Team Focus: Vital Flo, Inc.

As the program wraps up, Luke Marshall, CEO of VitalFlo, Inc. took some time to share his thoughts on his experience, what keeps him motivated!

Luke Marshall is the cofounder of VitalFlo, a company that is redefining the standard of care for asthma management by providing actionable recommendations to patients when they need it most: before they have an asthma attack. Their handheld medical device and digital health management app enables asthmatic patients to track their lung health and asthma medications at home. Through VitalFlo’s integrated platform, they provide population-level insights to healthcare provider networks, diagnostic support to physicians, and actionable recommendations to patients when they need it most.

Read on to learn more about Luke and VitalFlo, and visit their site to sign up to try their product!

Contact VitalFlo

IP: Why did you decide to apply for the Innovators Program?

Luke Marshall: I first found out about the Innovators Program through our good friends at NC RIoT. Tom Snyder had previously partnered with IP and knew about all the great education and community resources it has to offer to young companies like VitalFlo. Once learning about it, we jumped at the chance to apply!

IP: What are you most looking forward to in this program?

LM: We have been really thrilled to become a part of the great network of entrepreneurs, community partners and investors that Liz and Nick have developed for the Innovators Program! Getting to work directly with great companies like Becton Dickenson, Citrix and Red Hat, and seeing how they operate and approach problems at scale, has really helped us think about what systems we’re putting into place in our company as we envision reaching that level. Also, getting feedback from IP’s Executive Counsel has been huge for us – the experience all the executives bring to bear is really inspiring, and their advice is second to none.

IP: What skills or backgrounds do you each bring to your team?

LM: We have a great core team at VitalFlo, with each person bringing different skills to bear. James Dieffenderfer, CTO and inventor of the VitalFlo mobile spirometer, just wrapped up his Biomedical Engineering doctorate at NCSU where he worked on projects like VitalFlo as part of the ASSIST program. He has been a rockstar of digital health technologies from all angles, with great experience in hardware, embedded code, and machine learning technologies. Ravi Chilukuri, COO, has over 20 years of product development experience in hardware. He’s had great success leading development teams as they scale from small operations into dominant players (and did so most recently as VP of Product Development at local RTP late-stage startup, Phononic). We also have an amazing team of contract developers, manufacturers, and regulatory experts that position VitalFlo for success. As for me, I have been building and leading technical teams focused on commercializing university-based technologies for the last eight years. It has been a priviledge to work with this great team as we work to build VitalFlo into a company with enough scale to really make an impact for asthmatics everywhere.

IP: What was the “ah-ha” moment that led to starting your company?

LM: VitalFlo was born from an interaction between James and Dr. David Peden, a really top-notch pediatric asthma specialist from UNC School of Medicine who is now on our Board of Advisors. Dr. Peden basically described the current state of affairs in asthma management to James: how current lung health monitoring can only be done in-clinic and therefore infrequently. He asked James, “Can you solve this?” So James went to work on developing our patented technology.
Ravi and I met James a little while later while prospecting for promising university-based technologies to commercialize. When James showed us his solution we were blown away, and we immediately went to work.
All three of us on the management team have a history of respiratory ailments in our families, so building a solution for this was exciting for its promise and potential impact, but it is also personal.

IP: What problem are you trying to solve?

LM: There are 25 million Americans currently suffering from asthma symptoms – that’s 25 million Americans that aren’t sure about whether they’ll have trouble breathing today, whether they’ll miss school or work today, or about whether they’ll be one of the 10 Americans that will die today from asthma.

Our solution empowers these patients to take control of their asthma. VitalFlo’s mobile spirometer and smartphone app let’s patients monitor their lung function and asthma medications on a daily basis. With our powerful machine learning analytics, we can help predict whether they’re at risk of an asthma attack, and then notify them and their doctor so that they can avoid missed days, trips to the emergency room, or worse. VitalFlo lets asthma patients and their families breath easy.

IP: Any big takeaways from the Innovators Program that you’re excited to integrate into your business?

I was super excited to learn some of the design principals, and to incorporate them into our development cycle going forward! Since so much of our design choices had been before I joined the team, going through this process with IP was a great opportunity for me to do a deep dive into our design and product pipeline. We’ll definitely be using the processes we learned to continually iterate our product to better serve our customers.

IP: When you are not working tirelessly to launch a company, how do you spend your time?

LM: None of this would be possible without the support of my amazing wife, Hillary! She keeps me level-headed (well… mostly) through the highs and lows that come with startup life. Because of that, carving out quality time with her has always been a top priority. We really love to cook together – especially for guests! We also like to unplug and take our dog Eddy out into the woods for a hike.

IP: How do you stay energized for the long workdays of entrepreneurship? go-to snacks? rituals?

LM: We’re hugely motivated to solve this problem. In the US alone, 10 people die per day of asthma related causes – if working to solve a problem of that importance and scale is not energizing… you’re in the wrong business! That said, I also try to stay sharp by taking care of myself. My most focused and productive days tend to start with 15 minutes of meditation and 3 to 5 mile run with our dog.

Thanks Luke for sharing your experience with us, can’t wait for VitalFlo to blow us all away!

If you’d like to learn more about VitalFlo or the Innovators Program, check out more here.

VitalFlo  Innovators Program

Visit us soon for more interviews with this year’s participants!

Cheers! -Magdalyn



Hello innovators!


1. Due to multiple requests, we have decided to EXTEND THE APPLICATION DEADLINE until Wednesday, June 28! We have had lots of great interest in the program and want to give everyone a chance to apply. So get those last-minute applications in, y’all!

2. Though we can’t *officially* announce an exciting new partnership, we are excited to share that we have opened potentially 2 NEW SPOTS for the 2017 Raleigh program. These spots are reserved for companies focused on healthcare and medical tech, so if you or anyone you know would be a good fit, make sure to apply and share!

Participants will be announced soon, so stay tuned as kickoff approaches! 

Apply Now!   |  Learn more



Two Raleigh brothers join the Innovators Program to scale their SaaS startup

We’re a few weeks into the 2016 Innovators Program Raleigh, an accelerator program for early-stage, high-growth startups supported by Red Hat, Citrix, and HQ Raleigh. Each week, we’re featuring a Q&A with one of the teams in the three-month program. For this feature, we chatted with Zach Milburn, co-founder of Nebula, a modular, customizable workstation suite that he launched with his brother Geoff.

With Nebula, users have access to an adaptable, “pay-as-you-go” SaaS tool to manage their various business needs. Below, Zach tells us about their startup journey thus far, and where they hope to go after the Innovators Program.

Innovators Program (IP): Why did you decide to apply for the Innovators Program?

Zach Milburn (ZM): Our dev/design shop LaunchLab has been doing quite well since we founded it a year ago, meaning there is some opportunity cost involved in attending all of the design sprint workshops, meetings, etc. That being said, the connections and exposure from the program will likely be invaluable, and the grant funds certainly don’t hurt. One of our goals this year is to move away from relying on consultancy work and to tackle a more scalable, recurring business model. This program will help us make that transition with more ease.

 IP: What are you most looking forward to in this program?

ZM: Connections, connections, connections. Our belief is that most successful companies or entrepreneurs, if they already have the right work ethic and skill sets, “make it” largely due to a few valuable connections — whether that be an investor, customer, or mentor — likely a combination of all three. We are hoping to meet a few of those connections during this process.

IP: What skills or backgrounds do you each bring to your team?

ZM: We’ve been building web applications for the past 5 years or so in one form or another. We only started getting paid to do this about 1.5 years ago, and have been very successful in that space. We both do a bit of everything, but as far as our current roles go: I (Zach) am the hustler/business side, and Geoff is the design and development side. Geoff is arguably one of the top developers in the country. That isn’t by our own words, we’ve heard this multiple times from other successful entrepreneurs who know the space.

We are strong compliments and thoroughly enjoy what the other hates and vice versa, minus a few areas such as design, gamifying everything, and making money. We both graduated from NC State with degrees in business/entrepreneurship and have several years of experience both in working closely with dozens of start-ups as well as being a startup ourselves.

IP: What was the “ah-ha” moment that led to starting your company?

ZM: It was more-so a series of “ah-ha” moments, or more accurately, a few “hmm…” moments. The more we dealt with customers, the same patterns began to consistently emerge, and we eventually arrived at Nebula as a solution to those problems.

 IP: What problem are you trying to solve?

ZM: We are building a platform to help technically-averse companies consolidate and simplify their cloud software using our easily customizable content management system (think, a dashboard). We do so by offering a few of the most popular API integrations as well as the simplest pieces of the most common cloud software services, such as CRM and website management.

Our theory is that we use and pay for way too many cloud services, and these services are often so cumbersome and complex that they are no longer useful. We’ve also found that many companies are already paying huge sums of money to have contractors build custom solutions for them, and we will be able to provide superior service at a fraction of the cost.

IP: When you are not working tirelessly to launch a company, how do you spend your time?

ZM: Eat, sleep, watch Netflix, hang out. Nothing too different from the average person, although we do theorize in unusual amounts about the future, politics, and MBTI. We play a lot of chess too, and other strategic games. We probably do come up with a new business idea everyday, and have to painfully accept we have no time for it. For example, last week we decided we could probably lease a Tesla Model S, use it for half a month and rent it for the other half and make a profit.

IP: Any big takeaways from the design sprint that you’re excited to integrate into your business?

ZM: It gave us an opportunity to really throw everything — criticisms, concerns, ideas — at our current plan of action. We didn’t actually change much, and we think that’s a good thing because now we can be more confident with what we started off with. It did really help us simplify how we explain what it is that we are doing to different audiences.

IP: How do you stay energized for the long workdays of entrepreneurship? go-to snacks? rituals?

ZM: Coffee. Sometimes MATI.

Stay tuned for more updates from Nebula and the other Innovators Program participants in the coming weeks!

A closer look at Raleigh-based Malartu Funds

Now that the 2016 Innovators Program Raleigh has officially kicked off, we’re taking a closer look at each of early-stage, high-growth startups embarking on the three-month journey. Our first feature in this Q&A series is with Sean from Malartu Funds, a Raleigh based online investment platform.

Malartu is on a mission to efficiently deliver capital, deal flow, and domain expertise from accredited investors to startups, VC’s, accelerators, and investment groups. Simply put, the company seeks to optimize the seed fundraising process for early-stage startups. The founding team includes Sean Steigerwald and Jon Spinney, both NC State alumni, as well as Lewis Sheats, Director of the NCSU Entrepreneurship Clinic. They’re been fundraising over the last year to gear up for their upcoming launch, so if you’re early-stage entrepreneur looking to raise, a VC ready to invest, or a startup competition in the market for a new partnership, make sure to keep an eye on these guys!

Innovators Program: What made you want to apply for the Innovators Program?

Sean Steigerwald: The companies from years past were really strong and with the launch of our new business intelligence product, we thought it was perfect timing to join the program, get focused, and execute.

IP: What are you most looking forward to in this program?

SS: We sell to and work with accelerators all over the country, so we are really excited to join a top program like Innovators to help establish a strong direction for our product map and rollout. [We’re also interested] to understand the dynamic between the accelerator and the companies within, since they are both our customers.

IP: What skills / backgrounds do you each bring to your team? What makes you two great co-founders?

SS: Jon and I have similar backgrounds in finance but have very different approaches to problems, which are incredibly complimentary. Jon tends to take time and fully analyze a situation before tackling the problem and I like to move very quickly toward a solution. The combination leads to well-thought out and swift solutions to problems, which is incredibly important as a startup in a highly-regulated space. We move like a startup, but we stay within the confines of the law.

IP: Why did you decide to start Malartu?

SS: We knew that fundraising was a huge pain for any company and we knew we could find a better way. As we rolled out our investment platform, we started to notice an array of more specific problems leading to this pain point, like measuring performance, managing your team, and meeting potential investments at the right time. Originally we thought the solution was simply that the administrative part of fundraising was antiquated, which it was, but we also learned that was the tip of the iceberg. With the introduction of our business intelligence tool, we’re confident we’ve made a big step toward bringing efficiencies to the whole financial growth process, not just the collection of funds.

IP: Any big takeaways from the kickoff design sprint that you’re excited to integrate into your business?

SS: Absolutely, we’re feeling great about where we are after the sprint. It helped us to really focus on a few specific things to reach our goals of launching the platform within the next 2 months.

IP: Were there any lessons from the expert coaching sessions that really left a mark?

SS: Our coach, Alex, gave us a few fantastic ideas about our rollout strategy and where the key moments would be in our user on-boarding process. Really, really valuable stuff for our next few weeks.

IP: A lot has been happening for Malartu over the past few months. Any recent milestones, updates, etc. that you want to highlight?

SS: We just spent the last week in Silicon Valley (San Jose, specifically) at the Innovate | Celebrate Conference. The conference brings together their top 50 startups from all over the country (narrowed from a pool of 1000 top accelerator graduates and pitch competition winners) and narrows them down to 5 finalists. We have just launched a Malartu Fund to invest in all 5 companies and have had tremendous traction with the fund. We’re expecting to invest at least $100k in each company within the next 60 days. The fund is also getting interest from some heavy-hitting celebrity investors that we’re excited to announce…[coming soon!] Working with this conference has set the standard for working with future conferences, accelerators, universities, and corporates that is surely going to set us on an exciting trajectory.

IP: Being an entrepreneur is a roller coaster ride. What keeps you motivated? How do you stay energized?

SS: There are TONS of ups and downs. The most valuable thing about being cofounders so far is that we don’t usually experience the ups and downs at the same time. We have had a lot of success dividing and conquering, and our wins have been able to balance out the other’s setback so that we’re always moving up and to the right with a good attitude. We also make a real effort to take breaks. We realized early on that it’s impossible to tackle a problem as big as ours while burning a candle at both ends. Although it’s not always possible, we make an effort to disconnect from work on at least one day of the weekends….We also drink a ton of Mati.

Read more about Malartu in features on WRAL TechWire, Forbes, and a recent inside look from Sean himself on ExitEvent.