Two Teams Maximizing Impact in Health and Safety
This summer, ten teams are spending eight intensive weeks with Tsai CITY, working on their ventures and projects as part of the 2019 Summer Fellowship. We’ll be following along as the teams sprint through the program, sharing their goals and experiences. This week, we’re taking a look at two teams that are innovating key processes to maximize effectiveness in health and safety.
Statera Therapeutics aims to improve the treatment of autoimmune diseases, like multiple sclerosis and myocarditis. Their solution is an engineered nanoparticle that delivers dual therapeutic agents to the right place, at the right time. This more targeted approach can boost efficacy while lowering side effects and risks like infection. Statera emerged out of years of academic research, including doctoral research by team members Sean Bickerton (PhD ’19/MD ’21) and Philip Kong (PhD ’19) in biomedical engineering professor Tarek Fahmy’s lab. “Ever since I came to Yale, I’ve been really interested in developing approaches to treat autoimmune diseases,” says Kong.
As this research’s potential became clear last year, Kong says, he and his collaborators “knew we needed a lot of help to actually formulate this into a business thesis.” They reached out to the School of Management’s healthcare and life sciences student club, and their message got to Owen Yang (MBA ’19), the club’s president. Excited by the opportunity, Yang and a colleague took a look at the team’s slide deck and started filling in ideas. From there, the team connected at the 2018 Yale Innovation Summit, an event hosted each spring by Yale’s Office of Cooperative Research. Yang’s classmate at SOM, Jen Fischer (MBA ’19), came onboard, and by the fall the team was working with advisors to refine their work and strengthen the business case. From faculty to mentors like Margaret Cartiera, Investment and Innovation Director at the Yale Center for Biomedical Innovation and Technology and a mentor-in-residence at Tsai CITY, Yang says, “So many people in and around Yale’s life sciences community have helped us in building this up.”
These mentors and fellow students encouraged the team to apply for Tsai CITY’s Summer Fellowship. “They spoke highly of the structure, and also the people you meet and everything that can happen along the way,” says Yang. As they’ve moved through the fellowship this summer, they’ve been working on engaging with investors to raise a seed round of funding. “We’re using the fellowship to really get to a place where we feel confident in our strategy and our investment thesis,” explains Yang, and the team’s victory in the 2019 NYU-Yale Accelerator Pitchoff was an encouraging sign that they’re on the right track. The Statera team is also thinking about smart ways to build out infrastructure, from lab space to key elements like finance and accounting, legal support, and personnel. With an initial round of funding, they aim to move forward on scientific research and development, gathering essential data that will shape their next steps. The team members describe the fellowship, and the broader experience of building Statera, as a major learning experience, one distinct from their classroom and lab experiences. “I realized that the journey of a startup isn’t really linear. We always come up with this grandiose plan and think we’re going from Point A to B to C, but we’ve realized that it just never works that way,” notes Kong. “As a scientist, I’m used to thinking in a more logical and step-by-step manner — it’s been a really interesting experience for me. We’ve just had a really great learning process.”
Yale College students Michael Chime (’21), Dylan Gleicher (’21), Daniel James (’19), and Neal Soni (’22) grew up all too aware of the school shootings crisis. Gleicher and Soni are from Westport, Connecticut, less than an hour from Newtown, while Chime grew up near Chardon High School, the Cleveland-area site of a 2012 shooting. Growing up in an era of constant active shooter drills and headlines made them each wonder what could be done.
After connecting at Yale (initially through Gleicher and Chime being assigned to the same residential college), the future teammates began to think about how they could bring both their firsthand perspectives as recent high school graduates and their technical skills — Gleicher and Soni, for example, had built a scheduling app that was used by 100% of students at their high school — to help address one part of the problem: the lack of effective emergency response. “Due to our entire team having spent the majority of our lives in an education environment, we are intimately familiar with the outdated and inefficient paradigms that schools rely upon today for communication,” explains Chime. “This knowledge acted as a catalyst to my research into past shootings, and the statistics associated are startling. I saw that mobile technology offered a unique opportunity to leverage a significant tool that nearly every person has at their disposal as a means to vastly improve the communication problems faced in emergency situations.”
What they came up with was PREPARED: a mobile app that serves as a one-touch mobile alert system for schools. The PREPARED team aims to improve on the central PA system, a technology that’s remained relatively unchanged since the 1930s, replacing it with a tool that’s placed in the hands of every trusted faculty member and enables instantaneous communication across the school and with 9-1-1. As they’ve built the app, the team has made a point to talk to stakeholders from teachers and school security officers to first responders, working to learn from these conversations and build an understanding of real-world needs into their app’s design.
In April, PREPARED won the Miller Prize, a campuswide award for top technology-based ventures, and decided to join the Summer Fellowship cohort. Over the course of the summer, they’ve been working on reaching out to schools and districts — they already have contracts with 20 schools — while getting the app ready for onboarding customers and launching in schools this fall. As they look ahead to the next year, they hope to continue to scale, keeping their focus squarely on real-time impact. “The unfortunate nature of the problem we are aiming to combat is its time sensitivity,” Chime explains. “PREPARED’s mission is to get our life-saving technology in the hands of the people who desperately need it as fast as possible. To do this most efficiently, our team is pursuing relationships with the largest school districts in the country.”
As it pushes to equip schools with PREPARED, the team says their time at Tsai CITY has helped boost their work. “Our experience in the fellowship has allowed our team the unique opportunity to work with other passionate entrepreneurs. The relationships we are building with mentors, other fellows, and the Tsai CITY team are extremely impactful,” says Chime. “The summer fellowship has been everything we dreamt it would be.”
Want to hear these teams pitch live? Join us for Demo Day 2019 on July 25!