Maggie Galloway was working on her MBA in entrepreneurship at the University of Louisville two years ago when her classmate, an emergency room doctor, shared a story one day about how she’d almost lost a patient.
"She had an almost failed intubation," Galloway says, referring to the emergency procedures used when a patient needs help breathing.
"The patient had significant blood in his airway and she couldn’t get him intubated," she says. "And so she brought that problem back to our team and we started working on it as a student project."
Galloway and her fellow students hit upon an idea: build a better laryngoscope — the tool used for intubation.
Currently, doctors who use the device to insert a breathing tube must also use a separate tool to suction the patient’s airway. That prompted Galloway’s team to develop a laryngoscope that integrates suction and a camera. Best of all, she says, it will be disposable and retail for about $100 — making it much cheaper than current models.
But without access to a hospital system willing to test it, the innovation might have languished. Then Galloway and her colleagues got word of a new accelerator collaboration in Los Angeles between Techstars, one of the world's most successful accelerator companies, and Cedar-Sinai Medical Center.
"When we saw this partnership," she says, "We knew immediately that we needed to apply."
The three-month program, housed in a two-story building across the street from Cedars-Sinai, fast-tracked the laryngoscope's development.
"They were actually able to put the physical device into the hands of surgeons and anesthesiologists who use it," says Omkar Kulkarni, director of the accelerator. "So they were able to get real-time feedback, which would have taken months and months and months, in the course of, I think, a week and a half."
The Inscope team made a series of improvements to the device as they heard back from the medical providers. The latest iteration has a design "that's consistently rated as good or better than current technology," says company co-founder and Chief Operating Officer Adam Casson.
Matt Kozlov, managing director of the accelerator, says the startups get access to hundreds of mentors.
"About a third of our mentors are from Cedars-Sinai," Koslov says. "A third are health care industry professionals from outside of Cedars - other health care tech companies, other hospital systems, payors, other medical device manufacturers - and then about a third of our mentors are actually from the L.A. tech community."
Access to that mentor pool was a significant draw for Matthew Stoudt – co founder of a mobile virtual reality startup, AppliedVR.
"It’s an incredibly convoluted, complex, confusing world of health care and they really helped us navigate," he says.
Stoudt's company uses virtual reality to help patients manage pain and anxiety when undergoing surgery or other procedures.
This is about overwhelming the visual and the aural senses so that we can teleport you somewhere else," he says. "In the world of VR it’s called 'presence.'"
Stoudt offers to show me how it works.
"What I will do is I’ll throw you off the side of a building," he says.
I put on the virtual reality goggles and a pair of headphones and and find myself transported to a bustling, animated city scene. Looking down, I see I'm standing on a creaky window washing platform that lifts me to the top of a building, where I'm told to step off the platform - into thin air.
Earlier, Stoudt had warned me how I might respond: "Your mammalian brain will be hijacked and it will do everything it can to prevent you from taking that step."
I do resist, but in the end, with a racing heart and sweat springing from my pores, I step off and plummet to the virtual sidewalk.
"That power of that presence is what we can bring to the health care space," Stoudt says. "And instead of scaring the heck out of you, we can use it to transport you to a beautiful bluff and walk you through a guided meditation or drop you into the middle of an incredible game – something distracting - then you actually will not think about pain."
Managing pain is also the the aim of another startup in the program – one called, 'Ella,'- that’s serving up traditional meditation, but online.
Ella is a smartphone app that offers daily, two- to five-minute mindfulness activities to help patients manage chronic pain on the go, says co-founder Alexandra Skey. "It really helps you relate to your pain differently. Not only do you lower your overall pain, but it helps you with stress anxiety that comes with a lot of the chronic pain issues."
At the end of the accelerator’s inaugural three-month run, co-founders of the 11 companies spent graduation day pitching their products to a room full of investors.
Kulkarni, the program's director, can’t talk specifics but he says most of the startups are now either fielding investment offers or have already secured funding as the accelerator prepare to select its next class, scheduled to begin in January 2017.