Lo­cal en­trepreneurs win One Spark com­pe­ti­tion, look for in­vestors

In­dian Head business look­ing to change the way nurses, health work­ers learn skills

Maryland Independent - - Business - By DAR­WIN WEIGEL dweigel@somd­news.com Twit­ter: @somd_bized­i­tor

A trio of lo­cal in­ven­tors are try­ing to change the way nurses and other med­i­cal staff learn their craft and de­velop the hands-on skills needed for pa­tient care.

B& G Ed­u­ca­tional In­no­va­tions, a re­cent win­ner of $120,000 in Mi­crosoft sup­port and ser­vices at the One Spark com­pe­ti­tion in Jack­sonville, Fla., is devel­op­ing a set of wear­able sim­u­la­tors that will al­low stu­dents to learn and prac­tice skills such as draw­ing blood, in­sert­ing catheters and test­ing blood sugar with re­al­is­tic feed­back and a way to log per­for­mance for later review.

Reg­is­tered nurse and ed­u­ca­tor Linda C. Good­man of La Plata teamed up with fel­low ed­u­ca­tors El­iz­a­beth and Jim Ben­son of In­dian Head a year ago af­ter an “in­ter-pro­fes­sional” med­i­cal sim­u­la­tion Good­man hosted at the Col­lege of South­ern Mary­land’s La Plata Cam­pus where all three teach.

“Liz and Jim were kind enough to be vol­un­teer pa­tients,” Good­man said. “At some point we had to do IVs. All we had were plas­tic arms and we sat one up next to Jim. As a stu­dent was stick­ing an arm, Jim yells ‘Ouch!’”

“You should have seen the ex­pres­sion on that per­son’s face,” El­iz­a­beth Ben­son added.

“The ex­pres­sion and the lack of re­al­ism with the fake arm was just so ap­par­ent. Even Jim, who’s not a nurse, rec­og­nized it,” Good­man said.

That week­end the Ben­sons and Good­man were spend­ing time to­gether as friends when talk turned to what had hap­pened at the sim­u­la­tion event.

“We said, ‘We need some­thing bet­ter,’ and that’s lit­er­ally how it started,” El­iz­a­beth said. “So, while we were talk­ing, I got on Ama­zon and or­dered a tat­too sleeve [meant for cov­er­ing tat­toos]. We or­dered some other things that we could play with and came up with a few de­signs very quickly. We re­al­ized, talk­ing about it and re­search­ing it, that there re­ally aren’t any [de­vices] like this any­where else. If we need them this des­per­ately as end users, other peo­ple just like us need them, too.”

The wear­able sleeves, gloves and bibs con­tain veins and ar­ter­ies — in­clud­ing fake blood — that will have sen­sors that can pro­duce re­sponses as well as log in­for­ma­tion about how the pro­ce­dure was done, Good­man said. The per­son wear­ing it plays the role of a pa­tient, pos­si­bly a re­luc­tant one, that the stu­dent has to deal with while per­form­ing the pro­ce­dure.

Cur­rently, man­nequins and other de­vices are used for train­ing — but usu­ally with min­i­mal or no pa­tient feed­back. Good­man, who was a nurse for 35 years be­fore turn­ing to teach­ing, said that feed­back is an im­por­tant miss­ing link that can lead to bet­ter in­ter­per­sonal com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills, which re­sults in bet­ter pa­tient care.

“That’s what this is all about — bet­ter skilled and trained nurses when they grad­u­ate and bet­ter com­mu­ni­ca­tion to the pa­tient,” Jim Ben­son added.

“It’s to en­hance sim­u­la­tion train­ing. You can’t re­ally re­place [man­nequins] com­pletely, but this fills the gap,” El­iz­a­beth said.

The start-up business is cur­rently head­quar­tered at the Ben­sons’ home in In­dian Head, where de­ci­sions are made and ideas are dis­cussed around the din­ing room ta­ble. Ad­vi­sors cur­rently in­clude Good­man’s son, Ni­cholas Good­man, an ac­coun­tant in North­ern Vir­ginia, as well as a patent at­tor­ney head­quar­tered in New York.

Since pre­sent­ing at the One Spark com­pe­ti­tion in early April, where they con­vinced five ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist judges that their in­no­va­tion was wor­thy of in­vest­ment in­ter­est, they’ve been set­ting up meet­ings with po­ten­tial in­vestors and hon­ing their sales pitch.

“We did trade­mark the prod­uct line. It’s called ReaLifeSim,” Good­man said. “That way if any­body de­cides they want to buy the business at some point, they can buy the prod­uct line and we’ll still main­tain the Ed­u­ca­tional In­no­va­tions.”

“We have pro­vi­sional patents on these items and it was our patent at­tor­ney, who has an of­fice in New York and in Jack­sonville, that made us aware of this One Spark com­pe­ti­tion down there, which we didn’t even know those things ex­isted,” Jim said.

With their al­pha test­ing com­pleted they’re cur­rently look­ing for a round of fund­ing to carry them through pro­to­typ­ing and beta test­ing, then into man­u­fac­tur­ing and dis­tri­bu­tion.

“We’re look­ing for $500,000 to get through beta test­ing, prod­uct de­vel­op­ment and to the Se­ries A [pre­ferred stock] to go up to com­mer­cial,” El­iz­a­beth said. “That’s about an eight-month burn rate. And 79 per­cent of that is in prod­uct de­vel­op­ment, man­u­fac­tur­ing and dis­tri­bu­tion.” She said they’ve been in­ter­view­ing prod­uct en­gi­neers and hope to have pro­to­types some­time this sum­mer.

The $120,000 One Spark prize is ex­pected to cover de­vel­op­ment of a web­site and cloud com­put­ing that will be part of the stu­dent per­for­mance review as­pect. Stu­dents us­ing the de­vices will type in a code to show them every­thing that hap­pened dur­ing the sim­u­la­tion.

“And the cost we’re look­ing at for the uni­ver­sal set . . . the cost is less, af­ter man­u­fac­tur­ing, of a text­book,” El­iz­a­beth said. “Your av­er­age text­book is $250 to $350. This is go­ing to be $250 or less for those de­vices. That’s the price point. We re­ally need to keep it in­ex­pen­sive so they get the value of it.”

The rel­a­tively fast-paced move from a friendly con­ver­sa­tion a year ago to pitch­ing for large cash in­fu­sions from ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists has im­mersed the ed­u­ca­tors in the lan­guage of business. Good­man’s back­ground is in nurs­ing, Jim spent a ca­reer as a pub­lic af­fairs of­fi­cer for the U.S. Air Force and has taught com­mu­ni­ca­tion classes at CSM for the last ten years, and El­iz­a­beth spent most of her ca­reer in the class­room as a health sci­ences in­struc­tor.

“To pre­pare for this, I took an on­line class in en­trepreneur­ship and business mod­el­ing,” El­iz­a­beth said, talk­ing about the pitch she made at One Spark. “As a nurse ed­u­ca­tor I knew noth­ing about this.”

Since the suc­cess at One Spark, the three have gained more con­fi­dence that the business is com­ing to­gether. Prod­ucts may be avail­able some­time in 2017. Health ed­u­ca­tors and hos­pi­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions have al­ready ex­pressed in­ter­est in the wear­able sim­u­la­tors, El­iz­a­beth said.

“If we know we need them, some­body else has rec­og­nized they need them, too,” El­iz­a­beth said. “First on the mar­ket is go­ing to make a dif­fer­ence.”

“I’m kind of the pes­simist of the group some­times,” Good­man said, “but ev­ery time we go in front of these groups [of in­vestors], no one’s ever told us it’s not go­ing to work. Ev­ery­body says yes. No one has said no.”

“We’re op­ti­mistic that it’s just a mat­ter of mak­ing the right con­nec­tion,” Jim added.

“We’ve had peo­ple say ‘I can’t right now’ or ‘Not yet,’” El­iz­a­beth said. “It’s not a ‘no,’ it’s get it to the next step and come talk to us. So that’s what we’re go­ing to do. It’s go­ing to hap­pen.”

STAFF PHOTO BY DAR­WIN WEIGEL

Linda C. Good­man of La Plata, left, and El­iz­a­beth and Jim Ben­son of In­dian Head formed B&G Ed­u­ca­tional In­no­va­tions a year ago and are devel­op­ing wear­able health ed­u­ca­tion sim­u­la­tors.

One of the mocked-up wear­able sim­u­la­tors un­der de­vel­op­ment by B & G Ed­u­ca­tional In­no­va­tions. The In­dian Head com­pany hopes to have work­ing pro­to­types later this year.

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