CURTAIN CALL: The startups of PULSE @MassChallenge and their champions gathered at the Wilbur Theatre to celebrate their awards ceremony this week. FOUNDERSWIRE PHOTO
By ALLISON HUBER
BOSTON—The historic Wilbur Theatre played host to a different kind of drama at Tuesday’s PULSE@MassChallenge Finals, as 31 companies showcased their healthcare solutions to investors and spectators alike.
The group was selected from a pool of 430-plus applicants and represented 30 states and 20 countries. PULSE@MassChallenge, run by the Boston-based global accelerator MassChallenge, is a six-month program dedicated to pairing startup digital healthcare organizations with experts, institutions and resources. Unlike MassChallenge’s main accelerator program, which accepts up to 128 startups annually, PULSE participants are accepted through a match-making program with one or more of PULSE’s 32 champions (or partner organizations), including the City of Boston, Vertex Pharmaceuticals, Microsoft, Boston Children’s Hospital and many more.
Syncthink took the $100,000 grand prize for innovation in eye-tracking technology products that give medical professionals objective metrics for visual attention. Syncthink CTO Daniel Beeler attributed the startup’s success both to its persistence and the unique opportunity presented by PULSE. “I’m shocked, surprised, delighted: It’s wonderful,” Beeler said. “PULSE is a very unique experience. We get paired with a real corporate champion. We get embedded in their clinical apparatus, and it’s simply something that would not happen otherwise.”
Twiage, a HIPPA-secure mobile and web platform that bridges communication between ambulances and the Emergency Department, took the second place prize of $60,000. Founder and CEO YiDing Yu gave special thanks to the PULSE champions. “The 60 EMS agents and the 14 hospitals who believed in what we were doing to help accelerate life-saving care took a risk. I admire them, and I think they are part of the pillars of this community, and we need more of them.”
Rendever, virtual-reality software designed for elderly people in assisted living, took third place honors with the prize of $40,000. Co-founder and Product Manager Kyle Rand described his own commitment to improving the way people age because of his own grandmother’s struggle in assisted living. “An individual goes through having huge, amazing life experiences and then it, all of a sudden, shrinks. We think that virtual reality is the perfect application to re-expand that world and re-connect them. If they’re missing a family event—a family member is getting married on the West Coast—this will allow them to actually sit in that wedding.” Rand and his co-founder spent time living in these communities and understanding how VR could be used to alleviate friction between the elderly and new technology.
Rendever wasn’t the only startup in attendance that was concerned with end-of-life planning. Suelin Chen, CEO and co-founder of Cake, spent her entire career in health care and felt that the biggest problem was end-of-life care. Through the PULSE program, Chen was able to connect with Steven Fink of Harvard Pilgrim to further the development of her company.
Florence Furaha, co-founder and managing director of Meetcaregivers, accredited her passion for health care to her personal experience in the industry. “I worked as a caregiver and a care manager. I saw how many families were struggling to find home care for their aging parents, so that’s how the idea started,” she said. Through PULSE, Furaha and her team developed their online platform to connect families to qualified caregivers at an affordable price.
In addition to the first-, second- and third-place awards, the audience and the startups themselves had the opportunity to vote for their favorite companies. The MACP People’s Choice Award and cash prize went to ACT.md, a platform that connects all care team members through a cloud-based platform.
3Derm, an imaging system that captures and delivers high-quality photographs of skin abnormalities directly to dermatologists, was awarded the Sunovion Startup’s Choice Award. Founded in 2012, 3Derm focuses on improving access to dermatologists to expedite treatment of such serious conditions as skin cancer.
Jeff Leiden, chairman, president and chief executive of Vertex Pharmaceuticals, underscored the importance of teamwork, especially in the realm of health care. “The 31 startups and more than 81 partner companies demonstrate perfectly the impact an ecosystem can have when it comes together to support its newest members and the tremendous innovations that emerge from this community to improve human health.”
Gov. Charlie Baker, who jokingly compared the PULSE incubator to “an American idol for startups,” announced a special surprise for the PULSE program: an additional $170,000 in future funding for the PULSE incubator and $80,000 for the Baystate Health Technology Center located in Springfield, Mass. Looking to further the necessary staffing, programming and cost of startup incubators, the governor reiterated his commitment to expanding Massachusetts’ role as a leader and pioneer in the realm of digital health care.
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