Marcos Oliva and his colleagues at iTherm, a Boston- and Barcelona, Spain-based mobile health technology startup, know full well that the communications landscape is littered with the remains of many a cool idea that never quite found its niche. Oliva says iTherm is not about to fall into the trap of whiz-bang for its own sake.
"We wanted to solve a very specific problem," Oliva says. "We don't want to do a very cool device that does lots of things. We are focusing on our problem and trying to solve it in the best, simple way. I think, when we talk to potential investors, they realize that pragmatic approach is worth pursuing more than trying to build something big that may not solve any particular need, or that may have difficulty going through the regulatory process."
Oliva's brainchild is a continuous temperature monitoring system that combines a biosensor-equipped arm bracelet and a smartphone app intended to allow every member of a family with a sick child to get a full night's sleep unless the child's fever spikes above a certain level. And, like many a Eureka moment, Oliva came by it through personal experience.
When his elder son had his first cold and fever, the pediatrician told Oliva and his wife, "Watch out that the temperature does not get too high by giving him antipyretics every eight hours for two days. If there is no improvement bring him back." That night they organized shifts every two hours to monitor the fever, and the next day the whole family was very tired. With the birth of his second child, the sleepless nights increased.
Using Bluetooth 4.0, Oliva attached a temperature sensor to a bracelet, so that by placing it on the child's arm the temperature could be monitored without waking the child. The system, which is compatible with any iOS or Android phone, also features alarms to wake parents if the temperature rises, but the whole family can rest if it does not. The app also includes a medication reminder and all the data is recorded, so it can be examined by the child's pediatrician and also entered in an EHR, Oliva says.
The thermometer sensor, Oliva says, has tested to +/- .1 degree of accuracy.
"It's as good as any other thermometer you find on the market, any $50 thermometer you'd find it's the same type of sensor," he says.
The iTherm team, which has built prototypes of the sensor and bracelet and developed the smartphone app, recently launched a $29,000 crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to garner operating capital. But Oliva says the crowdfunding campaign is not the only financing vector the team is pursuing.
"We see it as a complement to our strategy of also talking to venture capitalists, as a way to give it exposure," he says. "In our case, a good portion of our target audience is parents who use smartphones. That doesn't mean that they want to participate in crowdfunding. So we don't see it so much as a market validation or a fundraising exercise. It's more to get exposure and obviously to give those early adopters the opportunity to be part of the project. I'm not sure of the percentage of crowdfunded campaigns that are able to raise millions of dollars, which is what you need to meet the long-term needs of projects like this. It would not be feasible for us to think of it as the only route."
So the team has also been talking to potential investors, and though the initial appeal will be to parents who want a good night's rest if their children's health permits it, Oliva says the team is also finalizing the details of an agreement with a leading children's hospital that will see the hospital's clinicians use the device for research.
"The point of that is to explore the value of this from a professional point of view," he says. "Fever has not been studied as deeply as needed, because there was no way to actually monitor it. It was more a matter of measuring from time to time even if it was every three hours, that really doesn't give you a way to monitor it. With our technology, what they're thinking is they can spend more time and do studies on monitoring the temperatures of kids, and they may be able to recognize patterns before they happen.
"The other thing we found out is there is a significant portion of the adult population, especially people with specific illnesses, who need to be monitored. That's something we did not anticipate and we've been contacted a significant amount of times about that. It won't change our strategy, per se, but it's another segment that might be helpful."
And, as the company's possible use scenarios keep expanding, Oliva says the vectors by which the iTherm technology may enter the market seem to, also. He says he honestly does not know whether the company may be absorbed by a bigger firm, or exactly what the technological landscape will look like in five to 10 years; however, the founders' vision, to use biosensor technology to fix one well-defined problem at a time, is a constant.
"When companies interested in strategic partnerships talk to us, it's not so much about what we've done so far, but the ideas we have about the future," he says. "The process of just putting the thermometer sensor in a bracelet on an arm is not the most difficult thing in the world, but the vision we have, for a company that provides parents with better options for managing their kids thru sensors, I think that's the vision these companies think is valuable.
"I think biosensors will be part of our day-to-day lives a couple years from now in the same way smartphones are today. We are convinced of that, and it's part of our DNA to solve problems. We dont want to build cool technology. Cool has a very limited shelf life. When I have to go spend $50 on a digital thermometer that doesn't solve the problem of waking up in the middle of the night well, part of what drives us being able to help ourselves as parents."
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