Meet the Cool Carlsbad Startups Making Waves in San Diego County

July 6, 2021

When you hear the word “nonprofit,” you typically picture an effort that surrounds good-doing for kids, animals or the community, but nonprofits exist in the corporate world too. Connect, the San Diego nonprofit that uplifts tech and healthcare entrepreneurs, is one such example. Its approach is simple: invest in startups, help them grow and build up a strong economy. Every year, Connect identifies the top startups in San Diego County, and designates them as “Cool Companies.” Startups that earn a Cool Company Award are given direct access to capital providers. Quality venture capital providers are an important element for startups as they enter their Series A, the initial funding round that can make or break a startup. This year’s Cool Companies include three all-star startups in Carlsbad, and we’re keen on introducing them.

Carlsmed ® 

Carlsmed ®, one of Connect’s Cool Companies of 2021, is a medical device company that is pioneering the treatment of adult spinal deformity. Medical devices play a huge role in spinal surgeries and the overall sector is expected to be valued at $15 billion by 2026, according to Fortune Business Insights. Carlsmed is poised to take advantage of this growing market with its innovative devices over the coming years. 

Using proprietary algorithms and imaging data, Carlsmed creates patient-specific plans and manufactures 3D printed spinal devices to achieve each plan. The company’s groundbreaking aprevo™ devices are individualized to the precise medical situation of every patient. The benefit is two-fold: patients receive surgical treatment specific to their personalized correction plan and anatomy; and surgeons can plan and execute the optimal correction for each individual patient. Carlsmed’s aprevo™ is a game changer for the industry as precision medicine can decrease the cost of healthcare and allow people to return to healthy active lifestyles.

Carlsmed’s aprevo™ features digital-to-device patient-specific interbody technology

If the name isn’t a hint enough, Carlsmed is a deeply rooted Carlsbad company, manufacturing many of its devices in the city. Carlsmed, as a company name, represents Carlsbad’s worldwide leadership in medical technology innovation.

“Carlsbad is a mecca for spine and orthopedic life science talent,” Cordonnier said. “The lifestyle as well as the tech industry proved Carlsbad was the ideal location for us to build our headquarters. As more medical device and tech companies have migrated from San Diego to Carlsbad, the community support here has just been amazing.”

Carlsmed Founder and CEO, Mike Cordonnier

The Cool Companies designation is just one of the accolades Carlsmed boasts. In December, Carlsmed’s aprevo™ device became the first-ever implant to receive both Breakthrough Device Designation and 510(k) market clearance from the FDA. As a Breakthrough Device, the FDA has determined that the aprevo™ technology could improve the standard of care for patients with particular irreversible and debilitating spinal conditions. 

This exciting development is great news for both Carlsbad job seekers and patients. Cordonnier expects to be doubling his staff, as well as expanding the product offering.

Carlsmed currently employs 22 people, and plans to double its staff over the next year.

HAI Solutions

HAI Solutions is another medical device company generating attention for its patient-saving innovations. Co-founder Nick Perrenoud knows firsthand how medical devices can intervene in patient health and wellness. Nick’s son, Angel, spent years fighting bloodstream infections that were a result of improper disinfection. Intravenous (IV) catheters present a substantial risk for infections, and Perrenoud found that there were inadequate interventions to prevent contamination due to healthcare worker mishandling. For medically-fragile patients like Angel, mishandling is far too great a risk to take.

HAI Solutions was born from a combination of education and experiences. Perrenoud’s background as a nurse and nurse anesthetist gave him the skills to manage Angel’s care at home. But through Perrenoud’s own aseptic techniques and high standards for infection prevention, he was able to keep Angel infection-free for more than a decade. Today, HAI Solutions offers two groundbreaking sterilization devices that overcome the pitfalls of human error when it comes to intravenous care and vascular access. 

Top: HAI Solutions Multiport Delivery Device (MDD). Bottom: HAI Solutions Intravenous Sterilizer (IVS).

HAI Solutions has received emphatic support from the San Diego tech community, such as Tech Coast Angels, which drove the company to plant its feet in Carlsbad, where Paul Swaney, HAI Solutions’ medical device director lived. As the company has no formal headquarters yet, HAI Solutions is working remotely as they put the Multiport Delivery Device (MDD) and Intravenous Sterilizer (IVS) on the path to FDA approval. 

The combination of filters and UV technology makes HAI Solutions’ products unique, Perrenous said.

“We’re the only company in this sector that has developed products that engineer the problem out of the situation,” he said.

HAI Solutions has team members in Carlsbad and Santa Barbara

The Cool Companies designation helps in this endeavor, as HAI Solutions is relying on investment to build out a distribution center and grow their team. 

“The Carlsbad community has been nothing short of high class,” Swaney said. “It has been amazing working within the city’s tech and startup sector over the years.”


Challenger, the third Carlsbad company on the Cool Companies roster, is the youngest business of the bunch but boasts a promising future. Offering a unique on-demand approach for video gamers to compete for cash on major game titles, Challenger is disrupting the cash gaming market. Traditional Tournaments and eSports bookies don’t offer a solution for core players looking to participate for cash, not just watch. Challenger enables users to simply download the application, start up their favorite game and play. 

The visionaries behind Challenger are Chris Slovak and Chris Andres, who took the company from a side gig past-time to a fully fledged gaming operation earlier this year.

“Our solution is approachable, on demand and inclusive,” Chris said. We automated the match making, tracking and payouts, all on a transparent and legal platform using AI.”

Challenger co-founders Chris Andres (left) and Chris Slovak (right)

Video gaming for profit has been around for years, but has been reserved for a small group of professional gamers. Challenger opens it up to everyone, so that people of all skills can compete for cash prizes against a similar talent pool. Slovak, who lives in Carlsbad, currently runs the company alongside a team of two. But their small team is supported by the welcoming gaming community in Carlsbad.

“I’ve lived in Carlsbad for eight years and it’s been great to be surrounded by tech businesses,” Slovak said.

Challenger offers competitive eSports for everyone, for cash.

As Challenger leverages the Cool Companies designation to garner investments, the company is welcoming additional team members and launching new products into the market. 

“The innovation community as a whole is bringing the energy essential for the economic growth and prosperity of the region,” said James Mackay, president and CEO of Aristea Therapeutics and newly elected chair of the Connect Board of Directors. “This is a unique time where preparation can meet opportunity. The companies in tech and life sciences selected as 2021 Cool Companies will be compelling to watch over the next year.”