Dr. Lara Aillon-Sohl was the runner-up with her product ThriveText.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — There is a waiting list to see Brittney Cappiello but not many women want to talk about why.
She specializes in pelvic issues, treating women suffering from pain or even peeing their pants on a treadmill or a trampoline.
"Even in this rural area, I currently have a three-month waiting list of people coming to see me," she said.
Woman pay a lot of money for diapers, pads, medications, or even surgeries every year to address a problem that they feel is unique to only them. She said the most common question she gets is whether or not she has seen such cases before. She estimates more than 50 percent of women have issues with urination and many others suffering from pelvic pain.
"They don't understand why these problems are coming and they don't know there is a solution," Cappiello said. "We are offering these women a solution, not a Band-Aid."
She has create My Core Floor, an online platform with exercises, education, and a forum to help women address pelvic muscle issues. And now she has $25,000 to significantly scale up her product. It will be able to track women's workouts to help strengthen muscles and customize exercises that address the right muscles and provide an ongoing survey for women to take about symptoms and life habits to track progress.
She said she and her team of physical therapists already have connections with providers throughout the country and in Canada ready to roll out the program. Those providers would recommend patients use the product.
"It allows us to reach a large group of women throughout the country, and Canada, fairly quickly," Cappiello said.
The product is already very far along. She said the first version of the program launched in April and has users. She expects to scale up by the end of 2019.
"There is never an age when it is OK to pee your pants or suffer with pelvic pain," she said.
The Lever Berkshire Health Technology Challenge Pitch Competition began in January when four finalists were decided upon out of a pool of 15. The goal of the competition is to help entrepreneurs get investors for their products and continue down the path of innovation.
"Today is really the culmination of three months of hard work and intensive instruction," said Brent Filson of Lever, a startup incubator based in North Adams.
The finalists were connected with mentors from highly recognized life science companies to help further develop their products, their marketing and revenue plans, and their timeline for expansion.
"I just want to thank everybody. This whole process was great. It really helped to propel My Core Floor forward," Cappiello said after accepting the award.
Life sciences has been a significant area of growth in Massachusetts. Berkshire Health Systems CEO David Phelps said health technology is constantly changing and evolving.
"We can't keep up with the changes and our clinicians depend on new applications," Phelps said as he welcomed the entrepreneurs to Berkshire Medical Center. "I could not imagine what our clinicians would do today if we had to change and go back."
The finalists had 10 minutes to pitch their product and then judges had 15 minutes to ask questions. The competition was judged by Laurie Thomsen, co-founding partner of Prism Venture Partners; Chris Sims, a partner of The Alchemy Fund; and Laurance Stuntz, director of the Massachusetts eHealth Institute at MassTech.
The winner was announced by Jennifer Griffin from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, which funds the competition. Griffin said entrepreneurship is all about community and this competition brings exactly that.
"We are a funder of the challenge here and we couldn't be prouder of the work," Griffin said.
Dr. Lara Aillon-Sohl, a psychologist at Williams College, was the runner-up and said 73 percent of college students will experience a mental health crisis. She said 64 percent of those who drop out of college do so because of mental health reasons and 74 percent of students will have an academic impairment. In all, 75 percent of the people with lifetime mental health conditions are diagnosed by the age of 24, she said.
Aillon-Sohl said most students don't get help when they need it. One patient said she didn't because she wanted privacy to handle it herself, that she didn't think she actually had a problem, and that she didn't have enough time with classwork and other responsibilities.
"These are the three top reasons why college students don't reach out and get mental health," she said.
Aillon-Sohl developed ThriveText, a new platform that will send text messages to students to remind them about their mental health. It will take them to a website with education, self-assessment tools so they know what's going on, access to skill-building tools, a peer-support discussion board, and a resource page for quick and accurate resources on or near campus.
"Mental health issues are isolating experiences for students," Aillon-Sohl said.
The text messages particularly change the dynamic from having a student actively go to an app or a website to get assistance. She said those resources work for certain individuals with the motivation to do so, but not all students.
"Text messaging is a validated behavioral health intervention," Aillon-Sohl said, adding that clinical trials have shown that text messaging works better than mobile apps.
But what sets her messages apart from others is that she has a "deep understanding of the college experience." She is a psychologist so she knows the right messages to promote mental health. And the problem is being well noted on college campuses.
"Colleges and universities are going to pay me because they are looking for solutions, too," she said.
The 5,430 colleges and universities across the country would be asked to purchase the platform from ThriveText to offer their students. Not only will it help create stronger and healthier students but will also serve as a way for colleges to notice trends on campus and be able to allocate resources to address them, Aillon-Sohl said.
"The landscape of mental health delivery is changing and I believe the time is right and necessary to identify new solutions," she said.
The other finalists had products aimed to improve tracheotomy treatments and bandages that help heal a wound quicker.
Respiratory therapists Peter Sandor and James Lunn developed a tracheotomy simulator to give doctors and educational institutions a closer look at the procedure. Sando said 30 percent of hospitalized patients with tracheotomies have safety accidents and 60 to 70 percent of those who suffer from them end up in the intensive care unit. He said often hospitals keep patients in the intensive care unit or step-down units because that is where the skilled nurses are located.
"There is no formal tracheotomy management system," Sandor said.
Three business experts judge the competition.
Sandor believes that can be significantly reduced with better understanding of tracheotomy management. The simulator ClearView developed from items bought at a Home Depot works just like human lungs do -- it includes a voice box and actual lungs. That, he said, isn't on the market today. The others don't show the interaction between the tubes, the vocal chords, and the lungs.
Sandor said hospitals in Europe introduced tracheotomy educational programs and have seen a 30 percent increase in knowledge so increasing education is working. At one hospital, the improved outcomes and reduced hospitals stays ultimately saved the hospital $624,000 in one year.
"Not only are we saving lives, but we are also saving the hospitals money," he said.
He said more companies in America are moving in that direction and that the simulation market is expected to rise from $986 million in 2016 to $2.5 billion in 2023.
Sandor said if the company can sell one product to just 5 percent of the hospitals in the United States, that would generate $750,000 in revenue.
A second phase for Clearview would be to launch a web-based training program. Sandor said the suggestion came from mentors but he had assumed it was already out there. It wasn't. Sandor is looking to develop that to drive an estimated $2.4 million more in revenue. A third phase would package both of those together.
"At the end of the day, it is really all about saving lives by ending tracheotomy-related accidents," Sandor said.
Avi Benmayor represented a team of University of Massachusetts students who are developing a bandage that not only protect wounds from infection but actually increases the speed of healing. Benmayor said 21st Biotech has created a prototype membrane and microchip with a chemical solution that increases skin-cell production.
"It is a little bigger than a Band-Aid, we are looking to treat larger wounds," he said.
Benmayor said a wound that would take 30 days to heal was cut to 15 days through the use of the product in testing. In a petri dish, the company has tested the chemicals and it showed skin cell production increased exponentially.
"After five days, you can really see how much we can make a difference in cell density," he said.
21st Century Biotech is eyeing the 7 million people over the age of 65 who suffer from wounds and a secondary market of 20 million laborers, soldiers, and athletes. Benmayor said four million people in the elderly community are using adhesive bandages for wounds that take longer to heal. He said it is a $3.8 billion industry.
"There is really nothing in the market that accelerates healing in a Band-Aid fashion," Benmayor said.
The UMass students are hoping to license the product through major companies such as Johnson & Johnson and Benmayor said they have a head start on the market because they have a working prototype, access to UMass labs, and an easy path through the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval.
"We believe we can get a full patent on our device," he added.
Benmayor said marketing and manufacturing will be taken care of by the licensee but bringing it to market is estimated to be four years away so that could change and the group could procure its own manufacturer and marketing plan.The goal is to finish the prototype by shrinking it from the large size the group has now to the bandage-size expected.
"If we have the capital,if we have the time, it could be a totally different ballgame," he said.
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