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!
IP: Why did you decide to apply for the Innovators Program?
Luke Marshall: I first found about 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.
Visit us soon for more interviews with this year’s participants!