Techstars, Sprint have 10 teams ready to alter the mobile health landscapeMarch 17, 2014 by Fred Bauters
The accelerator’s 10 CEOs took the stage to tell the entire group about their businesses.
Ollo Mobile has been building its smart-care phone in Brisbane, Australia, for the past two years. Until now.
They landed in Kansas City for the Sprint Mobile Health Accelerator powered by Techstars and didn’t book a return flight. Their wives will follow them soon, and though they don’t know if they’ll stay in KC or move to San Francisco or New York, the U.S. is their new place of business.
Whether or not they stay in KC, they certainly feel at home. Their landlord picked them up at the airport, drove them past the Accelerator for an impromptu photo shoot, swung them by arguably the best barbecue in town (Oklahoma Joe’s), provided a fridge full of beer and rented them his car since they hadn’t figured out how to get around.
It was the final touch on what CEO Hugh Geiger says was a can’t-miss opportunity.
“We’ve avoided other kinds of corporate accelerators,” he says. “It kind of ticks all our boxes. With all of the high-class mentors involved we get to learn much faster, along with the credibility of Techstars.”
It’s a sentiment repeated by every team: the combination of Sprint and Techstars to create the world’s first mobile health accelerator—there are other health accelerators—was too good to pass. For many, it was Sprint’s knowledge of mobile development, distribution and access to resources. Just as often, it was Techstars’ validity, its willingness to provide companies face time with investors and the successes that have come from previous programs.
“It’s like getting called up by the big leagues,” says Symptom.ly CEO Derek Bereit. “I thought it was going to be just a name. It’s been so much more.”
Those two giants, paired with a focused accelerator, perked everyone’s ears. In what seems to be a growing trend, especially for Techstars, accelerators are narrowing their scope. Health care is a natural fit thanks to health care IT behemoth Cerner and widely respected institutions like Stowers Institute, Children’s Mercy, University of Kansas Cancer Center and Saint Luke’s Health System. Many of the teams say they already have started relationships with hospitals and companies in the city.
It’s clear the teams are well positioned, but the question now is, “What can the accelerator bring to Kansas City?”
When we spoke with Techstars founder David Cohen back in September, he was high on the city.
“It felt like the community was about to pop,” he says. “We spent some time in the area, and it had similarities to Boulder. We love to be associated with startup communities that are up and coming and have a chip on their shoulder.”
For the uninitiated, Kansas City’s startup scene is vibrant, growing and engaging. It’s also incredibly young. Whereas many cities have set a foundation for investment, mentorship and development, we’re still in build mode. It’s an exciting time to be amid so much potential. 1 Million Cups, the weekly entrepreneurial gathering that’s spreading like wildfire, was born here. Kauffman Foundation has put substantial resources behind the community. Other accelerators, like those at Think Big, SparklabKC and BetaBlox, have recently sprouted.
Which is why the Techstars teams bring a lot to the table. Everyone has been through several cycles, learned significant lessons and had great success in the process. As most startup communities do, KC talks often about the need to see successes and exits come from its ranks. It certainly has it within itself to do just that, but it’ll be interesting to see if any of the teams stay put and weave themselves into the fabric of the community.
“Techstars has been running for seven years,” Cohen said. “Historically, half of the companies that come from outside the area stay. We find the ones that stay tend to be the better ones, who also make use of the mentors they’ve built relationships with.”
If so, they’ll likely get the same Midwestern hospitality Ollo Mobile did upon arrival.
Here are the 10 companies from the inaugural Sprint Mobile Health Accelerator powered by Techstars:
Almost 10 percent of Americans are diabetic, says AkibaH founder Haroon Ismail. In six years, half will be pre-diabetic or diabetic. Most diabetics hate using glucometers, which is how they manage the disease.
Motivated by the death of a diabetic close to him when he was 16, Ismail and his team spent three months using glucometers themselves to understand what was so wrong about the process—no one wants to measure before and after a meal when they’re at a restaurant. He says they’ve found a way to make it easy and are excited to take on something that’s been neglected by tech companies in a system that isn’t proactive.
“It’s really a disease care system,” Ismail says. “My original thought was to be a physician. But the question was, as an individual, ‘How much can I do to make an impact? It had to be something with scale.”
Dog owners can finally know more about what their pets have been up to all day. Fitbark‘s bone-shaped activity tracker—backed by Kickstarter in Aug. 2013—helps those who wish their dogs could tell them about their day, says CEO and co-founder Davide Rossi.
Clipped to any collar, the tracker uses a 3D accelerator to quantify how much time the dog plays, rests or is active. Then it lets you compare the data to the Fitbark community and similar breeds. It’s data that Rossi thinks will make a big difference in owners understanding whether their dog is sick or needs more exercise. Information that can be easily shared with vets and family. Academia wants in, too.
“That community is getting excited because they now have baselines,” he says. “And other groups, like retailers, are interested because they can recommend food and toys based on activity. Shelters see the value in matching the right dog to the owner based on our data.”
Put simply, Lifeline Response wants to give you personal security wherever you go. No more relying on those blue-light emergency phones or keeping a friend on the line when walking at night. The app is a personal alarm system meant to put fear into attackers, gaining momentum with the Obama Administration’s recent push to crack down on campus sexual assaults.
After opening the app, you enter a personal code and place a thumb on the screen—the screen pulses so you know it’s still engaged. Take the thumb off and a 20-second countdown begins. After a few seconds, a bright strobe light and blaring noise begin. A few more seconds and an automated warning begins to warn the attacker police will be arriving shortly. If it’s a false alarm, all you have to do is enter your code again. At the end of the countdown, a responder calls to see if you’re OK—no answer and the police are on their way.
There’s been a noticeable dip in crime at the University of Toledo since it opened six months ago. Police love it because Lifeline gives them a heat map of where students use it—just the raw “thumb” data—and therefore can understand where people truly feel unsafe so that they can place squads appropriately.
It’s a bit of a reunion for co-founder and CEO Sam Zebarjadi. In 2003-05 he worked on the Sprint-Nextel merger, spending a lot of time in Kansas City.
“It’s cool to see what it’s become (in the startup space),” he says. “It’s kinda come full circle for me.”
He wants to see doctor care go back to its roots, too. As less and less time is paid to patients and doctors are weighed down by overhead costs, he says it’s time to make high-level care accesible. Medicast brings on-call doctors to your house when you need them. What’s typically about a two-month wait to see a doctor has been reduced to less than two hours so far with the service.
It’s fully mobilized so patients send out their needs and any doctor can make the visit, which Zebarjadi says gets at the three problems of hospital visits: long waits, rushed visits and near-impossible scheduling.
When CEO Hugh Geiger couldn’t find a mobile product he liked to keep connected his great aunt, who had fractured her hip from a fall in the shower, he decided to make one. CTO Ken Macken began with a prototype the size of a dinner table, but eventually brought their specialized CloudPhone down to the size of a typical flip phone.
Only this phone has one button. To keep it simple, all of the technology remains with the family of the aunt, grandpa or neighbor who want to stay connected. They can track the activity level and see if something isn’t right or be alerted about a potential fall. For the phone’s user, all they have to do is click the one button and say who they want to call. Everything’s set up by family or friends through the app.
“We want to get them back involved with the family,” Macken says. “We don’t think anyone should wait for an emergency to stay in touch.”
No one enjoys tracking down medical records, so Prime has found a way to aggregate that data and send it to you in a mobile app—currently just for iPhone. Built from a stack of scrapers and APIs, it pushes info from clinics, hospitals and care providers—more than 200 so far—to you securely. Your info is yours to keep privately, or share with family and close friends.
It wants to help take the guess work out of what prescriptions you have and procedures you’ve gone through. Maybe just as enticing for many, it automatically updates a profile that contains all the information you struggle to fill out in the waiting room.
CEO Tyler Hayes, previously one of the early employees at Disqus, says the team is tired of hearing about how such a project is impossible and is ready to “put to rest that it can be done and show how it can be done.”
CEO Graham Dodge and COO James Sajor have been friends since sixth grade. Their two very different experiences made Sickweather come together. Sajor was taking care of his mom, who had been diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer, and had to check with everyone he met up with on whether they or someone close to them was sick so he didn’t bring it back to her. Dodge had been sick with a stomach virus and took to Facebook to see if anything was going around. Together they realized there wasn’t a source for what they needed.
Pulling data from across social media, Sickweather finds when and where people are posting about their sicknesses and allergies—23 total—and serves them up on a map down to the street level. If you want to know when you’re about to enter a “sick zone,” it’ll also send push notifications.
“You can make more informed choices for your health and bulk up on the things that boost your immune system,” Dodge says.
It’s data that wasn’t possible before real-time social media resources, he says. A recent study found that Twitter accurately predicted where incidents of sickness and allergies cropped up two weeks before CDC reports.
It’s been front and center for Affordable Care Act proponents: Early detection and prevention over treatments and cures. Symptom.ly co-founder Derek Bereit tells the story of Jackson, a neighborhood boy he knows, who deals with asthma. Instead of tracking his illness as he goes, Jackson reaches a point where his asthma attack gets so bad that he has to rush to the hospital with his dad. After a short stay, his family is out thousands of dollars.
Symptom.ly’s solution, eAsthma Tracker, puts constant steps in place to tell a care coordinator what’s going on with a child, giving the family a reliable way to track symptoms instead of making a visit to the ER. Through a series of questions based on current symptoms, the coordinator can plan a course of action.
“There’s no cure for asthma, but it’s controllable,” Bereit said. “We’re bringing the future into the present.”
There’s a lot of excitement over fitness and wellness apps, but Tenacity Health CEO Ron Davis doesn’t see them changing behaviors any time soon. He was coy on the details of how it will work, but says the app is a peer coaching and incentive platform. They’re starting with fitness, but you’ll eventually be able to plug in any goal.
“We’re in the business of MAT: motivation, ability and trigger,” he said. “We think we can actually motivate people.”
Davis wants to use the Accelerator to build out a test group, but said the real value comes from peers.
“Being CEO is a lot like going down a dark tunnel with a flashlight,” he said. “It’s a lot easier to see if you have 40 others using their flashlights with you.”
There’s a knowledge gap happening at hospitals around the world, says CEO and co-founder Andriana Nikolova. A resident in training at a Boston hospital, she sees the complexity of patient care and how technology stands in the way.
“Ten people talk to patients every day, but none of them talk to each other,” she says. “The majority of preventable errors are from poor communication.
“There are so many solutions that need to happen in hospitals. I wish we had that (technological) knowledge. When you’re working 80-100 hours per week, how can you engage in innovation?”
Along with her husband and a team of coders, Yosko is working on an iPad app that helps streamline processes, especially in transitioning shifts. They want to get rid of programs “created in the ’70s,” and create a communication, feedback and accountability loop easy enough for a 5-year-old to use.
Credits: Photos by Erik Wullschleger.