Ashley Moy, an Illinois alum, and named on Chicago Inno’s 25 Under 25, is the CEO and co-founder of Cast21, a health startup that aims to disrupt the orthopedic casts industry.
Its product, Osteon Defender, is a lighter, hygienic, waterproof and comfortable cast alternative to a traditional plastic and fiberglass cast. This cast alternative takes only 3 minutes to apply, and its open lattice net-like design leaves the skin accessible to washing and scratching. This eliminates the main causes of patient complaints, as well as possible clinical complications, with traditional orthopedic casts. And, the cast alternative can be removed with a cast saw. Osteon Defender won the Product of the Year award in 2018, hosted by the Fourth Revolution Awards.
Ashley and her teammates leveraged many Illinois entrepreneurship ecosystem resources when creating Cast21 while students on campus. The company raised $800 K in seed funding in 2017. We caught up with her to talk about all the Illinois resources that helped Cast21 launch in 2016, and grow.
What inspired you to launch Cast21? Tell us your story.
Cast21 started purely as an idea between two strangers who met at a gymnastics meet on campus. Co-founder of Cast21, Jason Troutner, and I were looking for a project to collaborate on during our senior year on campus. We got talking about different opportunities to work together and to make a mark as undergrads. We brainstormed for a month to find ways we could work together. We realized that we were passionate about healthcare and the medical devices industry, and felt that we could make an impact. Jason had been in a cast several times in his lifetime so that inspired us to pursue our passion for creating a better healing experience.
Did you always dream of launching your own company?
I had always wanted to own and run my own business, but I never thought it would happen so early in my career. When we started winning at business competitions, like winning first place at the St. Louis University Real Elevator Pitch Competition in 2015, we started realizing for the first time that Cast21 could be a business opportunity, not just a project idea. External validation helped immensely to launch Cast21 in 2016.
Tell us about the latest developments with your startup?
We are very excited to be growing our team to reach more doctors and patients. We are piloting our device, and the feedback we have received so far has been fabulous and insightful.
How did the entrepreneurship ecosystem at Illinois contribute to the development and growth of Cast21?
The entrepreneurship ecosystem at Illinois has helped in so many ways that I can’t even count or vocalize. The ecosystem partners looked critically at our project as a business. We had so many discussions with the broader ecosystem of healthcare providers and athletic trainers on campus. Jason and I both took TEC classes like TE 333 Creativity, Innovation, Vision that helped. Also, ECE and BioE advisors were so supportive of our startup idea.
How should students best utilize the widely available resources in and around the campus to succeed as an entrepreneur?
Cozad New Venture Challenge, iVenture Accelerator, access to the equipment and labs in the Mechanical Engineering Building, various testing labs on campus, and the IDEA Lab at the Grainger Engineering Library contributed to our growth. Also, free software on engineering computers is an advantage that is easily overlooked by students. The Research Park gave us office space, mentorships, food, and expertise we needed. There are a plethora of resources that students could leverage as an entrepreneur.
How did the AWARE (Accelerating Women And underRepresented Entrepreneurs) grant help Cast21?
We received the $2,500 AWARE grant, which allowed us to purchase materials to make our very first prototype.
You were a Cozad Finalist in 2016-17. How did participating in a program like Cozad help Cast21? How could students best take advantage of Cozad?
The Cozad New Venture Challenge was the first opportunity where we had to think critically about our startup idea as a business venture, and not just a project. It was a great experience to get feedback from industry leaders, a varied perspective from experienced professionals, and meet fellow entrepreneurs. We're still in touch with many of those people, and continue to exchange ideas to keep our businesses thriving. I would encourage students to attend all of the Cozad related events. Ask for connections, ask for help. You don’t get what you don’t ask for.
Were there other entrepreneurial resources or classes at Illinois that you were able to utilize for Cast21? (Like mHUB, iVenture Accelerator, EnterpriseWorks, Illinois I-Corps, etc.)
IllinoisVENTURES has been a phenomenal partner. It is so unique that the University of Illinois has a venture partner. Not many universities offer that kind of advantage. Through IllinoisVENTURES we were able to participate in MATTER-a health incubator in Chicago. We were also connected to mHUB through IllinoisVENTURES. And, being able to utilize entrepreneurship incubating spaces like 1871 is a huge thing for a student entrepreneur.
We were made aware of the iVenture Accelerator, EnterpriseWorks, and Illinois I-Corps after Cozad. All of these resources have been instrumental in the success of the company thus far, and we love the great friends we have met along the way.
What according to you is the biggest challenge when choosing entrepreneurship?
In general, entrepreneurship is difficult in every sense. We always celebrate the success of startups; it looks so glamorous, flashy. But to get there is difficult. Deciding to lead that life - choosing entrepreneurship-is a big challenge. Ultimately, I love what I do. I am passionate about solving healthcare issues. My personal goals and mission are very much aligned with company goals, and my team is motivated to solve big challenges.
What’s next for you? Future plans? Any other startup ideas in mind?
I am 100% dedicated to Cast21 at the moment but after that, the field is wide open. I have a lot of energy, and I am happy to do whatever I am passionate about next.