In 2017, while working as a researcher and lab manager at her alma mater, the University of Washington in Seattle, Allisa Song came across an article that stated drug companies were purposefully making eye drops too big, forcing consumers to constantly restock and buy more of their products.

Through further research, Song learned the human eye can only absorb between seven to 10 microliters of fluid, though companies were selling medications that dispense droplets between 35 and 70 microliters.

"There's this mismatch that existed between physiology and what was available," Song said. "It wouldn't be a really big deal if these medications only cost a couple of dollars."

Medication for glaucoma and other chronic eye conditions can cost hundreds of dollars per month, even with insurance, Song said.

Intrigued by the article — and motivated to soften the financial burden for individuals in need of eye medication — Song partnered with other recent graduates from the university and started a company that would develop a device that reduces the size of eye droplets by 60%.

That company, now headquartered in Rochester, has nearly 100 clinical partner locations across 24 states, including one in Lakeville, where patients are being supplied with its device called the Nanodropper.

Nanodropper Inc., the name of the company, charges $14.99 for the product, which can also be purchased on the company's website. To use, a person screws the device, which acts as an adapter, to the top of an eye liquid bottle. The device comes pre-assembled and sanitized.

Song did not disclose the company's revenue but said the device is being used by thousands of eye patients.

The base color of the adapter is gray, which helps with aiming, and the droplet tube is blue, giving the user a better view of the droplet as it begins to fall, creating a bull's-eye effect against common white ceilings, said Song, the company's chief executive.

According to her team's calculations, the Nanodropper can save a person up to $2,500 in annual costs for prescriptions, and it can almost quadruple the number of drops people get from a medication bottle, depending on the type of eye solution, Song said.

To put it in perspective, about 25% of glaucoma patients run out their medication before their next bottle of medication is eligible for insurance coverage, Song said.

The company moved its headquarters from Seattle to Rochester following Song's enrollment at the Mayo Clinic medical school, where she's a third-year medical student. The company officially launched its adapter, which is a FDA-listed, Class I medical device, in June 2020.

Song, who wants to pursue a career in plastic surgery, has had her own experience of being uninsured and having to pay out of pocket for treatment of an eye problem — which, if not addressed, could have led to her losing vision in one of her eyes.

"Having to put a price on something like your vision is an unfair ask, and that's how I felt when I read about this problem that was costing people their vision and them having to make a difficult choice of whether they were going to pay rent or pay for this medication, where every drop really counts," she said.

Venture investors and Rochester Area Economic Development Inc. recently backed a $1.4 million round of funding for Nanodropper. That money will be applied to sales, production and general growth, Song said. The eye care device market in the U.S. is worth $6.5 billion.

When building the company, Song and her co-founders entered various innovation competitions around the country, using the prize money to build the company. They have also used grants from institutions such as the National Science Foundation and the U.S. governments' Small Business Innovation Research grant program, where they received a phase II contract with the U.S. Air Force.

Nanodropper also received grants from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, and earlier this week was named a semifinalist in the 2021 Minnesota Cup, a statewide competition for entrepreneurs that's operated by the University of Minnesota. Now in its 17th year, finalists in the MN Cup share more than $400,000 in cash prizes.