Two years ago, Fon Powell was sitting in her Cornell University Business Fundamentals for Entrepreneurial Scientists class when she learned about a patent the university held on an equation to calculate 24-hour salt levels in humans. Powell, a doctoral student at the time, was immediately intrigued.
“I realized this patent could be built into more than just an equation,” says Powell. “It could be built into a device with a mobile app component. That’s when the Sodium Analyte Level Test (S.A.L.T) device started.”
After placing second in the class pitch competition, an angel investor in the audience encouraged her to pursue the S.A.L.T device as an enterprise. She found a business partner, started talking to manufacturers, and began the process of forming a business plan.
She was accepted into a New York City incubator program called ELab NYC, where she worked on gathering market research, refining the team pitch, and understanding her customer pipeline. Meanwhile, she and her partner filed a provisional patent for the actual device design. During this time, Powell still pursued her doctoral degree in neuroscience.
Last June, Powell participated in the Class of 2015 WBENC Student Entrepreneur Program (SEP), winning the pitch competition by showcasing her idea as a medical device to be used at home to manage conditions including hypertension, chronic kidney disease, and kidney stones by measuring urine salt levels using a disposable stick and mobile app.
“I appreciated that the WBENC SEP pitch competition gave us more time to explain our ideas--10 minutes total,” says Powell. “I think what differentiated the pitches wasn¹t how great the idea was, but instead how developed the idea was. WBENC gave us time on stage to do that.”
Since winning more than $5000 in prizes, Powell was able to bring on additional resources, including app developers Gabe Ruttner and Mario Rial Amado. After continuing her market research, she also changed her business model to pivot from a traditional medical device model to selling to employee wellness programs. Citing the fact that almost 80% of companies now have these types of programs, Powell also notes that the S.A.L.T device is best used as a self-management, preventive tool.
In the fall, Powell also switched coasts to become a visiting PhD candidate at the University of California at San Francisco, diving into the healthcare technology industry and networking with businesses like hers.
Last month, Powell and her team won a pilot grant from the Digital Health Marketplace, an initiative of the New York City Economic Development Cooperation for $25,000. With that funding, they will work with the Weill Cornell Clinical & Translational Research Center to study hypertension self-management using the S.A.L.T device with 150 patients over 6 months.
“My main goal is to show how to use the device, that it works, and that it has major health benefits,” says Powell.
Thinking back on last June, Powell knows the WBENC SEP made an impact on her life. Her WBE mentor Kitty Watson, Founder and President at Innolect, has continued to be a part of Powell’s business—and now has become an investor.
“I had no idea that there was such a huge active female, women-owned business community out there,” says Powell. “And WBENC was more than people just assembling; it was about people truly connecting. It was just very supportive. I felt like every single person that I met over the course of the weekend was a potential mentor for me.”
As of March 9, Powell was invited by the New York Times as a featured speaker for their Women in Science Symposium in April and recently selected as 1 of 12 finalists in the nationally competitive Project Entrepreneur, sponsored by UBS and The Rent the Runway Foundation.
Tomorrow is your last day to apply to be part of the Class of 2016 Student Entrepreneur Program!
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