Sidney Collin of De Oro Devices: From Engineer to CEO

By Mark Ogilbee posted 07-07-2022 06:41 PM

Sidney Collin of De Oro Devices

Founded in 2018, AgeTech Collaborative™ participant De Oro Devices creates specialized mobility devices to help people with Parkinson’s disease and other mobility disorders overcome the symptom known as freezing gait. 

We chatted with Sidney Collin to get insights into her journey from researcher and engineer to AgeTech startup CEO. 


Can you tell us about the products that De Oro Devices makes? 

Our first product is called NexStride, which uses visual and auditory cues to help people regain mobility and overcome freezing gait. The visual cue is a green laser line; the auditory cue is a metronome. We started with focusing specifically on people with Parkinson’s, but quickly realized that this technology can also be used for people who have multiple sclerosis and other conditions. 

The reason freezing happens has to do with certain neural pathways in the brain. The visual and auditory cues activate different neural pathways in the brain that allow people to initiate movement that they normally can’t. 


What does any given workday look like for you? 

It changes so much from day to day. It's anything from spending the day interviewing candidates if we're hiring, to fundraising if we're in a fundraising round. Right now, we're negotiating contracts with three different distributors, so I spend a lot of my time talking to them. And then there’s managing our team of 6 people to make sure that everybody has what they need to move forward, and that they’re headed in the right direction. 


What inspired you to found the company? 

I've always been a huge brain biology nerd — obsessed with understanding how the brain and body work, and how they interact. So I studied biomedical engineering at Cal Poly. All my research background has been in brain-computer interfacing, or computational neuroscience-type research.  

I ended up meeting this local veteran who lived with Parkinson's disease and was pretty much in a wheelchair all the time, but only because he suffered from the symptom of freezing gait; the muscles in his legs were fine. He knew that visual-auditory cues were effective in helping him walk because he had been using them at his physical therapy clinic. But he had no way of using those at home and staying active, which was very important to him. 

So I made this device for him and realized how hugely impactful it was on his life — he and his wife could really live their lives again. Then he took me to a Parkinson’s support group, and I realized there were a lot more people out there who could benefit from this technology. And I felt: “Clearly there’s a need for this, and if I don’t do it, nobody’s going to.” So I started De Oro Devices. 


It sounds like your background was strictly in engineering. How did you get up to speed on the business side of things? 

I got really lucky in finding my business partner and co-founder, William Thompson, right as I started to look into getting this business started. He was finishing up his MBA at Cal Poly while I was there. So I brought him on board, and we worked on starting the company together. 


What personal or professional surprises have you encountered during this journey? 

The biggest surprise for me, personally, is that I always saw myself as an engineer. It was hard to imagine myself as a CEO, so it was definitely a hard transition stepping into that role.  

One thing that really helped was finding a mentor in Jill Stelfox. She’s like this incredibly goofy person, and incredibly successful. And she’s 100% authentically herself whether she’s giving a presentation to the CEO of Nike or whether she’s just sitting with me having coffee in her back yard. And I love that about her. When I met her, I thought, “That’s the kind of leader I want be.” And I kind of forced her to be my advisor. Seriously — I went up to her and said, “We’re going to have coffee once a month, forever. OK?” And she was like, “Sure!” 


What keeps you going when things in the business get tough? 

What keeps me and the whole team going when things are difficult is remembering the impact that we can have on people’s lives. We get so many customer stories and videos, people reaching out to us and saying, “This device has changed my life. I’m able to walk around now and I wasn’t before.” We have one customer who texts me pictures of wherever he goes with his NexStride — out on hikes, at hockey games with his family, in Las Vegas at a conference. It’s stories like that that keep us going. 


What advice would you have for other startup founders who are just beginning their journey? 

The sooner you can find a good mentor who you can be 100% open and honest with, the better. For me that made a huge difference — not only with the company’s success, but also with my experience going through it.