From space to marketplace

Houston medical devices company using NASA balancing technology prepares for commercial launch

Balancing is important throughout your life, and Zibrio has the tools and tips for you to use to stay centered. Pexels

In her postdoctoral work at NASA, Katharine Forth and her colleague were tasked with finding a new way to track the balance of astronauts on the moon.

"The machines typically used for balance measurement can be as large as a telephone booth, so we invented a new way to measure postural control using a much smaller mechanism that fit inside a moon boot," Forth says.

She didn't know it at the time, but working on this technology would lead her to create Zibrio, The Balance Company with her colleague, Erez Lieberman Aiden.

Zibrio is a health company that aims to be the gold standard of measuring balance. The Zibrio scale calculates users' weight like a typical scale and rates their balance on scale of 1 to 10.

The scale gathers data from your weight, your postural control, your muscles and other factors to calculate the rating. Andrea Case-Rogers, chief experience officer at Zibrio, describes a perfect rating of 10 as elusive for most, or "Simone Biles on a good day."

After seeing their rating, users can identify any problems and start taking steps to improve their balance. Zibrio will also come with a smartphone app, so users can track their balance, any fluctuations and progress over a long-term period.

By using the scale and app together, users can gain a greater understand of what in their lifestyle is helping versus hurting their balance.

From space to the marketplace
After co-founding Zibrio together in 2015, Forth and Aiden have taken the company a long way since then.

Zibrio is a finalist for the 2019 SXSW Pitch in the health and wearables category. In 2015, the company was part of the Texas Medical Center's TMCx medical devices cohort. Both programs highlight the innovative technology being used as well as the big impact that Zibrio could have for both consumers and clinicians.

Zibrio already has conducted clinical trials all over Houston by working with Memorial Hermann and UT Physicians, and the company is currently focused on fundraising. Forth and her team of five will use these funds to get the scale and smartphone app consumer-ready and launched.

The commercial launch for both the scale and app is planned for later this year.

"We're currently finalizing the design with the manufacturer, so they can make the scale available commercially," Forth says. "Since 2015, we've been fundraising, building prototype scales and conducting clinical trials."

Finding balance at any age
A common misconception is that our balance deteriorates in older age. In actuality, a lifetime of behavior and activity affects our balance in later years. Falls are the leading cause of accidental death and unexpected injuries in older adults.

"If you have been mostly sedentary your whole life, by the time you hit your later years, your lower limb strength is weakened affecting your ability to move." Forth says, "so many factors feed into your balance, which means there are so many things that can be done to lower your fall risk."

When Forth and her team ran a balance program at a senior living facility, they halved the number of falls in two years. By creating an awareness of balance, they were able to drive changed behaviors in the seniors, in turn, improving their balance.

According to Case-Rogers, Zibrio is bringing the balance conversation to people in 60s and 70s who want to keep their lifestyle and not deal with mobility and health issues later. They want to show investors that there is a market for wellness product like Zibrio among older people.

Zibrio will sponsor the National Senior Games, the largest multi-sport competition for seniors in the world, this summer in Albuquerque. With over 10,000 athletes, Forth and her team are excited to introduce Zibrio to a larger audience.

Forth firmly believes balance measurements should be a part of routine wellness exams and home self-monitoring, especially in later years.

"When athletes stand on a scale and see their number, it's like a light goes on in their heads and they realize how important balance is," says Forth. "That's what I love, we have this great product that opens up the conversation about and is really helping people in middle age and beyond."

Amy Chronis runs the Houston office of Deloitte and serves on the sustainability board for the GHP. AlexandersPortraits.com

When Amy Chronis, the Houston managing partner for Deloitte, was asked to join the Greater Houston Partnership last year, she immediately started doing some research on some of the bigger picture issues the city is facing.

In March, as the chair for the organization's sustainability committee, she brought together a group of constituents to engage in a Smart Cities study with the goal to identify what Houston needs to focus on — what it wanted to be known for.

Overwhelmingly, the stakeholders wanted the city to be known for its innovation, something that surprised Chronis. The group pared down the eight topics of action into three they felt were most timely and then spent the rest of the time focusing on: clean energy, transportation, and smart infrastructure (technology and communication). Now, Chronis has a better understanding on what the city wants as she leads her committee for the GHP.

In her career, which has spanned the state of Texas, she's always served clients in various sectors. Specifically over her last 30 or so years in Houston, Chronis has seen the tide change within innovation, especially with large energy companies.

"We're not Silicon Valley, but Houston has so much going on in terms of development — in energy but also even in medical with the Texas Medical Center," says Chronis, citing advancements from the likes of Rice University, Houston Exponential, TMCx, Station Houston, and more. "Houston's got a lot more going on than people realize."

Chronis sat down to talk with InnovationMap about the change Houston companies are experiencing and her work with the GHP.

InnovationMap: What did you learn from the smart cities study you conducted for the GHP?

Amy Chronis: I learned a lot. It's affirming how much all types of people with different backgrounds care and are interested in this topic and are highly desirous of our region moving forward. I also learned that things are more complicated or difficult than we would like — in terms of funding initiatives, for instance.

IM: In terms of developing the city's workforce, what aspects of the community does Houston need to focus on?

AC: I think there was widespread agreement that we need to keep improving our educational outcomes for all our people. The issues around workforce development are critical for us to improve. It will take public-private partnerships to make real progress.

IM: What can Houston learn from other cities?

AC: I learned a lot about other Smart City initiatives that are being done and accomplishments made in other cities around the world. What those accomplishments have in common was a concerted effort by the city, region, and business leaders — all the stakeholders — to agree on smaller, attainable goals. Instead of trying to address something in a huge way, they nibbled at the edges, if you will.

IM: Do you think Houston is able to do that?

AC: Absolutely, I love Houston — in particular our manifest destiny and inherent pillar to our culture where everyone can make it. It's why I came here 30-something years ago and why my family and I love it here. I think hard work and opportunity still makes Houston a great city. We have the ability, we just need help bringing actionable steps forward.

IM: Switching gears a little, what's the role Deloitte and its clients are playing within Houston's innovation ecosystem?

AC: We like to think we're a real conduit for innovation and a digital transformation for many of our clients. We're very blessed to serve many of the large energy companies — and across industries — in Houston. It's really gratifying to see how much is being invested in research and development and the focus on innovation catalysts. I think there's an awareness now — more than there was a few years ago — that if you're not moving forward, then you're behind.

IM: How do you see the future of Houston's workforce?

AC: I think we have real progress to be made to make sure all of our citizens can achieve the education and opportunities they need. I'm heartened by public-private partnerships that are already underway.

As digitalization moves along, people talk about whether or not artificial intelligence and machine learning will replace jobs. It will replace some jobs, but it'll be far more important that young people still learn those really critical thinking skills. We will need people to evaluate data and make decisions — that critical reasoning will still be absolutely vital.

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Portions of this interview have been edited.