Life-changing crash inspires Raleigh tech startup
Sloane Tilley

Sloane Tilley’s life was almost cut short in 2016. But the accident that changed everything also inspired Dia, a startup she hopes will save lives.

Sloane Tilley’s life was almost cut short in 2016. But the accident that changed everything also inspired Dia, a startup she hopes will save lives.

Tilley’s life was enviable seven years ago. She was in the midst of her doctorate program at UNC. She was training for her first half Ironman. And she had just returned from her honeymoon.

Then, on a training bicycle ride with her team, she was hit by a car. Tilley broke her back and leg. She tore ligaments in her knee.

“It took a really long time to come back, both academically and athletically,” she said. “It was obviously life-changing."

She remembers her husband having to take the morning off work to load her in the back of his Subaru so her doctor could conduct a “super simple test.”

There had to be a better way.

The collision disrupted everything. The doctorate program turned into a master’s degree. But it also kickstarted her entrepreneurial journey.

The Raleigh company that would become Dia — recently rebranded from E-Sentience — aims to explore the full potential of wearables.

“We’ve only considered a very small area of the body to be a potential place to collect data,” she said. “But when you think about it, our entire surface area is a huge opportunity for us to gain really important and potentially life-saving information about our health.”

If patients can measure temperature and blood pressure at home, “there’s no reason we can’t do that for biomarkers,” she said.

The idea matriculated while Tilley recovered.  It kept incubating as she took on a series of jobs at companies such as BD and GeneSavvy.

Tilley realized she wanted to take the idea and “build something around my own passion,” so the startup was born, the first prototype funded initially from a $20,000 SAFE (simple agreement for future equity) with Duke Innovation Studio. Altogether, she and her co-founders have raised about $600,000 to seed the idea.

“I worked without a salary for about a year,” Tilley said. “It’s definitely not fun, and that’s where I’m very lucky to have a supportive partner.”

The result is a company invested in making noninvasive sensor technology.

The goal is to use sweat or saliva to measure biomarkers. An initial focus is a wearable – an arm sleeve that can measure cortisol levels. It’s intended for the military to monitor weapons technicians operating heavy machinery or war fighters going through training.

Another application in development measures things like potassium, creatinine, urea and glucose – a basic metabolic panel. The biomarkers can help physicians monitor patients with conditions such as kidney disease, hypertension and heart failure. The vision is a table top unit where a user can spit into a disposable test so that physicians can monitor them at home. The device will have to pass through the regulatory process – but Tilley is hoping to secure breakthrough status, which could expedite the timeline.

In the meantime, the firm is working with the Army, having received some funding to advance the prototype. If all goes well, the sleeve product could move into phase 2, which could include producing the unit and testing it for military use.

The firm has had a North Carolina LLC since 2021 but officially incorporated early this year. Tilley knows success takes time – just training for an Ironman competition.

Despite her accident, she not only went on to finish the half Ironman, but completed a full version and qualified for the World Championships.

Right now, she’s training for a second full Ironman in Lake Placid, New York, in July

Published on
August 15, 2023