North Carolina has made a name for itself as an undisputed hub for clinical trials and research.
Wilmington alone has offices for close to 30 CROs (Contract Research Organization), independent contractor companies for pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and medical device clinical trials.
As the hometown for many companies in the medical trial field, it makes sense that Wilmington would also have a growing cohort of MedTech and biotech founders.
Hypepotamus talked with some startup founders who have already launched health-related startups in the area:
It may not seem like biotech and fintech have many natural overlaps, but for the Wilmington-based team behind Lapetus Solutions, the connection starts with a selfie.
CEO Karl Ricanek, UNCW professor focusing on facial recognition and AI, started working on technology to better understand biological aging. In 2014, his app Face My Age, went viral by analyzing selfies and estimating how someone is aging…and ultimately estimating that person’s life expectancy.
While there are certainly many use cases for such technologies (think plastic surgeons and cosmetic companies), the team found a unique use case: Improving the life insurance industry. Ricanek told Hypepotamus that Lapetus’ algorithm helps move the “process of underwriting for life insurance from five months to five minutes.”
Lapetus, getting its name from the Greek god of mortality, is being deployed in financial services and wealth management industries as it can help people better plan for retirement.
Since taking its first seed round April 2015 from within the local ecosystem, Ricanek says the technology has been deployed around the world.
“In order to understand how to plan for retirement, you have to understand a few things. First and foremost, how long are you going to live? When can you retire? What will your health be like when you’re in retirement? Our tools help predict your life expectancy — and your healthy life expectancy — so that from there you can better plan.”
David Reeser, a transplant to the Wilmington area, is looking to use technology to help neighbors struggling with addiction.
As the opioid crisis ripped through Southeastern cities like Wilmington, one specific statistic stood out to him and his team: The average person who enters therapy for opioid addiction relapses five times.
OpiAID started by bringing the community members together to think about what it might take to end the opioid crisis. For Reeser, the goal is to “solve a local problem with local people.”
The hard science software works with Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) rehab centers during the critical first twelve weeks of treatment.
OpiAID’s data platform helps therapists and doctors use biometric insights to help keep a patient in treatment for longer, thus improving success rates.
OpiAID is one of two Wilmington-based startups to go through the RIoT accelerator program. After receiving an NIH grant in September of 2020, the team is looking to scale in the months ahead.
Typically, preventative care is overlooked in the modern US healthcare system.
But preventing falls could be big business, given that 3 million individuals end up in the ER and roughly 27,000 people die from fall-related injuries each year.
Another RIoT graduate, Brilliant Sole, is building a wireless charging insole designed to monitor gait and balance for people at high risk of falling. On top of preventing falls, the insoles can track pressure and range of motion data with each step. The team is working on wireless charging capabilities, making it so that users don’t have to take the insoles out to recharge.
The team is looking to capitalize on the wearable technology trend that is helping collect valuable data on patients even outside of a doctor’s office.
Jeff Guard, another Wilmington transplant, told Hypepotamus that they secured a partnership with the American Institute of Balance. Prior to taking an investment from Wilmington-based WALE in 2018, the startup was entirely built on a “shoestring budget” (pun intended).
The Future of Wilmington’s Tech Scene
In October of 2020, Novant Health, a North Carolina-based healthcare network, purchased the non-profit New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington.
Such a headline may seem far removed from anything tech-related. But with the purchase comes with a $1.25 billion endowment, set to go directly into the local community.
The hospital sale and the endowment was brought up several times when Hypepotamus talked to local entrepreneurs. Not only does it mean investment in the health and wellness of citizens, but it also could help bring more MedTech and biotech founders to the surface, as entrepreneurs look to solve some of the community’s most pressing problems. And it could just help spin out the next Southeast MedTech success story.