Boolean Girl Tech

Nationwide and BlueVine’s Pitch to Win Contest Finalist

Sonavi Labs Pitching

CEO and founding team member Ellington West demonstrates Sonavi Labs’ Feelix on BlueVine CEO and Pitch to Win judge Eyal Lifshitz

Nationwide and BlueVine partnered on a contest for small business owners called Pitch to Win. The goal is to help owners with compelling concepts take their businesses to the next level. In June, owners entered the contest before submitting a video pitch in August. In October, finalists pitched live at Nationwide’s headquarters in Columbus, Ohio.

Luckily for BlueVine CEO and Pitch to Win judge Eyal Lifshitz, he remembered to bring his healthy lungs to work on the day of the contest. Sonavi Labs, one of seven finalists presenting their live pitch, put them to the test during a live product demonstration. This Baltimore-based company, a spin-out of Johns Hopkins University, is tackling respiratory conditions through the Feelix platform. Feelix includes AI-enabled digital stethoscopes, remote monitoring devices, supportive apps, and a smart cloud system that analyzes body sounds to instantly identify respiratory abnormalities. Ultimately, Sonavi Labs’s goal is to enhance healthcare provider capabilities and empower patients to take charge of their respiratory health.

“Sonavi Labs has deployed a proprietary classification algorithm onto a low-cost digital stethoscope to allow anyone, anywhere, at any time the ability to screen patients and detect abnormalities with the same accuracy as a trained physician,” CEO and founding team member Ellington West explained. “Our technology is the result of four years of research at Johns Hopkins University. The founding team wanted to ensure the world would benefit from its applications, which could potentially save millions of lives and billions of dollars in resources.”

There is certainly a wealth of opportunity for Sonavi Labs to make an impact, as respiratory diseases account for some of the most expensive and fatal conditions worldwide. Asthma is the most common childhood condition, with 235 million cases globally in 2016. Pneumonia also has a huge impact on children across the world, as there were 120 million pediatric cases in 2016. This disease is the leading cause of death in children under five years old, making up 16% of fatalities. However, Feelix’s scope is not limited to children. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is the third leading cause of death in adults, with 251 million global cases in 2016. These diseases are all treatable, but a significant obstacle stands in the way of proper care for many individuals.

“We are in a health crisis,” West said. “There is a shortage of doctors and nurses.” For every physician, there are 150 patients in urban areas, 400 patients in rural areas, and 1500 patients in developing countries. Sonavi Labs projects the problem to worsen, predicting a 155% increase in respiratory conditions but a 7% decline in respiratory specialists by 2030.

Sonavi Labs Doctor

Sonavi Labs' Feelix can be attached to a stethoscope or used on its own

In response to this growing problem, Sonavi Labs has developed a solution they hope will increase global access to healthcare and reduce preventable respiratory disease. West explained that Sonavi Labs’ advanced digital stethoscope, Feelix, is as accurate as a trained physician in detecting certain ailments. The verdict is indicated with a simple red or green light that shows whether the ailment is present or not – Lifshitz received the green all-clear signal during West’s demonstration. Related apps can provide more detail after aggregating patient data. During early usability tests in Peru, Feelix was able to improve pneumonia detection by 20% in kids under five years of age. The launch of the device is planned for the end of the year, as they hope to continue reaching underserved populations worldwide.

The company’s goal with future funding is to “further its apps that provide vital information for physicians and patients,” according to West. “The patient management dashboard will help physicians identify high-risk situations, while the educational content and trend analysis will help chronic patients and their providers better manage disease,” she said.

Sonavi Labs hopes to enable underserved populations to better manage disease

Sonavi Labs hopes to enable underserved populations to better manage disease

The company estimates that it could impact as many as 500,000 lives in poorer nations around the world with an additional $100,000. This would empower 100 devices to reach 20 patients per day for 250 days of screening. In addition, they hope to reduce the device’s cost to further increase accessibility.

“Feelix will be become as necessary and common in the home as a thermometer or a blood pressure monitor,” West hoped. “Parents would be empowered. There would be less trips to the emergency room and the doctor’s office.”

Brandon Dottin-Haley, Chief Business Development Officer, echoed her sentiment by saying, “The hope is that Sonavi Labs, with Feelix, will dominate in respiratory health diagnostics.”

West’s entrepreneurial spirit runs in the family, as her father, Dr. James West, is a co-inventor and scientific advisor at Sonavi Labs. He is also a research professor of electrical and computer engineering and mechanical engineering at Johns Hopkins University. Furthermore, Dr. West is the inventor of the electret microphone, a type of electrostatic capacitor-based microphone which eliminates the need for a polarizing power supply by using a permanently charged material.

When asked what advice she had for other small businesses, West’s answer was simple. “Jump,” she said. “If you leap, your network will be there to support you. Remove the fear factor.  Move on your idea as soon as possible.”