Business development / COVID-19 / Funding / Hardware / Health tech

Why medtech startup Stel Life pivoted to at-home connected devices amid the pandemic

The Stel Vitals Hub integrates with current vital-monitoring devices like scales, blood pressure cuffs or wearables, and sends patient data to their doctor's preferred electronic health record.

Stel Life's Stel Vitals Hub as of 2021. (Courtesy image)

For the couple years prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, medical device startup Stel Life had been working on a digital health platform.

It was a business model “that truthfully, a lot of other companies already do really well,” cofounder and CEO Sid Kandan said. But the global health crisis put into perspective a way that the company could meet its original values of patient connectedness and accessibility.

Instead of focusing on the digital platform side, Stel Life went all in on hardware — a connected device that allows patients to do remote vitals monitoring via bluetooth, and send results to their doctor’s preferred electronic health record. Kandan cofounded the company with Sandra Gomberg, former president of Temple University Hospital and current CEO of the Philadelphia COVID-19 Surge Initiative.

The company is the maker of a device, the Stel Vitals Hub, which integrates with current vital-monitoring devices like scales, blood pressure cuffs or wearables that can be bought at drugstores or big box stores. The hub costs $130, with a $10-per-month fee for wireless service. And its functionality is a lot more user-friendly to those who aren’t super tech savvy, the CEO said. You don’t need knowledge of how to operate a tablet or iPad to log results with your doctor.

“My grandmother is not someone who can maneuver around a tablet,” said Sumner Sykes, Stel Life’s business development lead. “The idea is caring for a community that might be at risk of being left behind.”

And in recent weeks, the company has been publishing findings of its research into the FCC’s COVID-19 Telehealth Program, which provides funding to help healthcare providers get connected care services to patients in their homes or at mobile locations. The program provided $200 million as part of the CARES Act for care providers to purchase telecommunications services, information services and devices necessary to provide critical connected care services remotely. The FCC is opening up another round of funding of nearly $250 million in the coming weeks.

“We’re excited to highlight the FCC’s second round of funding to expand telehealth services to low-income populations,” Sykes said. “We’ve designed our product to cure the digital divide in healthcare, providing a low-cost, high-tech tool to keep patients engaged with their care teams without the burden of expensive tablets and complex device pairing.”

About a year into their business model shift, Kandan said the team is starting to look forward to some growth and raising a Series A later this year. The company participated in DreamIt’s healthtech accelerator, and is finding Philly a good fit for talent and healthcare connections after moving to the city from California a few years back, Kandan said.

The 11-person operation is currently based at 34th and Market streets and is built of engineering, manufacturing, operations and sales teams. They’ve raised a seed round from some local and other U.S.-based investors, including Gabriel Investments, Ben Franklin Technology Partners and Social Capital.

“In the pandemic, and post-pandemic, I think people are really seeing the value in connected devices,” Kandan said.

Companies: Ben Franklin Technology Partners / Gabriel Investments / Social Venture Network

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