(Photo by Stephen Babcock)
Renalert, a startup formed out of Johns Hopkins that’s working to prevent acute kidney injury, won the $25,000 top prize at Beta City’s venture pitch competition Thursday night.
Inside Port Covington tech hub Betamore, CEO Aaron Chang was one of five company leaders who pitched to panel of local investors open the annual celebration of Baltimore tech and entrepreneurship. His aim: “preventing needless deaths from acute kidney injury.”
Chang started working on this effort during a master’s program at JHU’s Center for Bioengineering and Design, where students can iterate alongside clinicians.
Damage or failure of the kidney can occur during different types of surgeries that aren’t directly associated with the organ, such as cardiac surgery, where it occurs in 15% of patients. The injury happens in part because the kidneys are not receiving enough blood flow, and under current systems, the injury may not be detected for up to two days after it happens.
Prevention could improve mortality rates, as well as bring down hospital costs related to readmissions and patients spending longer in intensive care, Chang said.
Renalert is developing a system that provides monitoring for factors that could lead to the condition in real-time. The company’s system uses both hardware and software, with a urine flow rate monitor that’s then correlated with an analytics engine on the backend. This can provide doctors with info they need to make decisions about care that could prevent acute kidney injury from happening. So instead of detecting the injury after surgery, the system can give a heads up when the kidney is starting to become stressed, the CEO said.
The company secured a patent and has a device that is exempt from requiring U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval — normally a big effort to achieve for medtech companies. Now the team is working toward bringing the product to market, and the funding from the win will help.
Renalert is currently undergoing clinical trials with more than 100 patients at hospitals operated by Johns Hopkins and Northwestern University in Chicago. Chang said the company is continuing to develop its algorithm, as well: The device provides an initial pathway into hospitals, while the algorithm provides recurring revenue.
The company’s development to date shows a pathway for technology product ideas that are developed inside the city’s medical institutions with programs that take a more hands-on approach to education, then commercialized by entrepreneurial-minded founders who want to continue their work.
The company began by working out of Johns Hopkins Tech Ventures’ FastForward, and was one of the first to move into the FastForward 1812 space in East Baltimore when it opened in 2017. More recently, Chang said the company moved to the LaunchPort medical device accelerator, which is located alongside Betamore in Port Covington’s City Garage.
“We recently moved over because we needed more assembly space, and a space where we could do proper medical device manufacturing,” Chang said.
TEDCO provided funding through its Maryland Innovation Initiative.
“We couldn’t have gotten here without the local community helping us along,” he said.
Startups that pitched also included:
- BurnAlong — Co-CEO Daniel Freedman pitched the Pikesville-based B2B health and fitness platform offering connections to classes and others who are taking them.
- Lumina Solar — CEO Mike Kirby pitched the Halethorpe-based solar energy company applying B2B recurring revenue to its business model.
- Osmosis — Creative director Tanner Marshall pitched the health education platform (and corresponding animated videos) for medical students and professionals.
- Sonavi Labs — CEO Ellington West presented on Feelix, the company’s stethoscope, apps and cloud platform that uses AI and microphone technology to analyze body sounds and detect abnormalities.
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