Aspire Ventures in Lancaster explores new frontiers with health care kiosks
There's a distinctly sci-fi feel to Aspire Ventures' health care kiosks.
The streamlined pods, with their pastel lighting and bright digital displays, almost look fit for interplanetary teleporting — updated sets for a modernized “Star Trek.”
But the Lancaster-based tech company’s devices, branded Connexion, are designed for a very serious purpose on this planet: using powerful sensors and artificial intelligence to pinpoint the causes of patients’ musculoskeletal pains — and, eventually, other conditions.
As Aspire officials work toward marketing the kiosks for a wide variety of health care settings, they have captured the interest of at least one high-profile customer: The National Basketball Association.
Earlier this year, a team from Aspire and subsidiary company Connexion Health traveled to the NBA’s annual draft combine in Chicago with a prototype kiosk. There, amid league executives, physicians and athletes looking to prove their mettle for prospective teams, Aspire and Connexion were able to show how their technology could benefit the field of sports medicine.
The result: Three NBA teams are using the machines — company officials declined to say which — and others have expressed an interest.
“The combine went way better than we had expected,” said Dan Mitchell, Aspire’s vice president of corporate development. “We got a lot of great feedback, and we had people saying, ‘give me one right now.’”
Aspire is planning for mass-production, although Mitchell acknowledges that the company is six to eight months away from being able to turn out a large batch of machines.
Aspire’s ambition for Connexion is to create a product that can measure a wide range of vital signs and conditions.
One of its projects is to develop a dermatological screening application, Mitchell said, as Aspire founder and CEO Essam Abadir “is very passionate about skin cancer screening” due to family experience with the disease.
It also is eyeing some big customers. While officials would not reveal names, they said they are working on a pilot program with a medical system, as well as pursuing retail customers that would use the kiosks in their stores.
Thanks to another foray into the national spotlight, interest in the product could expand even more. Earlier this month, tech investor and AOL co-founder Steve Case visited Aspire during the midstate leg of his “Rise of the Rest” tour of the region’s startups, and posed many questions about the kiosks.
“We got a lot of really good press,” Mitchell said. “I’m sure it will pay off.”
A team approach
The kiosks for the NBA were designed in conjunction with Fusionetics, a Georgia-based sports medicine company; and Tait Towers, a Lititz-based provider of live event equipment that helped design the distinctive outer shell.
At their heart, however, is the company’s own artificial intelligence platform, called A2I, said Mike Monteiro, Aspire’s chief product officer. Sensors in the booths record visual, auditory and pressure data from patients, and A2I processes the data to generate a health assessment. The assessments can then be used by medical professionals in crafting wellness and treatment plans.
Not counting previous work done on the AI platform and Fusionetics’ own research, Aspire and Connexion have invested about $2 million in research and development on the kiosks, said Connexion Health CEO Steven A. Dailey. Officials did not say how much the individual kiosks will cost, noting only that the price will vary based on options chosen by end users.
Case wanted to know whether the kiosks would eliminate jobs. Lancaster General Health president and CEO Jan Bergen, whose organization has collaborated with Aspire on a project called the Smart Health Innovation Lab, told him she doesn’t believe that will be the case.
Bergen said she expects technology like the kiosks will help free up technicians for other duties, while clinicians and physicians will be aided in their work by the reports the kiosks generate.
Case, whose tour brought him to the midstate as part of a startup funding contest for other aspiring entrepreneurs, wanted to know how such a potentially groundbreaking device had been developed in a rust belt region far from the nation’s tech hubs.
“Most people would say you can’t really do this in Central Pennsylania,” Case said. “You would have to be in a place like Silicon Valley or Boston. How would you respond?”
Monteiro didn’t miss a beat.
“We already did it. That’s how I would respond,” Monteiro said.
Case pressed Monteiro gently on what brought him, personally, to Lancaster.
There was a personal connection — Monteiro’s wife has local ties — but for Monteiro, the story was more complex.
When he was finishing his MBA at Stanford University, Monteiro said a professor told him flatly that no life-changing technology could be created outside California’s Silicon Valley.
“My personal ambition is prove him wrong,” Monteiro said.
Case smiled. “I hear that all the time,” he said of the professor’s claim.