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Innovation Fund Graduate Axuall partners with MetroHealth to Improve and Streamline Practitioner Credentialing


Axuall, Inc., a digital network for verifying identity, credentials, and authenticity in real-time, and The MetroHealth System, an essential health system committed to providing health care to everyone in Cuyahoga County, OH, announced today its teams are collaborating to test digital credentials for segments of its physician staff.

The pilot will use new technologies and workflows to acquire, manage, and share digital credentials via a nationwide network of practitioners, health systems, and primary source issuers. 

When fully deployed, practitioners will hold an up-to-date, reusable, and verified set of digital credentials that will enable a considerably faster and more efficient privileging and payor enrollment process.

The goal of this collaboration is to apply the technology to standard processes and bylaws to reduce credentialing wait times, improve accuracy, and alleviate practitioner administrative burden. Ultimately, this will improve patient access to care by shortening the hiring process for health care systems—especially as delivery channels move beyond brick-and-mortar to telehealth and other innovative approaches. 

"We are thrilled to work with MetroHealth to test, refine, and perfect this technology," said Charlie Lougheed, Axuall's CEO. "Reducing unnecessary costs and burdens on practitioners is core to our mission of helping practitioners practice less paperwork and more medicine."

The Axuall Network leverages blockchain and portable digital wallets to enable secure, real-time sharing and monitoring of credentials. The technology uses biometrics to confirm practitioner identity and protect privacy, enabling practitioners to control how and when their credentials are shared. 

These new digital portfolios will include documentation of a practitioner's education, specialty training and board certifications, licenses, sanctions or medical malpractice judgments, evaluations, work history, and hospital affiliations. In short, a verified, instantly accessible professional profile that otherwise might take an employer or accreditation agency weeks or even months to assemble.

Axuall was formed in 2018 and raised $3 million in seed capital for R&D in 2019. In December, it began a pilot with Hyr Medical and is expected to announce additional pilots in 2020 as the technology and workflows are perfected and its national network of credential issuing partners grows. 

"We are excited to work together with Axuall to bring this innovation to our organization," said Julie Jacono, MetroHealth Senior Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer. "Meeting the needs of our community requires that we reduce the barriers to deploying clinical resources across new geographies and delivery channels." 

Innovation Fund Company Hedgemon is a Game Changer


AKRON, Ohio — Emily Kennedy, and her Akron-based start-up Hedgemon, just might be part of the solution to football's concussion troubles.

Kennedy and her team are hoping to change the game with help from a hedgehog.

"We were pretty surprised by what we learned about the hedgehog," Kennedy said. "In the wild, they're really active climbers, so it's not unusual for them to fall. But when they do, they curl into this ball and they're totally encased by their quills, which have evolved really impressive shock-absorbing properties."

Hedgemon was founded by University of Akron researchers in 2015. Today, they're in the process of developing and marketing a helmet safety liner based on those very hedgehog quills.

It's science based in nature -- an approach known as biomimicry.

"Biomimicry, at its essence, is innovation inspired by nature," she said. "One of the examples that's pretty ubiquitous that you probably have heard of is Velcro, which was actually inspired by how burrs stick to animal fur."

In fact, the University of Akron has emerged as a leader in this field, and it's what attracted Kennedy, a Massachusetts native, to Northeast Ohio.

"I never pictured myself as an Ohioan, but I jumped at the opportunity, moved here in 2012 and now Cleveland is home, Akron's home. I've come to really love it here."

She's even recruited her parents to move to the area as well. 

Kennedy and Hedgemon have been in the news quite a bit lately, thanks, in part, to her recognition as one of Cleveland Magazine's "Most Interesting People 2020." She says she hopes the positive attention will only help the company grow.

Right now, their liner is still in a testing phase, but Emily and her team believe their technology could -- one day -- have uses far beyond just football helmets.

"We think that we could find a way to adapt the solution for that so it could be in infant car seats, it could be in fall protection flooring for nursing homes or day care facilities. Maybe it's even going to be in automotive paneling so the possibilities are really, really broad."

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Innovation Fund Recipient Fontus Blue is Using Tech to Clean Your Drinking Water


How the Akron startup is fixing old methods with new tech

After decades of technological advances, you would assume the tech used to clean our drinking water has kept up with other industries. But that’s not necessarily true — just ask Fontus Blue President, CEO and founder Chris Miller. The Akron startup has developed a product that accomplishes a simple but difficult goal: making your drinking water safer and more consistent. The water experts’ platform helps treatment facilities maintain the right chemistry in drinking water while improving efficiency and reducing costs, a much-needed trip into the 21st century for humanity’s most important resource.

“We created a platform that helps monitor and recommend treatment decisions at drinking-water and wastewater facilities,” said Miller. “What makes me feel good is helping these operators who are faced with this complex chemistry and stressful job. Our secret weapon is supporting those operators. We’re not trying to drive the entire treatment plant with software that’s flipping levers for them. It’s collaborative because it helps us work with them with technology at the core.”

Managing drinking water isn’t easy, and Miller and his team are well aware. It takes extremely specific methods and preparation to avoid unwanted substances in water and every geographic location comes with its own specific challenges, from local algae to trace amounts of lead. Miller compares older methods of regulation to driving a manual car — sure, it’s doable, but it’s much easier and more reliable with an automatic transmission, especially when the risks are so great.

“If you’re in a swimming pool that has chlorine in the water, you don’t worry about drinking it or having it on your skin, and if you have a glass that contains dissolved organic materials, you would drink that water and think nothing of it,” said Miller. “But when you mix the two together and allow them time, they form these harmful byproducts. There’s a lot of complex chemistry that happens and there’s still a lot of research to be done. That’s where we come in. Our software isn’t just this powerful calculator; it allows facilities to deal with all the water-quality issues they have to manage.”

Miller was no stranger to water treatment before launching Fontus Blue. He’s been a civil engineering professor at the University of Akron since 1995, teaching courses focused on drinking-water quality. But several years ago, his work became more personal. Miller’s wife experienced multiple miscarriages around the same time his dog was diagnosed with cancer, two occurrences known to increase from exposure to carcinogens in drinking water. With solutions on his mind, Miller went in search of an answer.

“I started digging into the issue and found that it’s not if carcinogens are in your drinking water, but how many,” said Miller. “I was surprised. I’ve been doing drinking-water research for 25-plus years, and I realized that a lot of the research and technical advancements haven’t translated into real progress. So I decided to create the platform to try and facilitate that progress by translating the research into something drinking water utilities could use.”

Fontus Blue works with both public and private clients, helping to ensure a better quality of drinking water for a variety of populations. With the help of organizations like JumpStart and Bounce Hub, the company now has a presence in eight states and counting. And for a company with growth and innovation on its mind, Fontus Blue’s home in Akron provides what they need to attract talent, improve their product and continue to evolve.

“I’ve been in Ohio for almost 25 years, and the entrepreneurial support network has never been better,” said Miller. “It really helps to be living in this environment. Any time we’ve needed anything, we’ve never had trouble finding someone to support us. Whether they’re here because they went to school here or they’ve always been here, I think we have access to the talent and the affordability to build a team that can execute what we need. It’s almost comical how much more affordable it is to try and do things here in Ohio versus somewhere else.”

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Innovation Fund Graduates RooSense and EveryKey promote their new products at CES

RooSense CES

Every January, electronics and high-tech companies from around the world travel to Las Vegas to CES, the trade show formerly known as the Consumer Electronics Show, to promote the latest innovations they will be bringing to the marketplace.

This year, 4,000 exhibiting companies debuted more than 20,000 products to 170,000 attendees from Jan. 7-10, the Consumer Technology Association, the event's sponsor, reported.

Apple was there. So were all of the other major device-makers. So were the larger Northeast Ohio product-makers: GE Lighting, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. and Moen Inc., among others.

But so, too, were Everykey Inc.RooSense LLC and a handful of other small, emerging businesses, taking advantage of Case Western Reserve University's sponsorship of a booth at CES to get their names and their products in front of the show's attendees. The booth was in Eureka Park, an area for startups that was a small part of the show, which spread across 11 buildings along the Las Vegas Strip radiating from the Las Vegas Convention and World Trade Center.

"Everyone from Walmart to Target to Best Buy and everyone in between is kind of scouring the floor for what's going to be the new up-and-coming cool technology to sell," said Chris Wentz, CEO of Everykey, a Cleveland maker of Bluetooth products that replace passwords and can unlock smartphones, computers and online sites. "This is the first year of going to CES where we actually have a shippable product."

Everykey, which Wentz created in 2013 while a student at CWRU, has struggled to bring its idea to market. But now, he said, he's refocused his approach and the product is ready to go to market.

"We've taken a little bit more of a B2B enterprise focus," he explained. "And that was a really exciting part of this show. Ninety-nine percent of the people walking around work for a company and have decision-making power within their company. So there's a lot of enterprises that we met during CES this year that want to do a pilot with our product. And you know, somebody who has 10,000-plus employees can be some pretty substantial sales for us."

CWRU has sponsored a booth at the show for seven years, said Robert Sopko, director of the university's LaunchNet program, whose mission is to train entrepreneurs, especially students and former students like Wentz, on the university's campus. CWRU took a 32-by-22-foot space — Booth 51548 — at Eureka Park. The school covered the $12,000 cost of the booth and invited a dozen organizations, most being grown by students, faculty or alumni, to share the space.

"It was phenomenal. We were busy all the time," said Sopko. "The engagement was really great. We were even busy on the last day."

Eureka Park was surrounded by 1,200 startup companies from 46 countries. The CWRU booth was close to other universities, as well as booths run by countries such as Israel and the Netherlands.

Hanieh Ghadimi and Chelsea Monty-Bromer, co-founders of Akron- based RooSense, attended CES last year to get the lay of the land, but this was their first year exhibiting. Monty-Bromer said their company is about a year away from a salable product, but the trip was still worthwhile.

"There are a lot of investors walking around looking for things to invest in," she said. "And there are a lot of people who make electronic components who are looking for maybe customers for themselves or partnerships. That's really what we were looking for: people who can help us with our different pieces that we have to make to get this to market."

Monty-Bromer is an associate professor of chemical engineering at the University of Akron, while Ghadimi is a postdoctoral researcher there. The pair founded the company in late 2017 based on research on biosensors and nanosensors. RooSense is developing a fabric with sensors that can keep athletes wearing clothing made from it from becoming dehydrated.

"CES is one of the largest global forums for deal flow, so there is a lot of deals being made between companies big and small," said Neil Singh, director of technology at Team NEO, the regional economic development nonprofit, who also made the trip to Las Vegas. "Typically, it's technology companies looking at other innovative companies where it adds value to their portfolio. It's extremely good exposure for businesses in the technology space."

In addition to Everykey and RooSense, CWRU's booth was shared by 3D Music, which was showing a prototype of its 3D-printed musical instruments; Ant-X LLC, which helps people create diets that meet their health needs; Axuall Inc., which is developing a digital network for verifying professional and technical credentials; BioFlightVR, a developer of virtual-reality medical training and education software; Delta Sound Labs, a maker of audio-effects plugins; Everyone Makes Progress Inc., a blockchain-based fitness data analzyzer; Lumen Polymer, a CWRU student effort that has designed an adhesive bandage that removes easily after being treated with ultraviolet light; Repowered Robotics, a student-run startup that's developing modestly priced robotics components for startups or small companies; and Tauon LLC, which is helping video game developers incorporate voice-activated commands.

CWRU's Interactive Commons, which is developing software applications for augmented and virtual reality using Microsoft HoloLens, and Blockland Cleveland, which has a think tank at CWRU to help the effort to build blockchain technologies in Northeast Ohio, also used the university's booth.

Wentz said the experience was also a good way to get candid feedback.

"CES is a good learning experience for us. It really gives us a very honest view of the market every year," he said. "There's probably thousands of people that approach us throughout the course of CES, and these are people that know the industry and can kind of like really honestly evaluate us. There's a lot of kind individuals and brutally honest (opinions), and that's helpful for us."

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Innovation Fund Winners Hyr Medical and Axuall are partnering up to pilot digital credentialing for physicians

hyr med axuall

Hyr Medical — a Cleveland startup that connects health care providers to places to practice — has partnered with Axuall, a digital verification company, also in Cleveland, to pilot portable digital credentials across portions of Hyr's network of more than 650 physicians, according to a news release.

The partnership will leverage Axuall's national network of primary-source credential issuers to enable physicians to present fully compliant credential sets to places where they apply to practice via the Hyr platform. Hyr Medical's online network directly connects qualified physicians and health care systems for freelance ("locum tenens"), telehealth and permanent jobs.

Regulations require health care employers and health plans to credential practitioners upon hire and periodically after that. The process, which can be a significant operating expense and take anywhere from three to six months to complete, is repeated for each additional care setting where a physician works, leaving qualified physicians waiting to start work, patients waiting for care and health care systems losing money, according to the release.

"Together, the Hyr and Axuall technologies will play complementary roles in reducing unnecessary costs and time to place qualified physicians into much-needed positions," Charlie Lougheed, Axuall's CEO, said in a prepared statement. "We expect to learn a great deal during this pilot as we observe how this technology reshapes workflows and improves efficiencies."

Supported credential types include, according to the release: medical education, training, licensing, board certification, work history, competency evaluations, sanctions and adverse events.

Axuall's network leverages patent-pending blockchain technology to enable physicians to acquire digital versions of their credentials from authorized issuers, including medical schools, residency programs, license bureaus and medical boards, according to the release. They can then share those credentials securely with health care systems and medical groups.

"As the U.S. health care system grapples with the challenges of meeting the growing demand for care coupled with the disparity in physician density between metro and rural locations, health care employers are looking for new ways to attract, engage and deploy practitioners," Hyr Medical CEO Manoj Jhaveri said in a prepared statement. "We expect new models like on-demand freelancing, telehealth and faster placement to play a significant role in addressing these challenges. Technologies like Axuall and Hyr will enable these advancements."

As part of the pilot, the companies will study the experience of the practitioners acquiring, managing and sharing their digital credentials with employers. Collected data will help them better understand how technologies "improve workflow, reduce redundancy and create empowering experiences for physicians," according to the release. Axuall has recently started separate pilots with two health systems, details of which will be announced "shortly," according to the release.

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The Birth of a Baby-tech Startup


Inspiration arrives in unexpected ways.

Thirteen years ago, Jonathan Klinger came home from work to find his wife, Julianne, in the living room of their home in Cambridge, England. She was holding a CD player and had big earmuff-sized headphones strapped to her pregnant belly.

More than a decade later, the couple's baby-tech startup has gone through loads of research, engineering, testing, relocation and risk-taking. After several prototypes, securing a patent and winning the Northeast Ohio Chapter of the Innovation Fund of America prize (a "Shark Tank"-like competition) in the form of a $100,000 interest-free loan, Mbrio Pregnancy Earbud Adapters hit the market in June 2019, and they're getting noticed.

The adapters, which transform regular earbuds into pregnancy headphones, garnered an Instagram shout-out from supermodel Ashley Graham to her almost 10 million followers, blurbs in People and Us Weekly magazines, online coverage on lifestyle sites including PopSugar, and a rating of 4.9 out of 5 stars on Amazon.

Having an idea, designing the product, manufacturing it and establishing a company around it are daunting tasks. Jonathan and Julianne Klinger merged their experience — his in engineering, hers in marketing — to create earbud adapters that clip to a pregnant mom's waistband. They're made of safe, quality materials in an ergonomic shape. Decibel level and frequency testing was performed by a nationally registered lab.

"I'd heard about playing music to my unborn baby from my mom and sister," Julianne said. "It wasn't a new concept, and after my midwife suggested it, I decided to give it a try. I thought I could go to the store and pick something up. All I found were bulky speakers that required adhesives or straps and splitters or adapters. That got us thinking that there must be a better way."

Jonathan, raised in England, is an engineer with a graduate business degree from France. Julianne, raised in the Midwest, has an undergraduate degree in anthropology and an MBA from the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, where the two met through a mutual friend.

Together, the couple moved often, following their jobs. Jonathan worked in marketing and product innovation for large corporations, while Julianne worked in advertising and marketing for a large Fortune 100 company.

"We kept thinking that playing music for our baby shouldn't be a different experience than playing music for ourselves. It should be seamless and use things we already had," Julianne said.

Three months after their first child was born, Jonathan's work took them to New York. Design began with a trip to Walgreens and CVS, where they bought everyday products, including things with plastic clips, gel shoe inserts and other items that would attenuate sound.

As an engineer, Jonathan had two questions. "One was: How do you make the sound safe for the baby? And the second is: How do you hold it to the mom's belly without harnesses or sticky stuff? The first sketch was literally drawn on the back of an envelope.

"We made several iterations," he added, "and by the time we got close to the final prototype, we searched to see if anyone had done anything like it. No one in the world had, so we applied for and received a patent. No one can legally copy it."

After having another child and moving to Cleveland a few years ago, the Klingers were nearing the home stretch. They discovered Sears think [box], a public-access innovation center at the Case Western Reserve University School of Engineering.

"They have a phenomenal 3D printer that we could use for free," Jonathan said. "Unlike many 3D printers that only produce items in hard plastic, this printer allows you to model the squishiness of the piece."

"We gave prototypes to local pregnant moms to try," added Julianne, who named the company Mbrio. They also commissioned, a market research company, to carry out an online survey of 500 pregnant moms across the U.S. to confirm attitudes about the benefits of prenatal music and interest in their product.

The couple also discovered the JumpStart Inc. nonprofit accelerator, which provided mentoring, networking and ongoing support before, during and after the grant application through Glide (Great Lakes Innovation and Development Enterprise) for the Innovation Fund of America prize and the product's launch.

The final product, which looks as sleek as anything hanging on the wall of an Apple Store, meets the standards put out by the CDC and the National Institution for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). It's made of medical-grade silicone and a plastic clip that are joined without screws or glue but using split, flanged pegs. When it came to finding a manufacturer, Jonathan says that many turned the product down due to the complicated design.

"It was our choice to be this concerned about product safety. I've been through this with other products," said Jonathan, who left his full-time job two years ago. Through his contacts, he chose a high-quality, tier-one manufacturer in Asia to make the two components.

The next step, he added, became equally important.

"The organization that assembles the product and the packaging is a nonprofit based in Norwalk called CLI Supports," he said. "It provides paid employment to adults with developmental disabilities. They assemble the silicone to the clip and package the finished product. We also have the graphics done locally and use Ohio suppliers. Many are women-owned businesses."

"We could use suppliers from around the world," Julianne said. "We could have the graphic design done elsewhere, anyone could do our fulfillment, but we feel the community has given us so much, we love Cleveland and we want to give back."

She manages engagement with influencers and moms through Instagram. "That was a big part of this for us," she said. "Who we are in terms of bringing this product to light is also about who we are as parents. We left our lives in large corporations to do this a certain way. It might have taken us a little longer, it might cost us more, but there is integrity in it and that's the only way we wanted to do it. We came into it launching a product for pregnant women, but the richness has been the lives of these women we've gotten to know and remain in touch with. That's been the jewel of the whole thing."

As for additional items from Mbrio, Julianne said, "We're thinking of the next product as we consider the community and their needs."

Mbrio Pregnancy Earbud Adapters fit earbuds by Apple, including wireless AirPods, Samsung and Google Pixel. They're available in white or aqua, sell for $30 and can be purchased at and on Amazon. For additional reviews and images see mbriotech on Instagram.

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