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Fostering Innovation and Opportunity for Medical Entrepreneurs

April 13, 2021

Texas Health Catalyst, a health product innovation program at the University of Texas at Austin’s Dell Medical School, supports researchers, inventors, and local entrepreneurs during the early stages of translating innovation into product. In 2020, Texas Health Catalyst granted 10 consulting awards to University of Texas at Austin and startup teams — matching up consulting awardee teams with clinical and/or industry advisors based on individualized needs. Now, having seen and managed his second cycle of the program, program manager Jay Brown shares some of his observations about the consulting phase and how Texas Health Catalyst provides value for early-stage innovators.

Applications to the 2021 are currently open. Please visit our application page for more details.

There’s no circumventing the truth — 2020 was a challenging year for everyone, including Texas Health Catalyst. In the past we spent significant time and resources, and juggled busy schedules, to ensure that in-person interaction happens. During the pandemic, we had to rethink many aspects of the program, including in-person meetings. This past cycle’s meetings between consulting awardees and their advisors were entirely virtual. While the locations of the advisor meetings might have been new, the level of engagement and substantive discussion from the teams and their advisors has been just as high this year as in my previous years. The quality of these interactions matters because we believe that a well-matched and engaged advisor is one of the more valuable aspects of participating in Texas Health Catalyst. Now we are excited to announce that the 2021 cycle is now open to all applicants.

Advisors Drive Texas Health Catalyst

Our program is driven by life science and medical device advisors that love to give back to the Austin community. One advisor that has been active this year is Shelley Hossenlopp, MS, who has worked with multiple of our consulting awardees. When asked what motivates her to continue her role as an advisor, Hossenlopp said, “working as an advisor to Texas Health Catalyst has been rewarding and continues to fuel my passion for medicine and entrepreneurship … I am encouraged to help others to succeed and advance their entrepreneurial ideas in medicine.” Without a doubt, advisors like Hossenlopp play a large role in helping the healthcare innovation ecosystem in Austin continue to churn. We are extremely thankful to all of the advisors, like Hossenlopp, who volunteer their time to help new innovative teams figure out a strategy to get to market.

Matching consulting awardees and advisors is both a science and an art. Our in-house expertise and experience with early projects help us understand the core needs of each team and provide mentorship and guidance. Director Nishi Viswanathan, MBBS, MBA, has made it a priority since the program’s inception to build and nurture relationships with clinicians and industry experts, with a wide array of expertise ranging from technology commercialization to clinical study planning to reimbursement and regulatory strategy. By maintaining and growing this active network of advisors, the program matched teams up with an appropriate advisor, whose area of expertise matches their specific area of need.

After the initial introduction, advisors play a large role in setting up goals for the team to achieve throughout the program. They are the straw that stirs the drink. Advisors introduce new fundraising opportunities, tap into their networks to provide new industry contacts and even join the consulting awardee’s advisory board or leadership team. According to Tanya Hutter, Ph.D., assistant professor at the Cockrell School of Engineering, her advisor “was engaged and helpful, made introductions to her network and even provided some very good ideas for the applications of our technology.”

Asking the Right Questions

Texas Health Catalyst loves to work with health innovators working on diverse problems. Most teams can come up with a solution, but it is important to first start out by solving the right problem. It is also important to ask questions such as why is this the right problem to solve, who cares, who will pay for this and is this an ideal solution for the identified problem? We encourage learning that focuses outside of the solution because it can save the innovator a significant amount of time and money downstream.

While all teams may differ in the content of their discussions, ranging from sources of funding to product development, many conversations fall outside the academic realm, an area that may be uncomfortable for some. Texas Health Catalyst and the teams’ advisors often encourage consulting awardees to spend time talking to customers and other stakeholders involved in potentially using their product. Some of the teams benefit by participating in the NSF Regional I-Corps program, a boot camp for academic entrepreneurs that helps them talk to customers. “I learned many new things beyond the research that I am familiar with,” says Emma Fan, Ph.D., associate professor at the Cockrell School of Engineering.

A Personalized Product Approach

Instead of adopting a one-size-fits-all approach, where an entire cohort goes through an accelerator, we take a much more customized strategy. And this is the biggest draw of the program for health innovators. They get feedback and resources that they would not get anywhere else.

One of the main differences between all of our consulting awardees is the product type they are interested in pursuing. There are key differences between products in the therapeutics, medical device, diagnostics, and digital health spaces, such as the time and funding needed to bring the product to market. This means there are huge differences in what is discussed during advising meetings. Tianyu Wang, a member of a consulting awardee team developing a digital health product, accounts her advisor as “very experienced and patient to help our team, from introducing several MVP [minimal viable product] options to us who are novice in app development, to several marketing opportunities for us.”

Given the feedback we have received from both innovators as well as advisors, we have had a very successful cycle in 2020. The best part is that it is not the end for us as far as these projects are concerned. After the consulting phase, we stay in touch with our awardees, providing the right type of guidance and resources as they progress. We also developed additional resources that can be made available to these projects when they need deeper engagement from a business and commercialization perspective.

If you are interested in learning how to translate your innovation beyond the early stage, apply to Texas Health Catalyst. Please email texashealthcatalyst@austin.utexas.edu if you have any questions about our program.

Consulting Awardees for 2020

Therapeutics

Dietary Supplement to Prevent Folic Acid-Resistant Neural Tube Defects

  • Jessica Momb, Ph.D., Senior Scientist, UT Austin College of Natural Sciences
  • Dean Appling, Ph.D., Associate Dean, UT Austin College of Natural Sciences

Advisor:

  • Shashi Marulappa, CEO at Innovastics

Diagnostics

Laser Microbiopsy

  • Jason King, Graduate Student, Cockrell School of Engineering
  • James Tunnell, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Cockrell School of Engineering
  • Thomas Millner Ph.D., Professor, Cockrell School of Engineering
  • Sapun Parekh, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Cockrell School of Engineering

Advisor:

  • Eric Mayes, CEO, Endomag

Breaking the Bioanalysis Dilemma: Optoelectric Nanolabs with Dually High Speed and Ultrasensitivity for Early Disease Diagnosis

  • Donglei (Emma) Fan, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Cockrell School of Engineering

Advisor:

  • Stephanie Ibbotson, Director of Market Access at Luminex

Preconcentrator for Volatile Biomarkers Detection for Medical Applications

  • Tanya Hutter, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Cockrell School of Engineering
  • Aminur Rashid Chodwury, Graduate Assistant, Cockrell School of Engineering
  • Tse-Ang Lee, Graduate Student, Cockrell School of Engineering

Advisor:

  • Shelley Hossenlopp, MS, Founder at POCA International LLC

Medical Devices

FlimGANE for Identification of Tumor-free Surgical Margins

  • Tim Yeh, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Cockrell School of Engineering
  • Nina Chen, Ph.D. Student, Cockrell School of Engineering
  • Derek Chang, Ph.D. Student, Cockrell School of Engineering

Advisor:

  • Stanley Schwartz, Former Vice President at Nikon Instruments

Skope Point of Care Stethoscope Disinfection

  • Dan Stromberg, M.D., Associate Professor, Department of Surgery and Perioperative Care, Dell Medical School

Advisor:

  • David Blossom, Chief Commercialization Officer at SafePath Medical

Automated Vaccine Reconstitution System for Covid-19, MMR and others

  • Bob LiVolsi, CEO, Vaccine Systems, LLC
  • Lance Adams, COO, Vaccine Systems, LLC

Advisor:

  • Sandesh Subramanya, Founder and President, Brhms LLC

Digital Health

Application of Sport Science to Prehabilitation in Abdominal Cancer Patients Undergoing Surgery

  • Declan Flemming, M.D., Division Chief, Surgical Oncology, Dell Medical School
  • J. Stuart Wolf, M.D., Professor, Department of Surgery and Perioperative Care, Dell Medical School
  • Tianyu Wang, Graduate Student, Department of Kinesiology and Health Education

Advisor:

  • Tony Frey, CTO, Embold Health

Health Science Ecosystem Collaboration

  • Amy Papermaster, Ph.D., Founder, Highnote
  • Aaron Papermaster, Co-founder, Highnote

Advisor:

  • Adam Turinas, CEO healthlaunchpad

Innovative Solution for Quantifying Allergy Symptoms and Improving Outcomes

  • Karen Stierman, M.D., Founder, Allergy Intelligence
  • Jay Parsons, Co-founder, Allergy Intelligence
  • Andrew Jatinen, Co-founder, Allergy Intelligence
  • Thomas Sullivan, P.E., Co-founder, Allergy Intelligence

Advisor:

  • Bob Teague, M.D., Chief Medical Officer, Green Room Technologies

Prior to joining Texas Health Catalyst, Jay Brown was the co-founder of Health Behavior Solutions, a digital health company that developed evidence-based smoking cessation treatments. In his role, Brown was responsible for finding customers for their clinically tested products.

The program is currently accepting applications for the 2021 cycle. Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis until 10 consulting awards are granted. Please visit our application page for more details.