(EDITOR’S NOTE: The second largest office for Knoxville-based PYA, the power behind Teknovation.biz, is in Atlanta which is arguably the economic center of the Southeast. The city also has a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem that we will be spotlighting from time to time.)
By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
What’s the link between baby bottle nipples and sensor technology? One answer is using modern technology to help validate how quickly a prematurely born baby might leave the hospital.
“There are a half a million babies born prematurely every year in the U.S.,” says Lou Malice, Chief Executive Officer of Nfant Labs, an Atlanta-based start-up. “These babies wind-up in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at a hospital where the costs can run from $2,000 to $5,000 a day.”
Globally, the number of babies born premature annually is 15 million, about 12 percent of births.
“The most complex function a baby performs is eating,” Malice explains, adding that the key reason is the fact that their brains are not fully formed. “The current standard of care for measuring a baby’s ability to feed is subjective . . . sticking a finger in the mouth to see if the baby can suck on it.”
Providing an objective way to determine when a baby is ready for discharge is the focus of Nfant Labs. “We capture feeding data and help create treatment plans,” Malice explained.
The initial product development and launch plan became a little more challenging when the start-up team learned that all baby bottle nipples are not manufactured to the same exacting standards.
“The nipples on the market vary tremendously,” Malice says. “They have poor quality control.”
So, instead of just developing its proprietary sensor system that fits on a baby bottle, the company also developed its own line of nipples. Ironically, what started out as an unexpected challenge has become an advantage.
“Not only did we create a great product, but we also created an entry way into the hospital,” Malice said. The company also sells its consumer pack on its webpage.
The nfant®Feeding Solution involves the traditional baby bottle, the new nipple, a sensor, and a coupling as detailed here. During our interview, Tommy Cunningham, Nfant Labs Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer, and Malice demonstrated how their product works.
The process starts when the caregiver turns on the app, calibrates the device before its initial use, and begins the initial feeding once an indicator light goes from red to green. Readings from this and subsequent feedings are captured by the sensor which, in turn, transmits the data via low energy Bluetooth technology to a Cloud-based site.
In addition to this data that Malice describes as “objective metrics,” the caregiver also provides “textual metrics” for each feeding. Those include notes from each feeding.
“We are providing real-time biofeedback to the clinician,” Malice says. “We’re also delivering objective data for discharge . . .when the baby can eat on its own.”
While the focus for now is mainly on the 1,100 NICUs in the U.S., Nfant Labs is starting to engage payors, particularly Medicaid, since about one-half of NICU babies are on Medicaid. Malice also cites other future sectors such as “failure to thrive babies” and the consumer market. The latter, in part, will become more feasible as the company builds-up its database and can provide predictive analytics.
The company, founded in October 2013, has three issued U.S. patents plus one from the European Union and a fifth from China.
“We are doing something incredibly different,” Cunningham says. “A lot of people say it, but we are doing it.”
Malice echoes those words, noting “it’s all about the babies.