Key story highlights:
- Symbiont Health founder Erich Meissner is advancing his medical alert system, which requires no pendants, body sensors or wearables.
- The system is testing in two retirement homes in Kensington and Gaithersburg, with 300 patients in the pilot.
- Founded in October 2016, the company has raised about $50,000 to date.
There have been many a product over the years aimed at getting help to seniors who suffered a fall. But when Erich Meissner’s grandmother had a fall of her own, her device didn’t work for her — because she wasn’t wearing it, a problem the University of Maryland alum found to be widespread.
So he’s tackling the problem with a different approach, eliminating the need to wear anything.
The new method involves Wi-Fi mesh network technology built to determine the moment someone falls. A router emits wireless signals that monitor the walls, objects and people in a room, mapping the environment. It requires no pendants, bodily sensors or wearables, unlike some other major brands on the market, for instance, and functions similarly to how submarines use sonar or how bats rely on echolocation to navigate through caves, Meissner said. Should someone fall, it fires an alert to a caregiver instantly, along with vital signs and medication information.
Now the system is testing in two retirement homes in Kensington and Gaithersburg, with 300 patients in the pilot. The hope is that they will become customers, Meissner said, and he expects to bring the system to market in September. The College Park-based company plans to sell the hardware for around $300 a piece, with a subscription model at $30 per patient per month.
Symbiont has raised about $50,000 to date, through a combination of a small personal investment, grants and awards from pitch competitions: $15,000 from the Robert H. Smith School of Business and Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship’s Pitch Dingman Competition and $5,000 from the School of Public Policy and Do Good Institute’s Do Good Challenge, among several others. The startup has also received funding and other support (education, coaching and connections) from the Do Good Accelerator at the university, with opportunities to seek further investment from its fund and investors, according to Toby Egan, faculty director for the School of Public Policy’s Do Good Campus.
“He basically is looking at a disruptive model, a very different approach,” Egan said of Meissner, for whom he’s also serving as a coach through the school’s program. “That’s always important in terms of innovation, that it has the potential really to change the way in which this significant problem is impacting us.”
Meissner, Symbiont Health’s co-founder and CEO, started the business with his sister in October 2016 as an undergraduate electrical engineering student, to serve individuals who fall and lose consciousness and, therefore, wouldn’t be able to push a button on a bracelet or necklace. A year later they launched their first product: a wearable with the same electrical components as a Fitbit, to detect elevation changes should the wearer fall suddenly. They tested the device with 40 patients at Arden Courts of Kensington, a community for individuals with memory loss.
While it proved market demand exists, it also proved the users don’t keep them on, making them ineffective.
Then Meissner teamed up with two other students at the university, computer science major Kyle Liu and biological sciences major Maria Chen, and came across a technology created by a professor whose class he’d taken. That’s the current foundation of the business. Meissner, who will also be working at IBM, plans to tap others from his alma mater to further develop the technology, but doesn’t expect to make any new hires beyond his three-person team until the end of this year, he said.
The company will have around $20,000 in revenue for 2018, partly from the initial wearable and a consulting contract for fall prevention, for which the Symbiont team advises on home setup (like removing carpets that could lead to falls), Meissner said. He expects to raise new funding in the second quarter of 2019.
“We’re actually going to be making decisions based off of our technology in detecting falls,” he said. “The biggest mission of the company is to accelerate rescue and save lives.”