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Line Infections Take Center Stage at Boston Children’s Hospital’s Innovation Tank

CareAline founders Kezia and Mike Fitzgerald present their pitch to the panel of judges. All photos via Boston Children's Hospital.

CareAline founders Kezia and Mike Fitzgerald present their pitch to the panel of judges. All photos via Boston Children’s Hospital.

A panel of venture capitalists, clinicians, researchers and healthcare industry leaders struggled to choose between business prowess and medical influence at the Boston Children’s Hospital’s Innovation Tank event, which took place on October 31, 2014 as part of the hospital’s “Taking on Tomorrow” Global Pediatric Innovation Summit.

The Innovation Tank, moderated by Shark Tank host Daymond John, gave three fledgling healthcare companies – Care Aline, Kurbo Health and HubScrub – a chance to win up to $30,000 in seed money. Judges for the high-energy and well-attended event included Leonard Zon, MD, the founder and director of Boston Children’s Hospital’s Stem Cell Program; Bob Davis, a General Partner at Highland Capital Partners; Santo Politi, the founder of Spark Capital; Ivan Salgo, MD, the Chief of Cardiovascular Investigations at Philips Healthcare; and Halle Tecco, the founder and Managing Director of Rock Health.

These judges were tasked with the difficult job of choosing between three companies hoping to change pediatric healthcare:

HubScrub founders Sarah Goldberg and Ali Ataollahi hope to revolutionize the way we clean catheters and protect patients, Goldberg said during their short presentation. They explained the current problem – doctors see over 41,000 bloodstream infections per year, many of which are caused by mis-cleaned hubs (the external connectors of central lines). Ataollahi explained that nurses spend 40 minutes per day cleaning these hubs, and the HubScrub device could reduce that time and the number of infections, reducing the overall cost of bloodstream infections as well.


Sarah Goldberg and Ali Ataollahi.

While the judges were impressed with HubScrub’s potential market, they did note that the founders had yet to complete clinical trials or bench studies for the device.

CareAline, a company started by Kezia and Mike Fitzgerald, sells sleeves and wraps that help adult and pediatric patients uniquely manage central lines and other catheters. The couple gave an emotional and effective presentation, pulling up pictures of their daughter, Saoirse, for whom the wraps were originally made. Although Saoirse passed away, Kezia and Mike continue their work in her honor – “leading to safer changing, cleaner lines and, most importantly, happy babies,” Kezia said.

“Thank you for turning your tragedy into something that helps others,” judge Bob Davis said amidst clapping and audience tears.

Joanna Stroker of Kurbo Health presented last, explaining the root of her pediatric healthcare app idea: her sick son. When her son started struggling with food, she found that there were no resources to help teach him about healthy eating or weight loss. Cue Kurbo Health, which is based on Stanford University’s Lucile Packard Weight Control Program. The app provides coaching and games, and sends text reminders to the kids who’ve enrolled. It’s been successful because of engagement and teaching, Stroker said.

Stroker asks the judges to consider tough childhood obesity statistics.

Joanna Stroker asks the judges to consider tough childhood obesity statistics.

“We ask you what your motivations are and then we remind you why you want to do this,” Stroker explained when asked about the app’s success. “And we are very careful to help kids eat healthier without becoming neurotic.”

While the candidates left the room, the judges struggled to make a choice about the winners, debating the business-savvy nature of HubScrub’s potential market (within the catheter business) against CareAline’s medically important offering.

“The easiest thing to sell is the truth,” Daymond John reminded the judges and the audience. “The business will come if the thing is needed.”

The judges agreed that CareAline and HubScrub’s presentations made an impact, and that Kurbo Health offered promise, too. But determining a first place winner proved difficult.

“HubScrub brings standardization and the right scientific agenda,” Dr. Salgo argued.

“But CareAline is a fantastic story. Many parents have tried to come up with solutions and this is the best I’ve seen,” Dr. Zon said.


Judges Halle Tecco and Ivan Salgo share their opinions about who should win the pitch off.

As time was called and Daymond John pressed for an answer, the judges decided to split the pot, naming two first place winners – HubScrub and CareAline – and offering each company $12,500 in winnings. Kurbo Health was awarded second place and $5,000.

“This ultimately solves problems for line infection groups,” Dr. Zon said following the event. “We can fight infections with HubScrub, which is a big deal on a practical basis. Tape can also be an irritant, and CareAline comes in right there on a preventative basis.”

“I’m ecstatic,” Dr. Salgo said of the results. “This turned out just how I wanted. On the business side and the pediatric side, we’re giving all three companies a fair shot at support.”

Jenni Whalen

Jenni Whalen

    Jenni Whalen is the Executive Assistant of Editorial at Upworthy. She was previously MedTech Boston's Managing Editor and has an MS in Journalism from Boston University, as well as a BA in Psychology from Bucknell University. Whalen has written for Greatist, Boston magazine, AZ Central Healthy Living and the New England Journal of Medicine, among other places. She has also worked as a conference planner, ghost writer, researcher and content developer.

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