October 24, 2016: Yale health tech startup Wellinks is well on its way to raising a $1M seed round, with over 75% committed. The round includes a $500,000 investment from Connecticut Innovations’ Bioscience Innovation Fund as well as investments from Sound Board Angel Fund and Bulldog Innovation Group.
Led by Yale alums Ellen Su (’13) and Levi DeLuke (’14), Wellinks is currently developing a patented brace-monitoring “smart strap” called the Cinch and a related app to track the metrics on back braces worn by patients with scoliosis. They are working with manufacturers and suppliers in Connecticut, from the electronics to the plastic pieces, and are on track to order 1,000 devices. They are also in active negotiations with brace companies to incorporate these devices—which offer the ability to track wear-time and tightness levels of braces in real time—into existing braces.
Su says the app is being designed in consultation with doctors in order to be most effective. “Doctors want to know that kids are following treatments,” she says. “We’re working to make the software streamlined and user-friendly so it’s easy for doctors to incorporate into their current processes.”
Integrating tracking into braces has brought enthusiasm from doctors, patients and their parents, because it can prevent painful and expensive spinal surgery. The company’s Chief Medical Officer is Dr. Michael Vitale, the Ana Lucia Professor of Pediatric Orthopedic Surgery at Columbia University Medical Center, who specializes in treatment of complex pediatric scoliosis and performs approximately 200 scoliosis procedures every year.
“The Cinch has the potential to completely revolutionize the conservative care of children with scoliosis,” says Vitale. “By providing live feedback of brace wear fit and compliance to patients, families and caretakers, Cinch has the ability to significantly improve the ability of the brace to prevent progression of spinal curvature.”
Wellinks cofounder DeLuke was one such young patient who had to undergo spinal surgery for his scoliosis—and it was his early experiences with the flawed system of tracking adherence to brace guidelines that first inspired the startup.
The two began prototyping their device as undergrads at the Yale at the Center for Engineering, Innovation and Design. Later, they developed the business plan and launched the company as part of a YEI Fellowship—an 8-week summer bootcamp for accelerating ventures with funding, mentorship and pitching opportunities run by the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute. They were one of the first teams to also receive $100,000 in support from the YEI Innovation Fund which supports select Yale ventures that have participated in YEI programs.
With this seed round, Wellinks will be positioned to get devices into the hands of patients who need them, and to hire more people, including additional software talent. They will also have the ability to start actively exploring expansion to braces beyond scoliosis where streamlined measurement of patient performance and brace-wear can have meaningful impact on improved health outcomes.
CONTACT: Brita Belli, Yale Innovation & Entrepreneurship, (203)804-1911, firstname.lastname@example.org.