For Rick Rummel, winning a 2016 Vogt Award was more than a chance to take an innovative concept for cancer detection and turn it into a business venture.
This was personal.
As Rummel flipped through the slides of his PowerPoint at Tuesday’s Demo Day presentation at the Frazier History Museum, the crowd of 140 realized just how personal it was.
Up on the screen popped a color shot of Carole Rummel, Rick’s mother, who died of lung cancer in 2015. She was 78.
Had the product for which Rummel’s company, Breath Diagnostics, Inc., won a Vogt, been around earlier, it might have detected his mother’s cancer sooner. She could have received treatment earlier. She might still be alive.
“My mom would have benefitted from this,” Rummel, CEO of Prospect-based Breath Diagnostics, told the audience. “Let’s find people who will benefit now.”
There are plenty of people to find. According to the National Cancer Institute, there were 224,000 who were diagnosed in 2013 with lung cancer, the same year that 158,000 died from it. All told, approximately 6.5 percent of men and women will be diagnosed with lung and bronchus cancer in their lifetimes, based on the NCI’s 2011-2013 data.
“The future potential for the OneBreath technology to detect other cancers and diseases outside of just lung cancer is high,” Rummel said.
His presentation last Tuesday may well have been the most heartfelt of the six 2016 Vogt recipients. But all six demonstrated the innovation of Louisville’s entrepreneurs:
• Collabra Innovations has devised an online platform that is transforming the way music teachers instruct and their pupils learn.
• Curio Learning is making it possible for teachers to learn, share and curate new instruction methods without surfing the Internet.
• G3 Tri-Tech has a product that will enable triathletes to train, even when traveling on business.
• MailHaven can secure delivered packages until the recipient gets home from work.
• RMC Solutions new washout system can clean concrete mixer trucks, using less time, water and money.
Developed by a team of local physicians and University of Louisville scientists, Breath Diagnostics’ product, called OneBreath, looks like a plastic bag with a nozzle on the side. But it is much more.
“The patient breathes one breath into a plastic bag,” Rummel said. “The air is then passed over a patented microchip that is impregnated with a special compound that selectively captures the specific cancer markers. The chip is then processed by a mass spectrometer where the concentrations of those markers are quantitatively analyzed. It is, in fact, elegantly simple.”
He said OneBreath, which has been studied with 800 patients, detects 94 percent of lung cancers, the same as a CT or a PET scan. Unlike scanners, though, it “reliably differentiates between cancer and non cancer. This is key because it removes the need to have additional tests to determine the presence of cancer.”
While Breath Diagnostics is lining up partners to continue testing the product, FDA approval for the device is still at least three years off, Rummel added.
From Idea to Product to Successful Business
The Vogt Awards helps startup founders develop product ideas into successful businesses. Chosen from 27 companies that applied for the award, each of the six winners received $25,000 in “seed funding” as well as ten weeks of access to experts in marketing, technology, sales and presentation.
Demo Day lets the company representatives pitch their products to greater Louisville.
Does it work?
Ask Phil Gambrell, president and CEO of G3 Tri-Tech, a Louisville startup that makes products for serious triathletes. His project, the Infinite Swim, a portable device that uses a water bladder and elastic belt to allow triathletes to work out in hotel pools, is already being sold, and will be included in the 2016 Ironman Holiday Gift Guide.
“Trying to do a training session in a hotel pool is a nightmare,” said Gambrell, himself a triathlete and retired engineer. “So I had to come up with a solution. There are hundreds of thousands of other triathletes who have to travel for business, and they have the same problem.”
RMC Solutions developed a new way clean concrete residue from the drums of mixer trucks without wasting hundreds of gallons of water or sending a worker with a jackhammer into the drum after the concrete hardens.
The RMC Cyclone, as it’s called, uses a rotating hose nozzle that sprays just 60 gallons of high-pressure water around the drum for three minutes. It saves water, prevents damage to the drum and improves the mileage of the trucks since they’re lugging less dead weight.
“It’s a first of its kind,” said Dorothy Pitt, a lawyer and CEO of RMC Solutions. “We have built it, tested it and sold our first to Ernst Concrete.” She said many other contractors have expressed interest.
Ron Karroll, CEO and co-founder of Collabra Innovations said his company’s computer-based platform to revolutionize music instruction is already in use.
How does it work?
“If I were teaching you drums, I would record our in-person lesson and then assign it to your account. You then could go home and record your practices, which can be recorded while watching the lesson, and those will automatically be sent to me,” Karroll said. “I could also give you time stamped feedback on your practices pointing out things I think you’re doing well as well as things I want to correct.”
More than 50 institutions, including Vanderbilt and Carnegie Mellon universities, and the University of Louisville are using the platform.
“We’ve seen some pretty tremendous increases in student practice time as a result of this effect,” Karroll said, “so much so that some of our clients have had to petition their building managers in order to get more practice spaces for their students.”
Ashley Lamb-Sinclair, co-founder and CEO of Curio Learning, which has developed an digital organizer for teachers, traced the idea back 10 years, to a boy in her Oldham County English class named Ulises.
Ulises was failing her class, said Lamb-Sinclair, the 2016 Kentucky Teacher of the Year. He had a bad home life and only wanted to draw graffiti. Determined to help him succeed, Lamb-Sinclair surfed the social media, looking for ideas.
She found one.
“When the time came for me to teach Letter from the Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King Jr.,” she said, “instead of giving a boring old essay like all the other students, I gave Ulises the opportunity to do a graffiti wall, and Ulises showed up and was able to show the kind of learning that he got from that text in a way that made sense to him.”
Eventually, she, along with Tarik Nally, company CTO, developed an online organizer that allows teachers to share ideas, curate them online, and collaborate with teachers far away or down the hall, all without jumping from Google to Facebook, to Pinterest.
Mailhaven enables consumers and shipping companies to efficiently deliver packages to their destinations without losses due to theft and replacement costs, said Kela Ivonye, its co-founder.
He said Mailhaven relies upon a “smart mailbox” to secure packages and a mobile app that allows consumers to track and manage deliveries.
Taking Risks, Investing in People
Sponsored by the Community Foundation of Louisville, Greater Louisville Inc. and its entrepreneurial arm, EnterpriseCorp, the Vogt Award was established in 1999 with a $5 million gift from Henry Vogt Heuser Sr., a longtime Louisville inventor and businessman who believed in taking risks and investing in people.
Susan Barry, president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Louisville, said the Vogt Awards have not only launched many Louisville entrepreneurs, they have become sources of inspiration for many more.
“I happened to have a conversation with a dishwasher design engineer from GE and he said he comes here to these Demo Days because he has so many ideas and wants to see how the entrepreneurs that we’ll be presenting take their idea from just simply the living room couch to production, and it’s a great inspiration for him,” Barry said.
“There are people in our midst that are watching you,” she added, “and thinking about what they might accomplish.”