Passion to Heal with AR/VR/XR: 2019 MCIC Winners

Physicians, physical therapists, software developers, programmers, entrepreneurs and college students – they all came to the 2019 Medical Capital Innovation Competition (MCIC) with a shared mission: to change lives and improve health with augmented, virtual, and extended reality (AR/VR/XR) technology. 

Passion for AR/VR/XR in healthcare is growing – as witnessed by the 21 finalists from the U.S. and Canada. The finalists were chosen from a field of 79 applicant teams, representing 19 states and 16 countries.

Winning teams received cash prizes and golden opportunities to collaborate with leading healthcare institutions. First place winners in both the professional and collegiate divisions were also invited to exhibit their technologies at the HIMSS20 Conference in March 2020.

Bronwen Huron, BSN, RN-BC, MS, PMP, manager of informatics with the HIMSS Technology and Innovation team, attended MCIC and was impressed by the thoughtful approaches to immersive therapeutics demonstrated by participants. “It was way beyond what VR/AR was a few years ago. For many people with chronic pain, addiction or impaired mobility, these technologies can certainly improve quality of life.” She was also pleased to see many women entrepreneurs at MCIC and admired their support for each other.

John Sharp, MSSA, PMP, FHIMSS, director of thought advisory for Personal Connected Health Alliance was a mentor at MCIC and appreciated the high caliber of innovations represented and felt it was “the capstone of the MCIC experience.” “This year, with a focus on virtual and augmented reality, the Medical Capital Innovation Competition provided an immersive experience. Mentoring the companies from early stage concepts to those looking toward exit gave a sense of the current state of AR/VR/XR technologies in healthcare. Many of the more mature startups apply augmented reality in planning or performing surgery. Newer uses cases include virtual physical therapy in pediatrics, VR to assist in substance abuse recovery, and other mindfulness applications. The enthusiasm of the founders and leadership of these startups, a key in their success, was evident.”

First Place ($50,000): Vivid Vision: Treating Lazy Eye with Virtual Reality Games

Vivid Vision of San Francisco, California was founded in 2014 by James Blaha, an entrepreneurial software developer looking to treat his own amblyopia (lazy eye) and improve his ability to perceive depth. Working with an Oculus developer kit, he rendered images, changed contrast between his two eyes – and for the first time ever, was able to see a cube in three dimensions.

That shocking “aha moment” led Blaha to create Vivid Vision, a virtual reality software that works with VR goggles to train amblyopia sufferers’ weaker eye to improve binocular vision and correct conditions where one eye points in a different direction (strabismus). The company now employs a team of 18 people and is available in about 280 vision clinics across four continents.

At MCIC, Vivid Vision was represented by Tuan Tran, co-founder and chief of optometry, along with Brian Dornbos, OD, Director of Optometry.  Dornbos describes their visual rehabilitation technology as fun, exciting and effective. “Vivid Vision brings innovation to an antiquated method of treatment of using an eyepatch on the good eye that forces the patient to use the weak eye – with the hope that the patient’s vision improves. What is ignored is that we all have a binocular system, with two eyes that should see in depth.” The Vivid Vision software uses fun, imaginative games to deliver different images to the strong and weak eye, gradually decreasing signal strength to the strong eye and increasing it for the weak eye – making it easier for them to work together.

“Our goal is to push the envelope on binocular treatment and make it fun. We haven’t met a kid who doesn’t like video games and virtual reality,” says Dornbos. Vivid Vision software is effective with children but also with adults. Using the concepts of perceptual learning and neuroplasticity, the treatment capitalizes on the brain’s ability to make new neuro-connections throughout life. “Lazy eye is actually a brain problem, not an eye problem. The brain is struggling to understand how to use an image. We help teach the brain how to utilize the images and improve clarity over time.” [MB1]

Dornbos also cites social problems with eye patches when kids feel embarrassed to wear them – and he pointed out that several MCIC judges had that very experience. “Lazy eye is a real problem, and so many people have either had it or know someone who had it. We’re beyond the concept, have already built a product, taken it to market, registered it with the FDA and selling it around the world to vision clinics using it with actual patients.”

Discovering the Value of MCIC

Neither Dornbos nor Tran had ever presented at a pitch competition. With backgrounds in science and optometry, they found the MCIC two-day agenda to be extremely beneficial – with mentoring and pitch practices on the first day, followed by judging and feedback on the second day.   

“We do a lot of medical lectures, mostly on the treatment provided by Vivid Vision,” says Tuan. “We wouldn’t have been able to relay our message clearly in the pitch if it weren’t for the first day of mentoring. That night when we got back to our hotel, we created about 70 percent of our presentation – because we had focused too much on the treatment aspect and not enough on the business side.”

Dornbos saw benefits to MCIC far beyond winning first place – including the opportunity to talk with consultants and marketing experts who’ve gone through the process before. “Picking the brains of these experts was a fantastic opportunity. They had backgrounds in consulting, medical devices, marketing, and education,” says Dornbos. 

“And it was exciting to see so many groups besides us working in this sphere – all facing the same difficulties in bringing something brand new to market. You often feel alone going up against more traditional types of treatment. We saw a huge passion in this AR/VR/XR community for making new devices readily available to healthcare providers and patients.”

Cleveland was a big drawing card in attracting Vivid Vision to the competition, along with the chance to meet with key organizational stakeholders about potential partnerships. The company’s next step is to gather further validated research – and then reach out to insurance companies to seek approval for Vivid Vision as a reimbursable medical treatment. 

Advice to Future Competitors

Entering MCIC with no expectations, and surprised by a first-place win, Dornbos of Vivid Vision offers two pieces of advice for future competitors. “First – go for it! We didn’t know what the playing field would be like, but we decided to give it our best. We figured that worst case scenario, we’d learn from it and make some connections.”

“Second bit of advice – when you meet with mentors, soak up the knowledge. Find out what they know, where they’ve been and how it relates to your company. We weren’t familiar with how to propose our treatment method as a business opportunity -- and we really learned how to do that from the mentors on the first day.”

It was also Vivid Vision’s first exposure to HIMSS. “The Innovation Center was beautiful – and perfect for the competition,” says Dornbos. “We were excited to learn about HIMSS and make connections… and really excited that we’ll be part of the HIMSS conference in 2020.”

Other Winners …

Second Place ($25,000): MediView XR of Toledo, Ohio, was founded by John Black, a physiologist who has worked extensively in medical device design and sales. He developed what the company calls Real-Time, Fused-Holographic Visualization (RTFHV). The technology allows a healthcare provider to see inside a patient using a 3D hologram instead of a conventional 2D display screen. The company’s initial focus is on cancer care. MCIC judge Neda Amidi of Plug and Play also chose to match MediView XR’s prize with an additional $25,000.

Third Place ($15,000): Augment Therapy of Chagrin Falls, Ohio was founded by Lindsay Watson, a physical therapist who specializes in pediatrics. Her technology uses AR to improve kids’ adherence to physical therapy through interactive play-based exercises, while also collecting data that physicians and physical therapists can use to measure kids’ progress toward healing.

Collegiate Winners: First Place ($6,000) went to University of Southern California for their VR Pediatric Mock MRI. This virtual exposure therapy tool prepares children for an MRI, using a VR headset to recreate the MRI experience. 2nd Place ($3,000) went to Johns Hopkins University for their SurgeonMR, creating a mixed-reality technology to help in training and practice of surgical techniques.

The Third Annual Medical Capital Innovation Competition was held at the Global Center for Health Innovation and in part at the HIMSS Innovation & Conference Center in Cleveland, OH. It was presented by BioEnterprise in partnership with HIMSS, JumpStart, and the Global Center for Health Innovation with support from Cuyahoga County. Healthcare partners include Cleveland Clinic Innovations, University Hospitals, The MetroHealth System and ProMedica, with supporting sponsors Case Western Reserve University and Develoco.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog or by commenters are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of HIMSS or its affiliates. Please note that HIMSS is a vendor-neutral organization and references to external brands, products and services are not official endorsements.