On Wednesday, February 17, 2016, the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), in partnership with Health 2.0 and Blueprint Health, announced the winners of the latest round of pilot funding from Digital Health Marketplace (formerly Pilot Health Tech NYC), a groundbreaking competition to support healthcare technology entrepreneurship in NYC by matching start-up companies who have an innovative technology with an institutional host who will help support it. This year, one of the winning teams is Weill Cornell graduate student Fon Powell and the Weill Cornell Clinical and Translational Science Center (CTSC). As the innovator, Ms. Powell and her company Sodium Analyte Level Test LLC (S.A.L.T.) have developed a portable, smart phone-based home urinary analysis test that will allow users to conveniently self-monitor sodium intake, while providing physicians and researchers a mechanism to gather data on salt levels. As her host, the CTSC will support Ms. Powell in gathering pilot and proof-of-concept data in human participants that will help her expand the business and meet regulatory requirements.
For Ms. Powell, a PhD student in computational neuroscience, the idea for the company came in 2014 when she was introduced to the technology during the course Bench to Bedside: Business Fundamentals for Entrepreneurial Scientists at Weill Cornell. Although her academic interests were in an unrelated discipline, the potential of this technology to help those living with hypertension, which disproportionately impacts African American communities and has affected members of Ms. Powell’s own family, spoke to her. Ms. Powell expressed her gratitude to Weill Cornell Medicine physician Samuel J. Mann, MD, and biostatistician Linda Gerber, PhD, MA, who developed the algorithm used by the technology.
Since then, the journey to becoming an entrepreneur with a young company has been helped by several supportive organizations along the way. “The NYCEDC has been really great in supporting early start ups,” she noted, acknowledging not only the Digital Health Marketplace program, but also the Entrepreneurship Lab Bio and Health Tech NYC, which she described as a “six-month mini-MBA” that helped her develop a business plan and provided networking and training to tackle the various challenges of launching new health technology. She also credited the support of the Stonybrook Center for Biotechnology, which created additional opportunities for her to pitch the project and helped her access patent information that would have been prohibitively expensive for a young company to otherwise obtain. In 2015, Ms. Powell took first place in the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council Student Entrepreneur Program, which has also helped her further her company. “People want to help young entrepreneurs,” she observed of her experience. “You have to learn how to ask for the help.”
Ms. Powell and the CTSC will collaborate in a number of ways. “As a grad student, I knew of the CTSC because of its educational activities,” she said, having successfully completed the CTSC’s Introduction to 3D Printing workshop, which offered a three-session overview of 3D Printing, including using medical imaging data for 3D printing and 3D scanning in medicine and biomedical research. “But when James Holahan (Associate Director of Center Operations of the CTSC) told me, ‘I think we can help you with your work,’ I said, ‘Tell me more.’” While working on her Digital Health Marketplace project, Ms. Powell will have access to a variety of CTSC services, including the 3D Printing Core to rapidly design and manufacture the devices, the Translational Research Support Team to recruit patients and facilitate research visits, the Outpatient Clinic to perform clinical measures, the Core Laboratory to analyze samples, and Biomedical Informatics to aid with data management.
“We are thrilled to support Fon in the development of S.A.L.T.,” said Julianne Imperato-McGinley, MD, program director of the CTSC. “This novel approach to self-monitoring salt levels will help physicians and researchers gain a greater understanding of this important public health issue, while empowering individuals to take control of their personal health.”
For more information about Digital Health Marketplace, visit here.
For more information about S.A.L.T., visit here.
For more information about CTSC research support services, visit here.