Classroom Discovery Leads to Startup

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David YakimischakWhat is the value of technology that can predict the future? When it comes to detecting and preventing potential workplace injuries, the answer is “a lot,” according to a trio of Carey Business School alumni who formed a tech startup with just such a mission.

The company, Motus Datum, was founded by Chris Colihan-Grillo, Andrew Maus, and David Yakimischak in 2015 when they were still students at Carey. All three graduated in spring 2016 with MBAs.

Motus Datum sprung from Carey’s Discovery to Market course, which focuses on entrepreneurship and the commercialization process for scientific concepts and materials. The course, directed by Associate Professor Toby Gordon, tasks students with developing a commercialization plan for a new technology that is patent pending.

As the trio was sifting through a batch of patents owned by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health, they came upon one labeled “PEAS” – short for Portable Exposure Assessment System.

The wearable technology consists of a network of body-worn sensors the size of poker chips that gather information about a person’s movements. That information is uploaded to a mobile phone and then plugged into an algorithm that the founders say can predict and subsequently prevent future on-the-job injuries.

“I learned a lot of different things; I learned to look at business issues as a multifaceted, complex system. I couldn’t have written this business plan two years ago.

— David Yakimischak

“Based on your physical profile and your individual movement, the technology can determine if you are moving in a way that over time would result in a musculoskeletal injury [MSI],” says Colihan-Grillo, the company’s chief executive officer.

The group says the technology is ideal for industries in which workers, such as nurses, construction workers, and delivery people, are exposed to higher probabilities of on-the-job injuries. The benefit of such technology has the potential to be huge, the founders say.

“The goal here is to reduce injuries. And if we have some data that shows putting this system in place can reduce injuries, we have a home-run opportunity,” says Yakimischak, the company’s chief operating officer and chief technology officer.

The group members say they envision working as a consulting firm for clients, which could include employers from a variety of industries as well as insurance companies. “Our business model is to provide data analytics as a service,” Colihan-Grillo says.

Maus, the company’s chief financial officer, says direct health care costs for worker injuries exceed $62 billion annually, which does not include indirect health care and financial benefits.

“There is a huge connection between workplace injuries and opioid use,” Maus says. “When you get a worker who hurts their back, they become dependent over months and even years due to overexertion and repetitive movements at work. The result is chronic musculoskeletal injuries, predominantly treated by opioids – resulting in a much bigger problem.”

He adds: “If you are an insurance company paying out hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars a year to deal with these injuries, the ability to reduce MSIs by a mere 4 percent more than demonstrates a return on investment.”

Though the startup began as a class project, the group soon realized it had something more.

In early 2016, the three were looking for a project for their capstone class. They quickly settled on further developing a business around the PEAS technology. “The three of us sat down and said, ‘This technology is pretty cool, and we actually think there is commercial viability here,’” Colihan-Grillo says.

Their work went on through the capstone class and their graduation in May 2016. Now, the company leaders are looking to continue the momentum with a pilot program to test the viability of the technology. They want to attract seed funding and add a full-time employee to help manage the development of the company.

The founders credit Carey with not just bringing the group together and providing an entrepreneurial environment but also equipping them with the knowledge needed to continue developing the business.

“I learned a lot of different things; I learned to look at business issues as a multifaceted, complex system,” Yakimischak says. “I couldn’t have written this business plan two years ago. I just couldn’t have done it, and now I can because of the education we received.”

– Luke Lavoie

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