluid build-up becomes severe, overflowing into their lungs and inhibiting the ability to breathe. There are some 900,000 hospitalizations a year due to congestive heart failure.
The beauty of Vital View’s contactless sensor monitoring, says Fraser, is small changes in fluid volumes can be detected and treated before they become serious. Issues can be addressed without hospitalization, something that appeals to patients, doctors, hospitals, and insurance companies.
To prove out the concept, Vital View built its first prototype and conducted an animal study in 2021. After a successful study, fundraising began in earnest.
In August 2021, Vital View kicked off its seed round and in three months, Fraser succeeded in raising $1.6 million. The company’s seed round extension, which began in 2022, had a loftier goal of raising $4 million by the close of 2023.
Fraser admits that facing his old nemesis, raising capital, has been one of the biggest challenges to date with Vital View. Not only was the amount he needed to raise daunting, 2023 was a tough year for fundraising with investors holding tight to their capital. Vital View faced the added challenge of being in the healthcare space, which requires a significant amount of time and money to get to market.
Says Fraser, “Investors in healthcare are a different breed. They have to take the long view as medtech and medical devices are not a quick in and out like software. We were fortunate because investors saw the huge potential impact Vital View can have on a specific patient population, congestive heart failure patients, as well as on reducing hospital admissions and costs.”
Surprisingly, raising capital was also Fraser’s biggest win of 2023. In early December, Vital View closed on a $4.6 million seed extension round led by Pier 70 Ventures and the Pit Road Fund with participation from Elevate Ventures and Red Rock Equity Group. Fraser was overjoyed as it gave Vital View enough money to complete a working prototype, begin work on pivotal clinical trials and advance the company’s efforts to secure clearance from the Food and Drug Administration. Publicity on this success helped attract an additional $900,000. Vital View oversubscribed the round with a total of $5.5 million. “That was huge,” he says. “Together, our passionate team achieved a huge goal to insure we were able to bring this great product to market.”
But there was another, more personal win in 2023, one that involved supporting his brother, Hugh.
“In 2023, Hugh was diagnosed with class two heart failure and stage four kidney disease. Both are complications from his diabetes. He’s been hospitalized three times since November 2022. I had opportunities to do other startups, but I wanted to do Vital View because of the experiences Hugh and I had growing and what the technology could do for him, other patients, families, and clinicians,” Fraser says. “My brother is all in on being an early user of Vital View.”
He adds with a soft smile, “My family can’t believe it—what are the chances I would go to Notre Dame and develop a technology that would help my brother? I have no bigger supporter than my parents and my brother.”
Fraser offers this advice to those who want to launch and lead startup companies: work for a venture firm first. “Get inside a venture firm and learn what they’re looking for in terms of investments and also what their expectations are for their portfolio companies. To succeed at fundraising, you have to understand the psyche of investors. Aligning with a fund or lead investor who is passionate about the things you are is critical. Their relationship with you and other investors will make raising funds so much easier and dare I say fun.”
Originally published by ideacenter.nd.edu on January 10, 2024.at