DreamIt Health startups showcase pocket-sized health care solutions

Eight teams in accelerator program create health IT innovations

Credit: Norm Barker / Johns Hopkins Hospital

Afraid of spiders, needles, or heights? There's an app in development to help remedy that.

Speaking of nascent mobile applications, how about one that manages and tracks patient populations spread out over hundreds or even thousands of miles?

The solutions to many vexing health care issues could reside right in our pockets, according to founders of several IT startup companies that pitched their products on Wednesday at the 2014 DreamIt Health Baltimore Demo Day.

The event, held in the Johns Hopkins Hospital's Sheikh Zayed Tower auditorium, provided an opportunity for the current cohort of eight startups—five born at Johns Hopkins—in the DreamIt Health Baltimore accelerator program to showcase their maturing projects to a crowd of investors, industry leaders, and others interested in the future of health care.

Presenters included Sebastian Seiguer, CEO of emocha, a mobile platform for disease and population health management invented by a team of experts at the Johns Hopkins Center for Clinical Global Health Education. The platform arose out of the need to remotely manage patient care and capture data previously not recorded or sometimes lost in the shuffling of records. Emocha was specifically created to educate community health care workers treating remote HIV patients in Uganda. Now the developers want to take emocha worldwide.

Want to know if patients are taking their medicine as directed? The platform's app has a video capture option so that users can record themselves taking a drug, and have that information sent directly to the health care provider. It can also educate health care workers by providing them with the latest in clinical protocols.

Another startup company, Phobious, has invented an app intended to help people overcome their fears by gradually exposing them, virtually speaking, to the very situations that distress them. Users launch the app, insert their smartphone into custom-made goggles, and then enter a virtual world where they can walk up to a cliff's edge, fly in a plane, or sit in a doctor's chair while having blood drawn. If they want, they can also have a spider drop into the palm of their hand.

Demo Day is the capstone event for the first DreamIt Health Baltimore cohort, which convened in mid-January. Over the past four months, the companies received access to key individuals and resources at Johns Hopkins University and Johns Hopkins Medicine, Northrop Grumman, and Kaiser Permanente, who helped them hone their solutions and develop relationships critical for launching their products.

The program is run by DreamIt Ventures, which seeds the startups with $50,000 each and provides physical space where the entrepreneurs can work and network. The program, which was originally launched in Philadelphia, expanded to Baltimore last year. Teams worked in office space in the city's Fell's Point neighborhood.

President Ronald J. Daniels, who spoke at the event, has been a staunch supporter of the program and has championed entrepreneurship and innovation efforts at Johns Hopkins. In his remarks at Demo Day, Daniels repeatedly said that Baltimore is and should be the "epicenter of the health care IT industry in the United States."

"For all the teams, the common goal is to unite science and technology to create innovative tools that improve our capacity to serve patients and their families as they tackle challenges ranging from a debilitating fear of flying to incidences of stroke, to trying to monitor and cure tuberculosis," Daniels said. "In this commitment, these companies share the core values and restless energy of Johns Hopkins. It is a fundamental imperative for Johns Hopkins to build a more effective innovation ecosystem to bolster this spirit, and that is reflected in so many steps and ventures that we are taking."

Christy Wyskiel, senior advisor to the president for enterprise development at Johns Hopkins, said that the groups did incredible work in a relatively short amount of time.

"I would say these groups exceeded our expectations. We're excited about the prospects of these amazing inventions getting out to market," Wyskiel said. "A program like [DreamIt] provides a great opportunity for entrepreneurs here at Johns Hopkins, but in the bigger picture these products can help patients and solve some of the enormous problems and challenges faced by the health care industry."

Aegle, a team of Johns Hopkins undergraduates, is developing a biometric wearable device that fits around your neck and measures multiple vital signs, including heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood oxygen levels. The device can then send the information via Bluetooth to a smartphone. The team spun off from a larger group of students vying for the prestigious Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE and the $10 million that comes with it. As its name suggests, the competition wants someone to design a gadget for instant diagnosis similar to the fictional tricorder of "Star Trek" fame.

While Aegle has made some progress in its design, the group has hit a bit of a roadblock. Originally intended for elite athletes, the device is currently too cumbersome for that demographic. It's perhaps too expensive for casual recreational users. What about corporate or consumer wellness? Overkill for these types of applications. The students kept on looking for potential users but ran out of time.

"We kind of failed to establish a target market by Demo Day. Oops," said Aegle team member Krzysztof Sitko, whose moment of candor drew a round of laughter from the crowd. "But moving forward there are a lot of promising applications in more regulated fields in the defense and medical spheres. We're not giving up. Far from it. We are continuing to make great technical progress and are confident that in the coming months we will establish the ideal marketplace."

To move forward, the companies need capital, somewhere in the neighborhood of $250,000 to $750,000. That's where the investors come in. And after the presentations, the groups networked with venture capitalists in the audience to help them learn more about these inventions. Time to make a deal.

The DreamIt Health Baltimore startups are:

  • Aegle, which is developing a wearable device that measures multiple vital signs from a single location | View the presentation

  • Avhana Health, which aims to complement existing electronic medical records by extracting patient information and creating an adaptive checklist to guide care | View the presentation

  • Cognuse, which helps stroke and brain injury patients recover faster through mobile tests, rehabilitation plans, and games | View the presentation

  • emocha, a mobile health platform for remote patient management that improves patient adherence with prescribed regimens | View the presentation

  • Protenus, which aims to help hospitals protect patient privacy by detecting and preventing data breaches | View the presentation

  • PatientFeed, a mobile application that enables teams of physicians to coordinate patient care, saving time and reducing medical errors | View the presentation

  • Phobious, which helps people overcome their fears and anxieties through virtual and augmented reality on mobile devices | View the presentation

  • Quantified Care, which helps medical professionals adopt and get the most out of the exploding number of mobile medical devices, from EKGs to ophthalmoscopes | View the presentation