When Aaron Crookes, a Bounce Innovation Hub client, co-founded Apricity Robotics about a year ago, he planned to develop a robot to alleviate the nursing shortage that had been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I witnessed this first-hand when we saw the ratio of patients to nurses go from 4:1 to 9:1,” he said.
With a shortage of nurses, Crookes noted that the quality of care has also declined, including an increase in hospital-acquired infections and patient falls.
To develop this idea, he received backing from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and was part of a Small Business Innovation Research cohort in robotics. Through this process, he discovered there were needs all over the hospital beyond those in nursing.
“Another big area where there are shortages is ultrasound techs, not just in fetal medicine but also in cardiology,” he said. “Patients with a suspected cardiac issue often have to wait eight to 12 weeks for an echocardiogram, while hoping that nothing bad happens in the meantime. Those that need an echocardiogram before they can be discharged from the hospital frequently spend extra days waiting in the hospital.”
With this new focus, Apricity Robotics has developed a remote robotic platform for virtual echocardiograms to alleviate the shortage of ultrasound technicians and ensure cardiac patients receive more timely care.
“It is physically demanding to be an ultrasound tech so many are forced to retire early, which is contributing to this critical shortage,” he said.
Crookes previously worked as a robotics scientist at Procter & Gamble, so as a first-time entrepreneur, he began working with Duane Mancini at Project Medtech, who in turn connected him to Bounce.
“Through James (James Hilton, Bounce’s Senior Director of Entrepreneurial Services), we’ve received guidance with targeting, as well as preparing our financial projections, pro forma and pitch deck, which all take a lot of time. This will enable us to take our product to market faster,” he said.
Bounce has also helped connect Crookes to potential investors and navigate the challenges of fundraising.
“The startup world is built on relationships, so since we started with no relationships, Bounce has been helpful in facilitating those connections,” he said. “My Miami U background has also helped connect us with venture capital alums.”
Crookes also met his co-founder and Apricity Robotics’ Chief Financial Officer, Jeffrey Toaddy, through Miami University. Toaddy teaches at the university and has a background in business and entrepreneurship. They met when Crookes was a teaching assistant.
“Jeff taught me how to fly, so we figured if we can do that, we can work together,” he said.
While his route to becoming an entrepreneur was circumstantial and inspired by a personal experience, he’s now motivated to improve patient experiences and outcomes for others by leveraging this technology.
As Chief Executive Officer, Crookes is currently the only full-time employee. Laura Reese, BSN, RN, a former neonatal intensive care nurse, serves as clinical product manager. She is focusing on how their robotic platform can be implemented with minimal disruption to current workflows. The team also includes a part-time programmer who is a recent graduate with a master’s degree.
“As an entrepreneur, it’s important to surround yourself with a good team, and be open to gaps in your and your team’s skill set. People think they can do it all, but they usually can’t. Be honest about your strengths and find team members that complement your skills.”
Apricity Robotics already has a prototype and is now working with cardiologists to ensure the platform is effective and delivers high-quality images, as they seek FDA-approval.
“This will be a regulated medical device and we are working with Kaleidoscope (Kaleidoscope Innovation and Product Design) in Cincinnati for regulatory assistance,” he said. “We’re also gearing up for NSF phase two. We spent phase one proving it out and are about a year away from introducing our robot to a clinical setting.”
Crookes noted that a couple beta hospitals are now on board to evaluate the platform’s effectiveness, as he anticipates some changes from this testing.
“We are getting a lot of good traction and have good hospital partners,” he said. “It’s inspiring that this remote robotic platform may alleviate health care shortages by enabling some sonographers to come out of retirement, while also protecting others from injury so they are not forced into early retirement.”
To learn more about Apricity Robotics, please visit: Apricity Robotics.
To learn more about our Software Accelerator, pleasevisit: https://bouncehub.org/accelerator/.
About the author:
Jill Wodtley, APR, is a freelance writer and owner of Fine Point Public Relations and Advertising. An accredited member of the Public Relations Society of America, she develops and implements marketing communications, public relations and advertising initiatives for a variety of clients, ranging from health care and social service agencies to industrial/manufacturing firms.