For Justin Williams ’15, Bryan Bonnet ’15 and Nishant Panchal ’15, their final days as students at Stevens Institute of Technology were a whirlwind of activity that caused two of them to miss out on graduation ceremonies.
A week before Commencement, the three seniors made the move to Spartanburg, South Carolina to be mentored and guided by The Iron Yard, one of the nation’s premier digital health accelerators, in launching their startup.
What began as a senior design project for Williams, Bonnet and Panchal is now defining their post-graduation careers. As classmates at Stevens, Williams, an electrical engineering major, and Bonnet and Panchal, both computer engineering majors, conceived and designed a decision-management platform for diabetic patients. Their software application Embrace collects an array of metrics from patients, including glucometer readings, allowing doctors to use the information to provide better health outcomes for their patients. The Stevens community was the first to get a glimpse of the product at the university's annual Innovation Expo in April.
“We were very quiet about what we were doing with respect to our senior design project until then. So we were happy to be able to show off what we were doing,” says Williams.
Now with the help of a top digital health accelerator, their company Data Minded Solutions is planning to introduce Embrace to a wider audience. The trio will present the software program at the largest digital health conference in the nation, Health 2.0, in Silicon Valley Oct. 4-7, and plans on marketing its decision-management platform to regional hospitals in the future. Meanwhile, Williams and his partners are preparing a private beta release to ensure their product is "good to go" when sales begin.
Williams says he is surprised at how much progress has been made in the short time the trio has been in Spartanburg.
"I wasn’t fully expecting the pace that it would move at. And since we’ve been here I think we’ve taken advantage of every opportunity to accelerate the product and the business in a way that we’ve never imagined."
Those opportunities, he says, include the mentors and business connections an accelerator provides that would otherwise be tough to get as a startup.
"It’s networking to the nth degree," Williams notes. "On any given day we have someone come in that specializes in anything from marketing to fundraising to the technology that will allow us to build our product. And they’re doing so of their own volition, to give back and be a part of the community."
In return for six percent equity in their company, Iron Yard is offering the company $20,000 in seed funding, as well as amenities such as legal and financial advice, access to high-profile mentors, and office space. One of only nine startups selected, Data Minded Solutions beat out hundreds of applicants.
According to Williams, the counsel they received from the Stevens Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship (OIE) helped them get a leg up during the rigorous application process.
"We were fortunate to have worked with people like Werner Kuhr, technology commercialization director at OIE. He gave us a good idea about what we were getting into and helped us so that we had all the paperwork and documentation ready to go."
Williams adds that being in South Carolina offers strategic advantages, especially for a startup like Data Minded Solutions.
"As far as medical healthcare and IT technology goes, a lot of it is moving to the southeast. Kaiser Permanente and others are all moving down here. And the community, everyone from the chamber of commerce down to local businesses, has opened its arms to us."
When they initially came up with the idea of Embrace as a senior design project, Williams says he and his classmates never intended to become business partners. Now, looking back, Williams says the Stevens undergraduate experience gave them much more than a degree. The campus environment, he says, is fertile ground for budding entrepreneurs.
"The people you meet at school are going to be your peers for the remainder of your professional life, especially in a community like engineering and business. Those are people you may start a company with or run into in various roles at other companies. It wasn’t until I had an idea and started kicking it around with my cofounders that we decided this was something worth pursuing."