Seed funding to boost health startup

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At a time when the U.S. economy has largely grinded to a painful halt, Heart Health Intelligence, a local startup that’s at least a year away from launching its product, has scored what seems like an improbable coup: $2.2 million in seed funding. 

The secret to the venture’s success lies in its product, a high-tech toilet seat that monitors users’ cardiovascular health. It promises a double dose of benefits tailored to appeal to investors in the age of COVID-19.

The Heart Seat takes the measure of a user’s cardiovascular system while the user is using it for the usual purpose. It then relays the information it gathers to the cloud, where an algorithm compares the readout to parameters in a profile designed by the patient’s cardiologist. If signs indicate a troublesome trend, the cardiologist gets an alert and takes appropriate action. 

The high-tech toilet seat is the brainchild of Nicholas Conn, Heart Health Intelligence’s founder and CEO. A Rochester Institute of Technology graduate, Conn started working on the cardiovascular system monitoring technology that powers the Heart Seat as an RIT Ph.D. candidate. University of Rochester Medical Center researchers have partnered in the product’s development, overseeing tests on 300 subjects. 

As the global coronavirus pandemic gobbles up a glutton’s share of already scant health care resources, the telehealth-friendly Heart Seat could function as relief valve, providing a frictionless, online stream of patient data to cardiologists, says Ken Rosenfeld, Heart Health Intelligence president and chief operating officer. 

Leway Chen M.D., director of URMC’s heart transplant and heart failure program, agrees. So does Martin Cadeiras M.D., the director of UC Davis Health’s heart failure program at the University of California, Davis.

In endorsements cited on Heart Health Intelligence’s website, URMC’s Chen calls the Heart Seat “a wonderful example of form and function (that) can provide important information that will help us manage our patients,” while Cadeiras lauds the Heart Seat as “technology that can bridge the gap (between) community physicians and specialized centers.” 

According to the American Heart Association, heart disease currently affects some 6.5 million and strikes nearly 1 million more annually. The AHA predicts that than 80 percent of individuals aged 60 and above will suffer some form of cardiovascular disease by 2035, an increase that would add much strain to the already overburdened U.S. and global health care systems. 

Rosenfeld says Heart Health Intelligence plans to use its recently scored seed money to gain U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval and bring the Heart Seat to market. An FDA green light could be a key to approval by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which in turn could spur private insurers to reimburse patients’ physician-ordered Heart Seat purchases. 

Another point in the local company’s favor lies in its ties to Bemis Manufacturing Co., the lead backer in the $2.2 million seed-capital funding round. Among the world’s top manufacturers of toilet seats, Bemis also has a well-established health care division.

In a statement, Bemis vice president of business development Nan Jiang pronounced the Wisconsin company “thrilled to work with Heart Health Intelligence.” 

Rosenfeld hopes to see the Heart Seat approved by the FDA in mid-2021. 

With the FDA’s blessing secured, Bemis, which has U.S. manufacturing plants in Sheboygan Falls, Wisc., and in North Carolina as well as manufacturing facilities and distribution networks in England and Europe, could start turning out Heart Seats.

Other investors in the startup are LaunchNY, the RIT Venture Fund, Tech Coast Angels, Excell Partners, and Impact Capital of New York.

Will Astor is Rochester Beacon senior writer. All Rochester Beacon coronavirus articles are collected here.

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