According to the CDC nearly 1.7-3.8 million Americans have a sports-related concussion or mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) each year, of which, a third go undiagnosed. Untreated individuals with single or multiple head injuries are at risk for cognitive decline, neurodegenerative conditions, and death. Combined direct and indirect costs of managing TBI including medical treatment, lost wages and poor quality of life for people suffering the effects of untreated TBI added up to nearly 60 billion in 2000 alone. Adolescent athletes bear the burden of undiagnosed concussions, and this problem is further complicated by the high uncertainty in diagnosing TBI correctly.
Our technology, will enable a fast, accurate and objective assessment of whether an individual has sustained a concussion, from a single drop of blood. The ease of portability will allow atheletic trainers and other users to make a quick diagnosis, thus reducing repeat injuries and related health problems.
This week topic at i-CORP was all about the art of interviewing and the key questions to answer/anticipate when approaching venture capitalists for seed money. An effective interviewer accomplishes multiple goals. He/She asks the right questions, but leaves room for other answers not anticipated, goes into the interview with an open mind, pays attention to body language and other cues to ascertain the truth of what is being said, asks questions without biasing interview subjects and is structured enough to keep subject on the right track.
We learned from two athletic trainers that they feel considerable pressure to decide the fate of athletes and their readiness to return to play. Our interview with an emergency room doctor revealed that the medical field relies on negative findings to determine concussions. Currently, no objective diagnostic procedure specific to concussion exists in the market.
This week’s class was about customer segmentation and idea testing, reiterating the importance of continuing customer interviews. The goal of the interviews is to find not just the obvious pains but latent needs that when discovered, can be used to design a winning product. We also learned that initially, customer segments on the extreme ends of the behavior spectrum should be targeted, since these individuals have spent a great deal of time thinking about the problem and found ways to combat them and their niche-based knowledge could be useful in giving us insight about product design.
We interviewed Lower Merion Ice hockey league president, and coaches at the elementary and high school levels. We found that their ideal test for concussions would use saliva, and not blood, be user-friendly in that it would require little training and would provide results in under 15 minutes. We thought that a pin prick to draw blood would be considered fairly non-invasive, however, we now know that most users, especially children would want want to avoid even minor blood draws.
This week’s class introduced us to a number of helpful resources we can use to launch a successful business. Legal help doesn’t come cheap, however, by applying to be a client at the legal clinic at Penn that specializes in matters of intellectual property and entrepreneurship, clients can receive quality, confidential and pro-bono help on critical matters that could affect one’s business plan. Cynthia Dahl, a practising attorney for 20 years and professor at the Penn Law School informed us about the importance of not just applying for a patent, but addressing issues of freedom to operate, trademark, domain names, and confidentiality when hiring new personnel, early on, and using it to create a smart business strategy.
Adam Greenspan, director of the Incubation Services at the Science Center, told us about several programs, like the Port Business Incubator that can offer companies grant-writing support, affordable, fully-equipped lab space, office equipment and even a communal work-space that can be used as a permanent work address while the business is in transition. The Science Center also has a program called Quoram, that matches entrepreneurs with an investor for an informal feedback session, and office hours with expert advisors to meet one-on-one with entrepreneurs, answer questions and offer targeted advice. Needless to say, we plan to use several of these resources to launch our business.
This week’s class was all about designing your MVP. Scott put us through the paces, pairing us up with a another classmate and designing their dream wallet. The exercise encouraged listening to the customer, creativity, distillation of the most critical features for the user, and set a 5-7 minute time limit for the discussion, design, execution and creation of the wallet. Some designers adopted a minimalist aesthetic, whereas others eschewed a physical wallet in favor of a virtual smartphone based card scanner system, while yet another proposed a purse with an electronic transfer system for a cash heavy business to eliminate multiple trips to the bank.
The goal is to design an MVP as early and as economically as possible. For a medical device, like ours, that isn’t functional yet, for which the creation of a prototype maybe months away, we could still create an MVP by making a video of how it would work in principle. A video of our MVP on a landing page could be a fast, easy and cheap way to assess interest in the use of our technology on a far bigger scale than our interviews alone.
The final week of I-Corps was about extracting key lessons learned from our customer interviews and next steps. We started out with a focus on youth athletics which we believed would be our core customer base, however, evaluation of market opportunity revealed that we would need to expand our customer segments. Since then, we have included general users, i.e., individuals not involved in sports who may have sustained TBI through an accidental fall or other mishap. This inclusion will add substantially to our current market size. We also found that different customer segments preferred different features when it came to device design. Clinicians were fine with blood-based testing whereas athletic trainers and athletes expressed a preference towards something even less invasive like urine.
For our future work, we intend to utilize the resources at the Penn Law Clinic to understand issues relating to freedom-to-operate with reference to our device design and continue to focus on selecting biomarkers best suited for concussion detection. We are also in the process of talking to various organization representatives committeed to fighting the prevalence and misdiagnosis of concussions such as the Brain Unity Trust (BUT) and Moms Against Concussions (MAC), who have provided us with additional contacts, i.e., activists, legislators who can further enlighten us as to the media campaign, and other milestones we need to reach in order to promote adaptation and acceptance of our device.