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Simbex Spurs Medical Device Innovation with Funding Contest

Augmental won the contest and is developing the MouthPad^, a device that allows people to control devices purely through the movement of their tongue.

Omar Ford

December 7, 2023

3 Min Read
Image courtesy of Augmental

It’s a challenging time to obtain funding for companies in the medtech industry. In fact, a recent Ernst & Young report shows that equity financing in medtech dropped 27% in 2022 and continued in 2023.

However, innovation in the medical device industry doesn’t stop just because there is a drop in venture capital funding.

That’s why Simbex, a medical device and consumer health product design and development partner, launched a program to help fill in the funding gaps for startups. To do this the company held the Simbex Phase 0 Master Plan Contest, which Augmental, an MIT Media Lab spinoff, won.

“Right now, there is this big macro issue where a lot of the funding for that has dried up,” Chad Pasho, VP of Sales and Marketing for Simbex told MD+DI. “Our mission is to enable innovators to get this stuff to market. So, we’ve got to start thinking outside of the box. We’ve got to figure out a way to help do that – outside of what we normally do. That’s kind of the reason that we [ started the contest] – to figure out a way to help some of these innovators make it happen.”

Under the contest, Simbex awarded $40,000 to Augmental. The company is developing the MouthPad^, a device that allows people to control devices purely through the movement of their tongue. 

“We’re very honored that Simbex has selected us and is willing to invest money and resources to help us,” Tomás Vega, Co-Founder and engineer at Augmental, told MD+DI.

The funding from Simbex will be used to help with the technical design recommendations and support with medical device commercialization strategy.

MouthPad_Pics_02.jpg

On the MouthPad^ Vega noted, “We [wanted] to build a device so that we can help those with a severe impairment become more independent in a way that doesn’t really require a brain surgery - and change the way that we interact with wearable computing. In the future, we would love to be able to control wheelchairs and other medical appliances. For that, we will go through … FDA’s process.”

The MouthPad^ harnesses the innate dexterity of the tongue — considered by Augmental as "the 11th finger." The device converts the user's tongue position and pressure into cursor actions by processing signals through a machine-learning algorithm inside its processor. The commands are then sent via Bluetooth to the connected device and translated into cursor movements and clicks, allowing the user to do everything from simply sending an email or turning on the lights, to editing a photo or playing a video game.

The technology has about 5.5 hours of battery life. Charging the technology takes between one hour to 2.5 hours. The company is working on increasing the life of the battery from eight hours and making charging faster.

“Our approach right now is to be able to sell fast and be able to get feedback from users,” Vega said. “We understand that in order to make our company financially stable and profitable we need to access those reimbursement codes that have higher arches, and they are only unlocked by becoming an approved system.”

In addition to funding, the Simbex Phase 0 Master Plan Contest also put a huge spotlight on smaller companies – such as Neuraura, a company that has designed LoOop, a wearable TENS device to provide localized stimulation on demand to treat Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome symptoms. The company said that such stimulation has been proven to modulate insulin uptake which in turn affects metabolic functions including androgen levels.

Claire Dixon, Co-founder and COO of Neuraura, spoke on the importance of the contest and the current state of financing in the medtech industry.

“This is a … commitment from an established firm that has seen thousands and thousands of projects in their domain,” Dixon said. “That could be [helpful] to us in unlocking capital and reaching the next stage of development.”

About the Author(s)

Omar Ford

Omar Ford is MD+DI's Editor-in-Chief. You can reach him at [email protected].

 

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