Texas Tech University

RSI: The Hustle Behind Sperm Innovation

Kay Boren

August 2, 2019

rsi team protex

"To me, the worst thing at the end of the day is to think about how many couples didn't get helped today because this isn't out there as an option for them." John Smothers has compelling reasons for why he's hustling to get a uniquely designed sperm collection container called ProteX on the market quickly. The CEO of Reproductive Solutions Inc. remembers all too well the 7-year struggle with infertility before his first child was born. "I know the stress that goes along with this process. It's so stressful that it hurts. I know what they're going through."

It's estimated one in seven couples in the U.S. have infertility problems. About half the time the sperm are the culprit. "We're the first ones to do anything to help the male side," Smothers says. "What we're doing with our products is protecting and preserving the sample taken for analysis or treatment. The result is it's as close in quality to being directly out of the male as it could be." Smothers says the environment inside a ProteX container "results in the sperm not realizing they have left the male's body, so they conserve their energy." He says it prevents sperm from significantly degrading for as much as 48 hours, instead of the estimated 45-minute timeframe with regular specimen cups. That allows time for couples to collect the sample at home and take it with them to their medical appointment--- even if the clinic isn't close by. Smothers says overall it's a game-changer for couples and clinics. "We're telling them up until now they've never known what the true sperm count is because their test is accurate but their sample likely is not." He says the typical success rate for U.S. fertility clinics is around 42 percent. "Our data indicate that if they'll use ProteX, they'll push that up to around 65 percent," Smothers says.

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It's been a little more than a year since the RSI team graduated from the TTU Accelerator Program at the Innovation Hub. The team was an iLaunch Competition winner and a recipient of a Presidents' Innovation Award grant. The startup's CEO is now visiting with early adopters and beginning to raise capital. Smothers credits the Innovation Hub with helping his company get to this stage. He says RSI has connections to experts and resources it wouldn't have had otherwise. "The Hub has given a chance for this 'baby' to have a life," he says.

One connection RSI has made through the Hub is with Texas Tech's Rawls College of Business. Smothers made a presentation to the College's advisory group which was meeting at the Hub. That generated leads for the company's capital raise and manufacturing needs. RSI is also the first Hub-based startup partner involved in a new competition through the Rawls Center for Sales and Customer Relationship Excellence. The innovative program will be featured in our next Hub Hustle blog.

The Hub itself is capitalizing on Smothers' long history of entrepreneur efforts. He serves as one of the volunteer mentors for other startups. He says, "For me, it also provides a chance to be part of the incubator process that's here to help these people move things along. I'm finding fulfillment not just with the company; it's given me a chance to do what I love which is teaching people while trying to pay it forward."