Halifax medical device-maker Hollo’s $50,000 win at the QEII Health Sciences Centre Foundation’s Innovation Den awards comes as the company makes strides towards commercialization, according to CEO Sara Fedullo, including signing a letter of intent with a global distributor.

Hollo, which is developing an improved spacer for asthma inhalers, was one of six finalists to pitch. Fedullo co-founded the company in the summer of 2021 with David Hodgson, who is now chief medical officer while completing a physician’s residency in Nova Scotia. Both entrepreneurs also hold engineering degrees.

In an interview Friday, Fedullo said Hollo is in the process of building out its quality management system, referring to the processes by which it will ensure manufacturing standards and regulatory compliance, in preparation for going to market in Canada.

“In parallel, we’re working with our partners on testing requirements and anything that is needed to achieve regulatory approval for the FDA so that we can commercialize in the United States as well,” said Fedullo.

Inhaled medications like those often used to treat asthma are usually stored in pressurized canisters colloquially called puffers, but for a patient to properly inhale the medication, a device called a spacer is needed to keep the aerosolized meds in one place.

Ordinary spacers are too large to conveniently carry and have high non-compliance rates, especially among children. But Hollo’s Bre-Z Chamber spacer is engineered to be significantly smaller and more portable than conventional options. In fact, as co-founder Hodgson has often emphasized at startup pitch events, it is small enough to fit in a child’s pocket.

“I thought, well, if this is such a helpful solution, why should we basically be shipping around and having patients carry (a device containing) 90 percent air, realistically?” said Hodgson of conventional spacers on a recent Life Sciences Nova Scotia podcast. “It’s like carrying around an empty water bottle all day."

When Hollo was first founded, its team included Fedullo, Hodgson and one employee. Now, two more people have joined and Fedullo expects to hire a handful more people next year. The company recently closed a preliminary fundraising round, but Fedullo said there will potentially be more to come.

“Fundraising, for us, is dependent on the milestones that we will be able to achieve internally, as well as with our partners, so there’s not necessarily a set date or a set amount, as of yet,” she said. “We’re always open to speak to financial partners or investors, anybody who’s willing to help us bring our mission to life.”

The Innovation Den win, meanwhile, was the latest of several recent award nods for Hollo.

Hodgson, who until recently was Hollo’s CEO, won the 2023 Global Student Entrepreneur Awards in June, beating out almost 1,100 competitors internationally. And last spring, the company won the Canadian division of the Entrepreneurship World Cup, an international pitch competition that is now independent, but was originally created by the World Bank.

Of the Innovation Den win, Fedullo said, “It means the world, because since being part of this ecosystem, there haven’t been that many events that were primarily focused on moving medical innovation forward. So this for us was really refreshing."