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contracting COVID-19

Houston health tech startup providing local governments a coronavirus screening tool

Luminare Inc. pivoted to quickly create an online COVID-19 screening tool, and local governments have tapped into the resource. Andriy Onufriyenko/Getty Images

Founded in 2014, Houston-based health care software startup Luminare Inc. seeks to prevent sepsis, a life-threatening reaction to a host of infections that causes about one-third of U.S. hospital deaths. Recently, though, Luminare pivoted to address another health concern — the threat of the novel coronavirus.

After the novel coronavirus surfaced, Luminare retooled its sepsis-detection platform to create a free online self-assessment test for people who suspect they've contracted the virus. The test, available at CheckForCorona.com, helps someone figure out whether they should seek a coronavirus test.

An online screening typically takes less than two minutes. The confidential, secure assessment complies with guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). Based on your assessment results, you might be directed to contact your local health department or, in the worst-case scenario, call 911.

If you take the self-assessment, you'll be quizzed about:

  • Your age.
  • Whether you've had close in-person contact with somebody who's been diagnosed with COVID-19 disease.
  • Whether you've traveled internationally within the past 14 days.
  • Whether you're feeling sick and what symptoms you're experiencing.
  • Whether you live in a nursing home or similar facility.
  • Whether you're a first responder or health care worker.

During an assessment, you can opt to provide your location or not.

Dr. Sarma Velamuri, an internal medicine physician who is co-founder and CEO of Luminare, says he hopes QuickScreen can eventually enable prediction of coronavirus outbreaks based on symptoms such as a fever. QuickScreen enables communities and organizations to collect anonymous data that can help shed light on the transmission and severity of the coronavirus in certain locations.

As of early April, the free assessment, translated into eight languages, had screened close to 100,000 patients around the world.

Luminare teamed up with the Microsoft for Startups program and Harris County Public Health, as well as Durham, North Carolina-based software developer Cognitect Inc., to develop QuickScreen. Velamuri says QuickScreen is available at no cost to communities, government agencies, and health care organizations to help combat the novel coronavirus. QuickScreen aims to decrease ER overcrowding and reduce health care workers' potential exposure to the virus.

QuickScreen "is available to pretty much anyone who wants it," Velamuri says.

Aside from Harris County Public Health, the QuickScreen platform has been adopted by the city of Houston and Fort Bend County. Luminare created a web-based tool for Houston's Healthcare for the Homeless to determine whether homeless people need testing, require quarantining, or need other health care.

A general public version of QuickScreen is available for anyone it use; geographically tailored versions also are offered. The version adopted by Harris County Public Health encompasses 30 counties in and around the Houston metro area, and can point someone to local health care resources.

Velamuri says it took about 20 days to build the coronavirus tool, while Luminare has spent five years developing the sepsis platform. To help cover the cost of QuickScreen, Luminare is seeking donations, given that it's a small company with just 12 employees.

Luminare has temporarily shifted much of its focus toward QuickScreen and away from sepsis-detection platform, which five hospitals currently use. However, that hardly means the startup has given up tackling a deadly problem that represents an estimated 13 percent of all U.S. hospital costs.

Luminare, which is based at the Texas Medical Center Innovation Institute and is a graduate of the TMCx accelerator, has raised money through angel investments and friends-and-family funding, Velamuri says. Among its investors is Houston-based VC firm Carnrite Ventures. According to Crunchbase, Luminare's seed round totaled $497,500.

"Our core mission is to stop sepsis that's in hospitals," Velamuri says. "That's why we started the company. That's what we're about."

"The future to us looks very much like continuing to stop people from dying of sepsis," he adds, "and building whatever this pandemic takes to fix from a software perspective. We're just going to keep pushing on that."

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Building Houston

 
 

Unlike past awards programs hosted by Ignite Healthcare Network, the Ignite Madness winners accepted their awards via video call. Photo courtesy of Ignite

From the comfort of their own homes, several female entrepreneurs accepted investment and pitch prizes at the finals of an inaugural awards program created by a Houston-based, woman-focused health organization.

Ahead of the Ignite Madness finals on Thursday, October 29, Houston-based Ignite Healthcare Network named nine finalists that then pitched for three investment prizes. The finalists included:

  • Eden Prairie, Minnesota-based Abilitech Medical — medical device company that creates assistive devices to aid those with upper-limb neuromuscular conditions or injuries.
  • New Orleans, Louisiana-based Chosen Diagnostics — a biotech company focusing on custom treatment. First, Chosen is focused on creating two novel biomarker diagnostic kits — one for gastrointestinal disease in premature infants.
  • San Francisco, California-based Ejenta — which uses NASA tech and artificial intelligence to enhance connected care.
  • Highland, Maryland-based Emergency Medical Innovation — a company focused on emergency medicine like Bleed Freeze, a novel device for more efficiently treating nosebleeds.
  • Columbia, Missouri-based Healium — an app to quickly reduce burnout, self-manage anxiety, and stress.
  • Farmington, Connecticut-based Nest Collaborative — digital lactation solutions and support.
  • Palo Alto, California-based Nyquist Data — a smart search engine to enable medical device companies to get FDA approvals faster.
  • New Orleans-Louisiana based Obatala Sciences — a biotech startup working with research institutions across the globe to advance tissue engineering and regenerative medicine.
  • Perth, Australia-based OncoRes — a company that's developing a technology to provide surgeons with real-time assessment of tissue microstructure.
The inaugural event that mixed health care and basketball — two vastly different industries with strong connections to women — attracted support from partners and sponsors, such as Intel, Accenture, Morgan Lewis, Houston Methodist, Johnson & Johnson Innovation, and more, according to Ayse McCracken, founder and board chair of Ignite.

"Our partners and sponsors are an integral part of our organization" says McCracken. "Without each and every one of them, the networks, resources, and commitment to advancing women leaders, we would not have grown so rapidly in just four years and our IGNITE Madness event would not enjoy this vibrant ecosystem that now surrounds female entrepreneurs."

First up in selecting their winner for their investment was Texas Halo Fund. Chosen Diagnostics took home the $50,000 investment.

"While we were impressed by everyone who pitched tonight, one company stood out to us," says Kyra Doolan, managing partner. "[Chosen Diagnostics] exemplifies what we are looking for: an innovative solution, a strong CEO, and a real addressable market."

The second monetary award was presented by Tom Luby, director of TMC Innovation. The award was an $100,000 investment from the TMC Venture Fund, as well as admission to TMCx. The recipient of the investment was OncoRes.

"We are absolutely blown away," says Katharine Giles, founder of Onco. "We've already got a great link to Texas and looking forward to more."

The largest monetary award that was on the table was presented by Wavemaker Three-Sixty Health, a leading Southern-California based, early stage venture capital firm, for $150,000. However, at the time of the announcement, Managing Partner Jay Goss decided to award four startups an undisclosed amount of investment. Goss says he and his team will meet with each company to establish an investment.
The companies that were recognized by Wavemaker were: Healium, Ejenta, Emergency Medical Innovation, and Nest Collaborative.
Lastly, Ignite itself had $27,500 cash awards to give out to the pitch competition winners. The funds will be distributed between the winners. OncoRes took first place, Abilitech came in second place, and Obatala Sciences took third place.

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