Simonne Cormier, Founder of a company that will make breast prostheses from natural fibres, is celebrating making it into Emergence, the national Bioscience Business Incubator run by PEI BIoAlliance.
It’s a big step for the Montague-based breast cancer survivor and former government administrator who has recently formed her venture Au Naturel Solutions and is beginning trials of her device prototype. It's also important timing as October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, drawing attention to Canada's most common cancer that results in more than 26,000 diagnoses each year.
Cormier’s entrepreneurial journey began after she had a lumpectomy and her surgeon advised her to find an all-natural prosthesis to wear next to her treatment-sensitive skin.
She found that an ideal product did not exist. Polyester and silicone prostheses were uncomfortable and prone to slipping, so she returned to the sewing skills she learned as a girl and set about creating her own prosthesis, made from animal and plant fibres, and with a reliable attachment system.
“I’m not nervous as I know my purpose and the values I want to bring to this company and the element of giving back,” she said of the new career she is starting shortly after retiring from her government job. “I don’t know everything I need to know, but I’m trusting others to come and walk the path with me to make this concrete and get this out as soon as we can.”
The “others” she mentions are her mentors at the BioAlliance and other businesspeople who are helping her build her venture. So far, she is her company’s only employee, but she hopes the device will be in production, preferably on PEI, in 2021.
Last year, Cormier secured a $25,000 grant from Innovation PEI’s Ignition Fund. She will be seeking future funding although she’s not sure how that will look yet. Existing devices can cost upwards of $300 per breast, she said, and her prosthesis will be competitive on price.
Early interest in her company suggests growth is likely to be fast. As word has got out locally, she has already had between 40 and 50 potential clients contact her.
Her device will be of use to women who have had a lumpectomy or have lost a full breast. The device expands, and its size and shape depend on how much filling the user packs it with – rather like a pillow, she said.
Her protype will be tested for use in all situations, including at the gym and under lingerie. She is confident it will be comfortable and stay in place under different circumstances.
It is important to Cormier that all materials used be ethically sourced and she aims to gain B-Corp (Benefit Corporation status), which is a globally recognized way of proving that a business’s ethics are sound in everything from sourcing to marketing.
“If and when this starts rendering profit, I want to give back to the cancer community,” she said. “I don’t know what that would mean yet, it could be a donation to cancer treatment centres.”