Sleep apnea testing firm on fast track to growth with Ottawa tech titan’s backing

Andrew Holmes headshot
Andrew Holmes is the founder of Ottawa-based Sleep Efficiency. Photo courtesy Sleep Efficiency

An Ottawa health-care professional-turned-entrepreneur is looking to go global with his business thanks to help from one of the National Capital Region’s best-known tech founders.

Andrew Holmes launched his company, Sleep Efficiency, nearly a decade ago as a side hustle while serving as head of the Queensway Carleton Hospital’s sleep laboratory.

The business, which specializes in home-based sleep apnea testing and analysis, has seen its revenues soar since the start of the pandemic. Sleep Efficiency’s team now includes executive chairman Jason Flick, who built You.i TV into one of Kanata’s biggest software firms before selling the company to WarnerMedia for US$100 million three years ago.

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“There are a lot of practical applications here,” Holmes said of his company’s rapid growth over the past few years. “Canada being a geographically vast region, there are so many different areas that need access to testing and they can’t do it, or they have to travel significant distances to get there.”

A registered polysomnographic technologist, Holmes specializes in documenting and analyzing the results of sleep studies in which patients’ breathing, oxygen levels, heart rates, muscle activity, snoring and other metrics are measured overnight to determine if they suffer from conditions such as sleep apnea. 

Millions of Canadians live with sleep apnea, which has two main forms: obstructive sleep apnea, in which a person’s upper airways collapse during sleep, and central sleep apnea, in which breathing signals from the brain are disrupted during sleep.

Sleep apnea often leaves people feeling exhausted and can lead to a host of other serious medical conditions such as high blood pressure and heart disease.

But many medical professionals say millions of other people across the country suffer from sleep apnea without knowing it. Dr. Sachin Pendharkar, a sleep and respiratory physician-scientist at Foothills Medical Centre Sleep Centre in Calgary, recently told CBC an additional 80 per cent of people living with sleep apnea are undiagnosed.

That’s where Sleep Efficiency, which is based out of an office at Bayview Yards, comes in. 

The company provides at-home sleep apnea test kits from medical equipment giants Philips and Zoll Itamar to patients as far away as Nunavut. The resulting data is collected in a mobile app, securely uploaded to the cloud and analyzed by trained professionals, who can compile a report within days that includes a preliminary diagnosis and recommendations for further treatment.

Holmes said even Canadians living in major cities often face waits of more than a year for a spot in a hospital sleep test facility. For people in remote areas such as Canada’s North, where such facilities don’t exist, accessing treatment is an even bigger financial and logistical headache.

While it can cost thousands of dollars in transportation costs and other expenses to conduct hospital-based sleep tests on patients from remote areas, Holmes says his firm can ship the test directly to the person’s home, analyze the results and produce a recommended treatment plan for about $600.

Realizing there was a captive market for a service that could make it easy for people to access at-home kits, Holmes incorporated Sleep Efficiency in 2016. 

The business grew slowly at first while Holmes devoted most of his time and energy to his hospital job. Things changed dramatically in 2021, when Flick entered the picture as an investor and adviser.

“When Jason came on, (he said) no risk, no reward,” Holmes said of his friend, whom he first met when their kids played soccer together a decade ago.

Sleep Efficiency has doubled its revenues every year since. Under Flick’s mentorship, the business has evolved and expanded its customer base across the country.

While Sleep Efficiency initially focused on providing take-home tests to patients in the Ottawa area, who typically picked them up in person, the delivery side of the business has grown significantly in the past year and now accounts for about a third of the company’s revenues, Holmes said. 

Now at three full-time employees, the firm plans to keep hiring as its shipments to other parts of Canada grow. Holmes says nearly 200 family doctors, as well as other health-care professionals such as dentists and cardiologists, have referred patients to Sleep Efficiency.

Meanwhile, he continues to scope out other market opportunities. Holmes says he hopes to start shipping at-home sleep apnea test kits to other countries in the near future.

“It’s been an amazing journey, and we’re just hitting our stride now,” he said. “I feel like we’re almost at a tipping point here. It’s super exciting.”

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