Sports Medicine Startup Partners with Pitt

Issue Date: 
February 9, 2015

Former Pittsburgh Steeler, philanthropist, and businessman Charlie Batch, along with several partners, has formed a new partnership with the University of Pittsburgh and its Innovation Institute to launch a wellness, fitness, human-performance, and rehabilitation-focused company. The Pittsburgh-based startup, called Impellia, will develop and commercialize Pitt-created technologies and other technologies from around the country.

As part of the new relationship, Impellia has completed option agreements for three Pitt innovations. All three have been shepherded to the verge of commercialization by both the Pitt faculty members who developed the technologies and the University’s Innovation Institute—which is dedicated to promoting and fostering innovation, commercialization, and entrepreneurship.

“This is an important new partnership for the University,” says Marc Malandro, associate vice chancellor for technology management and commercialization and interim director of the Innovation Institute. “This startup marks just the beginning of what we anticipate will be a long and mutually beneficial relationship between Pitt and Impellia that will help transform Pitt research into innovations that benefit injured athletes and others. We’re excited to be working with such a great and talented group of people.”

Adds Batch: “Sports medicine and rehabilitation technology is a natural draw for me. What we see in these technologies is the ability for us to bring innovation available to elite athletes out to everyday people.”

The process of matching Pitt technologies with the interests of Impellia began last summer with an introductory conversation with the Pittsburgh Technology Council, a regional trade organization for local technology-based companies, according to Evan Facher, director of enterprise development for the Innovation Institute. The topic: Pittsburgh’s growing reputation as a hotbed for emerging technology and science. The organization’s leaders referred Batch and his partners to Pitt’s Innovation Institute.

“We had a getting-to-know-you meeting with Impellia,” says Facher, who participated in the ongoing discussions and negotiations with Batch. “They had a list of some of our technologies they were interested in, so we brought in those innovators to give 30-minute presentations to the group.”

With Batch, cofounders of Impellia include Richard Walker, an accomplished attorney, software executive, and lifelong friend of Batch who played football with him at Steel Valley High School; Dave Morin, a  health care technology entrepreneur and international speaker on health care technology; and Ed Kim, a veteran startup and technology company executive. 

“We work with leading researchers and universities from all over the country to identify innovative digital health care and sports technology,” says Walker. “Pitt’s reputation in this space is outstanding. We told the Innovation Institute team what we were looking for, and they put before us an impressive portfolio. The experience has been very positive.”

The Impellia team chose three Pitt technologies to option for their nascent sports medicine company:

interACTION: A joint-function monitoring tool  to improve physical rehabilitation from injury. Sensors placed on either side of a human joint collect data regarding motion. The data are stored on a smartphone or tablet, where they are analyzed and displayed to the patient and physical therapist. Patients following personalized exercise programs receive interactive guidance from their physical therapist and can see their own progress. The web-based software permits local or remote therapists to follow the patient’s progress, streamline the use of clinical resources, and increase the number of patients with whom an individual therapist may work. The tool was developed by Kevin Bell, Michael McClincy, and James Irrgang of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery in Pitt’s School of Medicine and Robert Hartman of the School of Medicine’s Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. Alumnus Bernard Bechara (ENGR ’08G) also contributed to the tool.

PIVOT: To be used on a tablet computer to quantitatively assess the pivot shift test, the most specific clinical exam for diagnosing anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, tears in the knee. Markers are applied to three bony knee landmarks. The pivot test is performed by a physician, and the markers relay information regarding knee movement to the app, removing some of the risk of human error in the diagnostic process. PIVOT was created by Volker Musahl, James Irrgang, and Freddie Fu of the School of Medicine’s Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and Richard Debski of the Department of Bioengineering in the Swanson School of Engineering. Former orthopaedics research fellows Yuichi Hoshino and Paulo Araujo also contributed to the project. 

Versatile and Integrated System for Telerehabilitation (VISYTER): This software platform can be the base for developing telerehabilitation applications. A secure, integrated system that combines high-quality videoconferencing and access to electronic health records, stimuli presentation, remote multi-camera control, and other tools, VISYTER can be used to assess myriad ailments remotely. VISYTER was created by Bambang Parmanto, Andi Saptono, and Wayan Pulantara, all of the Schools of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. 

“My team and I are very excited about the potential of this venture,” Batch concludes. “To ensure success, we will continue to collaborate with the innovation experts here at Pitt, and I look forward to building our relationship with this university in the months and years ahead.”

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