August 28, 2018

Startup Q&A: Mobile Sense is Developing a 24/7/365 Cardiac Monitor

Mobile Sense is a company that is developing the first truly continuous ECG monitor, featuring 24/7/365 detection of dangerous heart arrhythmias. Founded in 2016 by CEO Justin Chickles and CTO Dr. Ki Chon, they’re currently part of the JLABS @ NYC life science incubator in Manhattan.

For this Startup Q&A, I spoke with Chickles to learn more about the company and wearable.

Alex Culafi (AC): Tell me about your background. What was your career like prior to founding Mobile Sense?

Justin Chickles (JC): I’ve always loved to build and create. I am an engineer by training, and it is hard to escape! I’ve brought an array of medical products from initial ideas through commercialization with both large companies like Johnson & Johnson and start-up companies. The products range from cardiovascular to migraine to urology in both surgically implanted devices and patient-managed therapies and diagnostics.

I’ve led and been a part of some amazing, passionate teams over the last 18 years. My career has spanned global marketing, sales, licensing & business development, and R&D. It’s a broad mix, but it was always about building up businesses. My very early career exposed me to the medical innovations in the Boston area ranging from early-stage cancer therapeutics and diagnostics to surgical cardiac imaging, and I loved the creativity, vitality, and sense of mission of helping people these companies had. It hooked me and made me want to start my own company.

justin chickles mobile sense
Mobile Sense Co-Founder and CEO Justin Chickles.

AC: What’s the story of Mobile Sense? How did it get started?

JC: Mobile Sense started two years ago, and is currently a resident company at JLABS @ NYC, but it was the product of almost seven years of work prior to that by my co-founder Dr. Ki Chon. Ki worked on the core technology while at SUNY, WPI, and finally at UConn where he is now the Head of Biomedical Engineering. The technology evolved and developed with the help of grants from the Army and Navy which were looking for ways to monitor people in extreme environments and it was required to be non-invasive. All of that work led to the formation of Mobile Sense in 2016, where we formed the company together to join together his technical knowledge with the commercial expertise I had gathered in medical devices and wearables. When we first started there was no one doing cardiac wearables, and it’s been incredible how much that has changed and the partnerships we’ve formed in two years.

AC: I’d love to hear more about the company and your cardiac monitor. For the uninitiated, what do you do?

JC: Mobile Sense is looking for problems with the heart. In particular, we are trying to identify patients with arrhythmia who are asymptomatic or have random onset arrhythmia. Almost 66% of patients with arrhythmia are not identified because they are misdiagnosed, or they are not having an event while at the doctor’s office or while using a short duration monitor. The real risk is that a significant number of arrhythmias result in a stroke.

Our company is looking to solve the problem of undiagnosed arrhythmia. We’ve developed technology enabling off-the-chest medical wearables for both ECG (electrocardiogram) and PPG (photoplethysmography). Our PPG technology, the lights on the back of a Fitbit or Apple watch, enables people to do a first pass screen using the advances in smartwatch platforms. Then patients, move on to a cardiologist prescribed long-term monitor on the upper arm. The SensBand™ offers a convenient, continuous ECG monitor with non-adhesive, wireless and waterproof sensors, enabling users to record data even in extreme user environments, including running or swimming.

AC: How has the company (and platform) evolved over time?

JC: The idea of wearables was always the heart of what we do. The biggest change is the inclusion of smartwatches and the incredible depth and computing power they bring. Its been a massive accelerator being able to tap into these well tested, inexpensive, and powerful devices. Our algorithms have shrunk in size and increased in sensitivity and specificity, which enables us to do real-time, low power monitoring. It’s a changing environment and it has helped us out tremendously.

AC: Who are your core customers?

JC: We are always keeping the patient experience at the core of what we do. We want comfortable, wearable devices that don’t interrupt a person’s day-to-day life. From a business side our main customers for algorithms are the large consumer manufacturers through licensing, and for our armband device it is electrophysiologists and super-specialized cardiologists, who are the primary doctors that identify patients with arrhythmias.

AC: What does the competition look like? Is there any?

JC: There is currently no direct competitor to an upper arm-based ECG device, but there are a lot of big players looking at alternative methods ranging from current cardiac monitors to emerging advances in smartwatches. What I see is that the growth of smartwatch detection and technology like AliveCor’s snapshot ECG is paving the way to require more patients to get a doctor prescribed continuous ECG monitor. The competition is growing our market, and the expectation from patients is that the doctor-prescribed device should be a wearable rather than wires everywhere.

The SensBand.

AC: What kind of success have you had so far?

JC: We’ve raised $1.25M in seed capital and both an NIH and NSF SBIR grant. We’ve also seen some excellent results from our clinical study. Additional achievements include a development agreement with a large player and recognition as one of the winners of the JLABS @ NYC QuickFire Challenge, all of which has validated the approach we are taking.

AC: How big is the team? Looking to hire any particular positions in the coming months?

JC: The team is small right now, with only eight people actively involved in the company and only two of us full time. We are in the process of raising our Series A round, and when we close, we are hiring! That should be soon.

AC: What’s next for the company?

JC: Our next steps are to do the final commercial build of the armband and aim for FDA clearance in 2019. We also look to continue to build our licensing and partnerships in wearables. Our algorithms offer a highly-sensitive, low-power way of detecting various arrhythmias, and we think we will start to make a significant impact on people lives very soon.

AC: Any final thoughts?

JC: It’s an exciting time to bring a digital health platform to market. I can’t wait to see what happens in the next year.

Alexander Culafi is a Staff Writer at VentureFizz. He also edits and produces The VentureFizz Podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @culafia.