Triangle Health Startup Weekend is a three-day event that took place at American Underground @Main. So what makes this most recent TSW different from the plethora of others?
It was the first-ever digital health focused TSW in the region. It also had five women-led teams and 37 percent of the participants were women, a stat that made the organizers proud. And there were 21 doctorates in the room, which organizer Janet Kennedy says is different from many other Startup Weekends.
"Smart, smart people here," she says. "Not that there aren't always smart people at Triangle Startup Weekend" there are a lot of very innovative and creative people. But in order to tackle something like health you really have to have a much higher level of knowledge about the situation.
Vincent Nacouzi, an emergency medicine physician in Raleigh, has been working on his TOW (tongue out of the way) device idea for seven years, but says TSW helped him in areas in which he was not strong. The TOW device helps move patients' tongues when inserting a tube for surgery. Nacouzi says that TSW helped him learn more about the real life challenges of putting his product on the market - the advertising and marketing behind it and how to work with different types of people.
Another major difference from most TSW events was the provider panel. Participants were able to consult with a panel of physicians and nurses to validate their ideas. Kennedy says this element was extremely helpful to ensure participants' products were on the right path.
Of the eight teams that fleshed out their ideas, one stood out to me from the start and went on to win the overall award (team pictured above).
Eleanor Ismail came up with Women of Aura after suffering from a yeast infection. She wanted to use a more natural remedy than the products offered at the drug store, and found that coconut oil was a better solution. Within the weekend, she and her team made a coconut oil suppository and applicator prototype.
Ismail works in technical sales at Eaton Corporation and says that TSW allowed her to jump into entrepreneurship. Specifically, she learned the tenets of a business plan and business model.
"I had always wanted to own my own business and I always wanted to do something great," she says.
And she's not stopping now.
"I want to continue this until I see it through. I want to see this on the shelves."
Ismail says TSW revealed to her how hard entrepreneurs must work to make their idea a reality. She hopes to launch her product in the next 18 to 24 months, but has many hurdles to overcome - like gaining approval from the Food and Drug Administration.
While this was Ismail's first TSW experience, there were many familiar faces. I recently wrote about Tia Simpson, a new member of ThinkHouse, who is working to develop emergency alert bracelets. Simpson moved into the accelerator living community last week and says that the ThinkHouse coordinator informed her about TSW. Grassroutes Networking, an IT management company, then sponsored her to participate. Simpson was a member of the Heart Throb team that created an app and web interface to help users track their irregular heart beat episodes to better help physicians treat them. She says she also bounced around ideas involving her Konnect bracelets. Simpson says TSW allowed her to get important feedback that she can use with Konnect and opened her eyes to the opportunities in the health industry and other potential markets.
Heart Throb was the crowd favorite and won "best customer validation." While Simpson and the Heart Throb team are planning to continue to work on their idea, not every startup survives after these events.
That's not the goal, says Joanna Rogerson, a TSW organizer and founder a leading healthcare IT company.
"The biggest value isn't pitching your idea in front of the VCs," she says. "More of the value is the connections that you make within your community and now this healthcare vertical you're interested in."