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See How Innovation Fund NEO Recipient RooSense Is Using Cutting-Edge Technology To Battle Dehydration

For athletes, getting enough water is simple, right? You take a drink when you’re thirsty. But one Ohio company is showing that runners, competitors and others have been approaching hydration with a stone-age mindset. Akron startup RooSense has developed a wearable textile that can monitor fluid levels, sensing when you need a drink and taking the guess work out of proper hydration.

“We are developing a smarter textile to help athletes learn about their sweat,” said co-founder and CTO Chelsea Monty-Bromer. “The tech is a fabric sensor that can be integrated into clothing and gear that athletes are already wearing. It can alert them to dehydration so that they know when to take a drink, what to hydrate with and what’s the best quantity. We want to help athletes maintain peak performance and prevent serious illness, injury and even death.

Athlete

Many athletes are obsessive about what they put into their bodies, and RooSense wants to help them feel the same way about hydration. In the age of personalization, the wearable tech — likely placed in a sleeve — would help them develop a plan for their water intake rather than relying on estimates.

“We really want to teach athletes more about their sweat and their hydration, because right now they’re just guessing,” said Monty-Bromer. “Everyone thinks, ‘If I go out running with my friends and they drink three bottles of Gatorade, I think I have to do the same thing because that works for them.’ But really, we’re all very different. So it’s about teaching people that their hydration and their health should be personalized to them. We want to help them develop the best strategy to prevent that guessing. Because, unfortunately, it can have very dire consequences.”

Like so many successful startups, RooSense needed an early pivot to find its niche. Monty-Bromer, a professor at the University of Akron, developed the idea with her co-founder and Chief Scientist Hanieh Ghadimi. The pair worked at the university to use their tech for prosthetic limbs, a plan that they eventually realized was missing the tech to back it up. But the duo’s smart textile had plenty of other uses and eventually they arrived at their new trajectory.

“The original idea was to use the sensors to measure temperature and sweat and kick on a cooling device,” said Monty-Bromer. “But the technology required a battery that was too heavy, and it never ended up happening. So we had this fabric and we didn’t know what to do with it. We participated in the I-Corps program and learned a lot about the market and how our sensor could help athletes with hydration and have a function in other areas. There really aren’t other textiles like this in production, and we estimate that it’s a $2 billion market opportunity.”

The RooSense team is now doing testing and developing a prototype of its product. They plan to spend this year working with athletes to fine-tune the tech, with a projected launch in the summer of 2021. And from what they’ve heard so far, RooSense should be well-received.

“The coaches and trainers we’ve talked to are very interested because they want to know more about their athletes,” said Monty-Bromer. “In terms of the athletes themselves, we’ve had a lot of interest from endurance athletes and soccer players — anyone who’s out there sweating for a long period of time. Cyclists, runners, triathletes and others are really interested in learning more about their sweat and having that real-time feedback. They want to maximize their hydration and not be guessing while they’re performing. Some of them are out there for eight to 16 hours, so hydration is extremely important.

From help with their pivot to funding and even office space, RooSense has taken full advantage of Ohio’s many resources. And with a big launch on the horizon, the company’s leaders are thankful to have been put in a position to deal with the entrepreneurial twists and turns and be next in a long line of Ohio inventors.

“We’ve been very fortunate, and Akron and the state of Ohio have been very good to us,” said Monty-Bromer. “The city itself really wants small businesses to succeed and has really invested a lot of time and money into helping us. That’s been really beneficial, and it’s made it a lot easier for us to move forward. We just received a grant from the Ohio Third Frontier Technology Validation and Start-up Fund and another from the Great Lakes Innovation Fund. We make use of the Bounce Innovation Hub and the Small Business Development Center. So we’ve really used the resources available across the state, and it’s been great for us.”

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Innovation Fund Graduate Axuall partners with MetroHealth to Improve and Streamline Practitioner Credentialing

Axuall

Axuall, Inc., a digital network for verifying identity, credentials, and authenticity in real-time, and The MetroHealth System, an essential health system committed to providing health care to everyone in Cuyahoga County, OH, announced today its teams are collaborating to test digital credentials for segments of its physician staff.

The pilot will use new technologies and workflows to acquire, manage, and share digital credentials via a nationwide network of practitioners, health systems, and primary source issuers. 

When fully deployed, practitioners will hold an up-to-date, reusable, and verified set of digital credentials that will enable a considerably faster and more efficient privileging and payor enrollment process.

The goal of this collaboration is to apply the technology to standard processes and bylaws to reduce credentialing wait times, improve accuracy, and alleviate practitioner administrative burden. Ultimately, this will improve patient access to care by shortening the hiring process for health care systems—especially as delivery channels move beyond brick-and-mortar to telehealth and other innovative approaches. 

"We are thrilled to work with MetroHealth to test, refine, and perfect this technology," said Charlie Lougheed, Axuall's CEO. "Reducing unnecessary costs and burdens on practitioners is core to our mission of helping practitioners practice less paperwork and more medicine."

The Axuall Network leverages blockchain and portable digital wallets to enable secure, real-time sharing and monitoring of credentials. The technology uses biometrics to confirm practitioner identity and protect privacy, enabling practitioners to control how and when their credentials are shared. 

These new digital portfolios will include documentation of a practitioner's education, specialty training and board certifications, licenses, sanctions or medical malpractice judgments, evaluations, work history, and hospital affiliations. In short, a verified, instantly accessible professional profile that otherwise might take an employer or accreditation agency weeks or even months to assemble.

Axuall was formed in 2018 and raised $3 million in seed capital for R&D in 2019. In December, it began a pilot with Hyr Medical and is expected to announce additional pilots in 2020 as the technology and workflows are perfected and its national network of credential issuing partners grows. 

"We are excited to work together with Axuall to bring this innovation to our organization," said Julie Jacono, MetroHealth Senior Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer. "Meeting the needs of our community requires that we reduce the barriers to deploying clinical resources across new geographies and delivery channels." 

Innovation Fund Company Hedgemon is a Game Changer

Hedgemon

AKRON, Ohio — Emily Kennedy, and her Akron-based start-up Hedgemon, just might be part of the solution to football's concussion troubles.

Kennedy and her team are hoping to change the game with help from a hedgehog.

"We were pretty surprised by what we learned about the hedgehog," Kennedy said. "In the wild, they're really active climbers, so it's not unusual for them to fall. But when they do, they curl into this ball and they're totally encased by their quills, which have evolved really impressive shock-absorbing properties."

Hedgemon was founded by University of Akron researchers in 2015. Today, they're in the process of developing and marketing a helmet safety liner based on those very hedgehog quills.

It's science based in nature -- an approach known as biomimicry.

"Biomimicry, at its essence, is innovation inspired by nature," she said. "One of the examples that's pretty ubiquitous that you probably have heard of is Velcro, which was actually inspired by how burrs stick to animal fur."

In fact, the University of Akron has emerged as a leader in this field, and it's what attracted Kennedy, a Massachusetts native, to Northeast Ohio.

"I never pictured myself as an Ohioan, but I jumped at the opportunity, moved here in 2012 and now Cleveland is home, Akron's home. I've come to really love it here."

She's even recruited her parents to move to the area as well. 

Kennedy and Hedgemon have been in the news quite a bit lately, thanks, in part, to her recognition as one of Cleveland Magazine's "Most Interesting People 2020." She says she hopes the positive attention will only help the company grow.

Right now, their liner is still in a testing phase, but Emily and her team believe their technology could -- one day -- have uses far beyond just football helmets.

"We think that we could find a way to adapt the solution for that so it could be in infant car seats, it could be in fall protection flooring for nursing homes or day care facilities. Maybe it's even going to be in automotive paneling so the possibilities are really, really broad."

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Innovation Fund Recipient Fontus Blue is Using Tech to Clean Your Drinking Water

FontusBlue

How the Akron startup is fixing old methods with new tech

After decades of technological advances, you would assume the tech used to clean our drinking water has kept up with other industries. But that’s not necessarily true — just ask Fontus Blue President, CEO and founder Chris Miller. The Akron startup has developed a product that accomplishes a simple but difficult goal: making your drinking water safer and more consistent. The water experts’ platform helps treatment facilities maintain the right chemistry in drinking water while improving efficiency and reducing costs, a much-needed trip into the 21st century for humanity’s most important resource.

“We created a platform that helps monitor and recommend treatment decisions at drinking-water and wastewater facilities,” said Miller. “What makes me feel good is helping these operators who are faced with this complex chemistry and stressful job. Our secret weapon is supporting those operators. We’re not trying to drive the entire treatment plant with software that’s flipping levers for them. It’s collaborative because it helps us work with them with technology at the core.”

Managing drinking water isn’t easy, and Miller and his team are well aware. It takes extremely specific methods and preparation to avoid unwanted substances in water and every geographic location comes with its own specific challenges, from local algae to trace amounts of lead. Miller compares older methods of regulation to driving a manual car — sure, it’s doable, but it’s much easier and more reliable with an automatic transmission, especially when the risks are so great.

“If you’re in a swimming pool that has chlorine in the water, you don’t worry about drinking it or having it on your skin, and if you have a glass that contains dissolved organic materials, you would drink that water and think nothing of it,” said Miller. “But when you mix the two together and allow them time, they form these harmful byproducts. There’s a lot of complex chemistry that happens and there’s still a lot of research to be done. That’s where we come in. Our software isn’t just this powerful calculator; it allows facilities to deal with all the water-quality issues they have to manage.”

Miller was no stranger to water treatment before launching Fontus Blue. He’s been a civil engineering professor at the University of Akron since 1995, teaching courses focused on drinking-water quality. But several years ago, his work became more personal. Miller’s wife experienced multiple miscarriages around the same time his dog was diagnosed with cancer, two occurrences known to increase from exposure to carcinogens in drinking water. With solutions on his mind, Miller went in search of an answer.

“I started digging into the issue and found that it’s not if carcinogens are in your drinking water, but how many,” said Miller. “I was surprised. I’ve been doing drinking-water research for 25-plus years, and I realized that a lot of the research and technical advancements haven’t translated into real progress. So I decided to create the platform to try and facilitate that progress by translating the research into something drinking water utilities could use.”

Fontus Blue works with both public and private clients, helping to ensure a better quality of drinking water for a variety of populations. With the help of organizations like JumpStart and Bounce Hub, the company now has a presence in eight states and counting. And for a company with growth and innovation on its mind, Fontus Blue’s home in Akron provides what they need to attract talent, improve their product and continue to evolve.

“I’ve been in Ohio for almost 25 years, and the entrepreneurial support network has never been better,” said Miller. “It really helps to be living in this environment. Any time we’ve needed anything, we’ve never had trouble finding someone to support us. Whether they’re here because they went to school here or they’ve always been here, I think we have access to the talent and the affordability to build a team that can execute what we need. It’s almost comical how much more affordable it is to try and do things here in Ohio versus somewhere else.”

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Innovation Fund Graduates RooSense and EveryKey promote their new products at CES

RooSense CES

Every January, electronics and high-tech companies from around the world travel to Las Vegas to CES, the trade show formerly known as the Consumer Electronics Show, to promote the latest innovations they will be bringing to the marketplace.

This year, 4,000 exhibiting companies debuted more than 20,000 products to 170,000 attendees from Jan. 7-10, the Consumer Technology Association, the event's sponsor, reported.

Apple was there. So were all of the other major device-makers. So were the larger Northeast Ohio product-makers: GE Lighting, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. and Moen Inc., among others.

But so, too, were Everykey Inc.RooSense LLC and a handful of other small, emerging businesses, taking advantage of Case Western Reserve University's sponsorship of a booth at CES to get their names and their products in front of the show's attendees. The booth was in Eureka Park, an area for startups that was a small part of the show, which spread across 11 buildings along the Las Vegas Strip radiating from the Las Vegas Convention and World Trade Center.

"Everyone from Walmart to Target to Best Buy and everyone in between is kind of scouring the floor for what's going to be the new up-and-coming cool technology to sell," said Chris Wentz, CEO of Everykey, a Cleveland maker of Bluetooth products that replace passwords and can unlock smartphones, computers and online sites. "This is the first year of going to CES where we actually have a shippable product."

Everykey, which Wentz created in 2013 while a student at CWRU, has struggled to bring its idea to market. But now, he said, he's refocused his approach and the product is ready to go to market.

"We've taken a little bit more of a B2B enterprise focus," he explained. "And that was a really exciting part of this show. Ninety-nine percent of the people walking around work for a company and have decision-making power within their company. So there's a lot of enterprises that we met during CES this year that want to do a pilot with our product. And you know, somebody who has 10,000-plus employees can be some pretty substantial sales for us."

CWRU has sponsored a booth at the show for seven years, said Robert Sopko, director of the university's LaunchNet program, whose mission is to train entrepreneurs, especially students and former students like Wentz, on the university's campus. CWRU took a 32-by-22-foot space — Booth 51548 — at Eureka Park. The school covered the $12,000 cost of the booth and invited a dozen organizations, most being grown by students, faculty or alumni, to share the space.

"It was phenomenal. We were busy all the time," said Sopko. "The engagement was really great. We were even busy on the last day."

Eureka Park was surrounded by 1,200 startup companies from 46 countries. The CWRU booth was close to other universities, as well as booths run by countries such as Israel and the Netherlands.

Hanieh Ghadimi and Chelsea Monty-Bromer, co-founders of Akron- based RooSense, attended CES last year to get the lay of the land, but this was their first year exhibiting. Monty-Bromer said their company is about a year away from a salable product, but the trip was still worthwhile.

"There are a lot of investors walking around looking for things to invest in," she said. "And there are a lot of people who make electronic components who are looking for maybe customers for themselves or partnerships. That's really what we were looking for: people who can help us with our different pieces that we have to make to get this to market."

Monty-Bromer is an associate professor of chemical engineering at the University of Akron, while Ghadimi is a postdoctoral researcher there. The pair founded the company in late 2017 based on research on biosensors and nanosensors. RooSense is developing a fabric with sensors that can keep athletes wearing clothing made from it from becoming dehydrated.

"CES is one of the largest global forums for deal flow, so there is a lot of deals being made between companies big and small," said Neil Singh, director of technology at Team NEO, the regional economic development nonprofit, who also made the trip to Las Vegas. "Typically, it's technology companies looking at other innovative companies where it adds value to their portfolio. It's extremely good exposure for businesses in the technology space."

In addition to Everykey and RooSense, CWRU's booth was shared by 3D Music, which was showing a prototype of its 3D-printed musical instruments; Ant-X LLC, which helps people create diets that meet their health needs; Axuall Inc., which is developing a digital network for verifying professional and technical credentials; BioFlightVR, a developer of virtual-reality medical training and education software; Delta Sound Labs, a maker of audio-effects plugins; Everyone Makes Progress Inc., a blockchain-based fitness data analzyzer; Lumen Polymer, a CWRU student effort that has designed an adhesive bandage that removes easily after being treated with ultraviolet light; Repowered Robotics, a student-run startup that's developing modestly priced robotics components for startups or small companies; and Tauon LLC, which is helping video game developers incorporate voice-activated commands.

CWRU's Interactive Commons, which is developing software applications for augmented and virtual reality using Microsoft HoloLens, and Blockland Cleveland, which has a think tank at CWRU to help the effort to build blockchain technologies in Northeast Ohio, also used the university's booth.

Wentz said the experience was also a good way to get candid feedback.

"CES is a good learning experience for us. It really gives us a very honest view of the market every year," he said. "There's probably thousands of people that approach us throughout the course of CES, and these are people that know the industry and can kind of like really honestly evaluate us. There's a lot of kind individuals and brutally honest (opinions), and that's helpful for us."

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Innovation Fund Winners Hyr Medical and Axuall are partnering up to pilot digital credentialing for physicians

hyr med axuall

Hyr Medical — a Cleveland startup that connects health care providers to places to practice — has partnered with Axuall, a digital verification company, also in Cleveland, to pilot portable digital credentials across portions of Hyr's network of more than 650 physicians, according to a news release.

The partnership will leverage Axuall's national network of primary-source credential issuers to enable physicians to present fully compliant credential sets to places where they apply to practice via the Hyr platform. Hyr Medical's online network directly connects qualified physicians and health care systems for freelance ("locum tenens"), telehealth and permanent jobs.

Regulations require health care employers and health plans to credential practitioners upon hire and periodically after that. The process, which can be a significant operating expense and take anywhere from three to six months to complete, is repeated for each additional care setting where a physician works, leaving qualified physicians waiting to start work, patients waiting for care and health care systems losing money, according to the release.

"Together, the Hyr and Axuall technologies will play complementary roles in reducing unnecessary costs and time to place qualified physicians into much-needed positions," Charlie Lougheed, Axuall's CEO, said in a prepared statement. "We expect to learn a great deal during this pilot as we observe how this technology reshapes workflows and improves efficiencies."

Supported credential types include, according to the release: medical education, training, licensing, board certification, work history, competency evaluations, sanctions and adverse events.

Axuall's network leverages patent-pending blockchain technology to enable physicians to acquire digital versions of their credentials from authorized issuers, including medical schools, residency programs, license bureaus and medical boards, according to the release. They can then share those credentials securely with health care systems and medical groups.

"As the U.S. health care system grapples with the challenges of meeting the growing demand for care coupled with the disparity in physician density between metro and rural locations, health care employers are looking for new ways to attract, engage and deploy practitioners," Hyr Medical CEO Manoj Jhaveri said in a prepared statement. "We expect new models like on-demand freelancing, telehealth and faster placement to play a significant role in addressing these challenges. Technologies like Axuall and Hyr will enable these advancements."

As part of the pilot, the companies will study the experience of the practitioners acquiring, managing and sharing their digital credentials with employers. Collected data will help them better understand how technologies "improve workflow, reduce redundancy and create empowering experiences for physicians," according to the release. Axuall has recently started separate pilots with two health systems, details of which will be announced "shortly," according to the release.

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