SBJ/May 2-8, 2016/Marketing and Sponsorship

Rehab time in NFL leads Batch to role in medical tech firm

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When Charlie Batch was an NFL quarterback, he used cutting-edge technology for rehabbing injuries.

In 2004, when he was rehabbing his left knee from microfracture surgery, the Pittsburgh Steelers had him use a machine that slowly bent his leg and stretched it out back straight again.

Former NFL quarterback Charlie Batch wants to bring big league recovery technology to everyday people.
Photo by: JOE WOJCIK
“I had to put my leg in, and it moved my leg for 12 hours a day,” Batch said. “I had to do that the whole day.”

When he began considering a post-football career, Batch thought about making the technology that professional athletes use more widely available.

“The idea came about, basically, from me being around [the NFL] and being injured quite a few times in my career,” Batch said. “Some of the technology that I was privy to and was able to use wasn’t available to everyday people, quite frankly.”

Batch retired in 2013 after 15 seasons in the NFL and founded Impellia in 2015 with Richard Walker and Dave Morin.

Walker is an attorney who grew up with Batch in Pittsburgh. As Batch was making the transition from the football field, Walker was moving from a career in law to tech startups.

The two then met Morin, a health care tech entrepreneur. In 2006, Morin had founded Cielo MedSolutions, which used software developed by the University of Michigan to help doctors coordinate and manage the screening, prevention and disease management needs of their patients. He sold it in 2011, and although Morin would not reveal the price, he said investors did get “a strong return on their investment.”

Afterward, Morin was looking for a new venture to create. “Charlie and Rick and I all crossed paths going down the same road,” Morin said.

Business at the intersection of technology — including mobile apps, performance data and wearable sensors­ — and sports medicine is exploding right now, Walker said.

The early adoption of sports science came in Europe and Asia, Walker said. The U.S. has always had research and tools in sports medicine at its disposal, but it took longer to gain favor with the coaches and training staffs in the most popular U.S. sports.

Impellia identifies technologies that are being developed at universities throughout the U.S., licenses products and brings them to market. So far, the company has licensed two technologies:

Pivot is an iPad app invented by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh. It uses sensors that help doctors determine whether an athlete has a torn ACL.

KEY EXECUTIVES

Richard Walker, co-founder
Dave Morin, co-founder
Charlie Batch, co-founder
Norma Nieto, senior vice president
Diane Robbins, vice president of operations

The three co-founders of Impellia, looking for a way to concisely capture the spirit of their endeavor, collaborated on the creation of the company’s name, said one of them, Richard Walker.
“The word ‘impel’ is defined as ‘to drive, force or urge someone to do something … to drive forward,’” Walker said. “The definition of the root word ‘impel’ was reflective of our business objective to impact people’s lives positively in the face of the challenges presented when rehabbing or training to become the best that one could be.

LAUNCHED: 2015
HEADQUARTERS:
Pittsburgh, Detroit
NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES:
8
WHAT THEY DO:
Commercialize and market sports medicine and digital health care technology
KEY PARTNERSHIPS:
University of Pittsburgh, Columbia University, University of Colorado

A metabolic fitness platform that can determine when an athlete is burning fat versus carbohydrates while working out. The platform,which doesn’t have a brand name yet, can help athletes customize their training programs.

Impellia is at work on licensing a third device, Solesound, developed by the University of Columbia. Solesound measures an athlete’s gait, including whether he or she is favoring one leg or the other. The device can detect problems in how someone walks or runs, and the information can be used to correct an athlete’s gait through the use of orthotics or other means and prevent possible future injury.

Impellia is working with 10 universities to find products they want to take to market.

Evan Facher is the director of enterprise development at the University of Pittsburgh’s Innovation Institute. He said he is hopeful that Impellia will license two other technologies that university researchers developed, in addition to Pivot.

Part of the mission of the university is to use its research and its discoveries for the benefit of society at large. “For us as a nonprofit, we can do the innovation … but we can’t sell the product,” Facher said.

Tom Lewand, the former Detroit Lions president who signed Batch to his first NFL contract and remains a friend and mentor, said that Batch has told him about the company and that he thinks its products have the potential to help professional athletes as well as weekend warriors.

“What is unique to me about Impellia is the way Charlie has brought together the three critical areas for successful and useful sports performance and health care technology — the research professionals and institutes, the entrepreneurial and business experts, and the high-performance athletes,” said Lewand, who has no involvement in the company. “By combining all three areas of expertise, Impellia is uniquely positioned to make a comprehensive assessment of the value of a product or technology through its entire launch, use and growth cycles.”

The company has not made any sales yet but hopes to bring in revenue this year, Walker and Morin said. Although Impellia is one company, each of the technologies are their own separate business entities, Morin said.

Impellia co-founders Richard Walker (left), Charlie Batch (center) and Dave Morin (right) with Pivot inventors Dr. Freddie Fu (second from left) and Dr. Volker Musahl of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
Photo by: IMPELLIA
“We think our products, eventually, individually will be acquired by larger entities,” he said. “And that is part of the reason they are all separate. Each technology is its own separate company. There is probably a slightly different audience for all of these companies, and we want to have the flexibility to move them in the way we do.”

Walker said professional teams and college and high school programs are among the types of organizations that might buy Impellia’s technologies. Outside of sports, hospitals, physical and rehabilitation therapists, health plans and orthopedic surgeons could be potential customers.

“We believe sports teams and athletes will adopt our products and it will move into the [larger] health care space,” Walker said. All the products are intended to ultimately improve athletic performance.

Batch noted that another technology that Impellia is considering licensing tracks whether an athlete — or just an ordinary patient — is actually performing the exercises that a doctor or rehab specialist prescribes.

“So what happens when you go home?” Batch said. “When you go home, you don’t really do the exercises. You take the weekend off. You go back on Monday and you see the therapist and they see the rehab isn’t going properly. Maybe you didn’t do the exercises properly. Maybe you didn’t do them at all. Now this device actually helps in real time. As you put the device on, it sends information back to the therapist to let them know.”

The goal now is to build a successful company and, when that happens, to potentially sell it, Batch said.

“If the opportunity presents itself that we are able to exit, yeah, we’ll consider it,” he said.

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