Chicago Startup Needs $25K to Turn Medical Device Into COVID-19 Detector

May 8, 2020
neopenda
Photo: Neopenda

COVID-19 has transformed the entire world into an emerging market.

As such, the Chicago-based Neopenda is pivoting its landmark medical device from a tool to monitor Ugandan infants into a wearable to help doctors diagnose and care for coronavirus patients. On Friday, the company launched a GoFundMe to accelerate production and adaptation of neoGuard, a vital signs wearable used in the east African country’s neonatal wards. neoGuard connects wirelessly to tablets and phones to offer nurses a single view of all patients’ heartbeats, respiration rates, oxygen saturation and temperatures.

CEO Sona Shah said the company’s manufacturer in Malaysia is waiting to start producing 600 devices per week. Neopenda’s team is working on recalibrating its algorithm to reflect stable vital signs for adults and children. All they need is $25,000.

“I think our team is very much excited that we are actually getting in the pen,” Shah told Built In. “So COVID is not something that we just need to weather the storm, we’re getting in this fight.”

The company is already testing its updated wearable at a hospital in Hawaii, which is using it for remote patient monitoring. Shah said Neopenda is also looking at how nursing homes in Chicago could put the device to use. The company always planned to adapt its product for adults and children, but the pandemic accelerated the timeline for pivoting by two years, Shah said.

“I think the whole world has become an emerging market in this pandemic and we’re all constrained on the resources that we have,” Shah said. “We have to adapt to the different use cases that we see around the world.”

Shah said neoGuard can identify users’ temperature and respiration rate, which are key vitals that change in those positive for COVID-19. If a patient tests positive for coronavirus, Shah said the device can help doctors guide therapy and assess the severity of the disease.

In areas where ventilators and other medical equipment are scarce, Shah said Neopenda can be used to help doctors decide which patients are in the most dire need of available resources.

“With all the limited resources that are available right now, it helps doctors decide which patients are the sickest and need the higher priority of resources that we have available,” Shah said.

The company’s GoFundMe fundraising goal is set at three levels — $25,000, $55,000 and $150,000. The company plans to put some of the money raised toward adding five new employees to its eight-person team by the end of the year, with a focus on sales, marketing, business development and technical roles. In addition to the crowdfunding campaign, Shah said Neopenda also aims to raise a $1.7 million seed round to support its growth.

And once the dust has settled on COVID-19, Neopenda plans to deploy its updated neoGuard in intensive care units across Uganda.

“Our long-term strategy is very much to continue on the path forward where we were pre-COVID, and deploy our vital signs monitor to underserved regions around the world,” Shah said.

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