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VOL. 9 | NO. 21 | Saturday, May 21, 2016

Medical Device Startup Founders Flock To Memphis for ZeroTo510 Cohort

By Andy Meek

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It was during a hospital stay for severe abdominal pain while Srinath Vaddepally was studying for his master’s degree that he got an idea for the product and company that would eventually bring him to Memphis.

Srinath Vaddepally, CEO and founder of RistCall. His company is a developing a wearables device that could replace the traditional call buttons used in hospitals and nursing care facilities. 

(Memphis News/Andrew J. Breig)

Through his first-hand experience, he came to the conclusion that the call button and process of flagging down a nurse isn’t always necessarily intuitive for patients staying in hospitals and nursing homes. Beyond that, Vaddepally reasoned, other general improvements were probably worth making to the process – everything from simplifying the inputs to building some kind of system that lets hospital staff distinguish emergency calls from simpler asks like requests for food.

Couple that with the explosion of so-called wearables over the past year or so – products like the Apple Watch – and Vaddepally decided to launch RistCall. It’s one of the four companies participating in the current cohort of ZeroTo510, Memphis’ medical device startup accelerator program.

Vaddepally is one of a collection of entrepreneurs that includes dozens of startup founders from around the country – and others from as far away as Slovenia and Israel – who are working to bring their startups to life this summer in Memphis. It’s all under the auspices of a partnership between Start Co., ZeroTo510 and the EPIcenter organization.

“I’d moved to the U.S. in 2009 to work for different companies like Texas Instruments and Samsung,” Vaddepally said. “I wanted to start a company of my own, but didn’t know the problem I wanted to focus on.”

RistCall’s mission is to produce a wearable wrist monitor that replaces the traditional call button in hospitals and nursing care facilities. It’s still early days for the company – the new ZeroTo510 cohort got under way only early this month.

The way the accelerator process unfolds, teams will spend the next several weeks across all the related accelerators participating concurrently in Memphis’ “Summer of Acceleration.” They’ll get a customized curriculum and access to mentors, industry partners and investment capital, among other things.

The accelerators jointly conclude in August with a Demo Day on Aug. 11 when the teams will all pitch their ideas to investors.

“I feel like we have a wonderful cohort this year, lots of talented folks with great ideas that have huge market potential,” said ZeroTo510 co-founder Allan Daisley. “I’m looking forward to seeing all the wonderful things that are going to come out of this summer.”

The other teams joining RistCall in ZeroTo510 are Cast21, which has designed a lightweight cast that’s breathable and waterproof, eliminating some of the disadvantages of traditional casts.

The product from a company called FlexSpark is a wearable like Ristcall’s. It’s an electrical muscle stimulation device that’s meant to decrease the rate of muscle atrophy in certain patients. And finally, SOMAVAC is a startup that creates solutions for the management of post-surgical fluid accumulation and the prevention of seroma, a condition that occurs after large-flap surgery where fluid accumulates in the dead space between tissue.

“We look for a key combination of things,” Daisley said about the kinds of founders and teams that tend to get accepted into the program. “There is the team, their capabilities, their ethos. The way they fit into the culture we’re trying to build. That’s really important.

“We’re also always looking for good ideas. In the device area, it’s important the ideas are protected by some sort of intellectual property, so that’s a big deal for us. We also try to figure out if we can help them. If we have people in our network who can help them, that can be a factor.”

Being in Memphis, he adds, also carries with it abundant benefits for startup founders. For starters, ZeroTo510 has relationships with hospitals in the area so that once a product is ready for launch, it can be put in front of stakeholders inside hospitals.

That, Daisley said, is a key thing missing at many similar programs around the country.

“ZeroTo510 will help us take the product to the next level and be 10 times better than what we have now,” Vaddepally said.

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