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EP57 2018 Healthcare Makerthon Winner: Upright with Nicole Parada
Alexandra Arriaga: Hello everyone, you are listening to the I Am GPH podcast. My name is Alexandra Arriaga and today we're going to be talking to Nicole Parada, who is a first year MPH student in the global public health concentration. She recently joined a multidisciplinary team of NYU students at the Healthcare Makerthon in 2018 where they came up with the Upright startup idea. Upright is a venture to develop a biometric shoe sole for older adults designed to detect early fall risk indicators through monitoring gate. If you want to learn more about her experience finding the intersection between public health and entrepreneurship, please keep listening. Hi Nicole, how are you today?
Nicole Parada: I'm good. Thanks. How are you?
Alexandra Arriaga: Glad to have you here.
Nicole Parada: Thanks for having me.
Alexandra Arriaga: So Nicole, let's talk about Upright. Can you please tell us what Upright is and what's the mission behind the Upright venture?
Nicole Parada: Sure. So Upright is a venture that is looking to create a biometric shoe sole that will monitor and understand abnormal walking patterns. It will take that information and collate it into actionable data so that individuals can then recognize when there's a problem and when they should go see their clinician to fix it.
Alexandra Arriaga: That sounds pretty cool. And off all the health issues to tackle, can you talk more about the importance of advocating for aging populations and why you chose this area to work on?
Nicole Parada: Sure, absolutely. Well, first of all, something that we all have in common is that we're all going to age. So that's a really important issue. But with that said, I have to admit, I don't think I fully understood the issue until I came across the competition for the NYU healthcare makerthon. So 2018's challenge was to develop a technological solution addressing healthcare issues within the aging population. And so there were three components of that, this technological solution needed to address social connectedness, fitness and mobility and empower independent and safe living. And I think all of us thought that was pretty simple when we went into the competition. It's a 48 hour competition. You go in, you have interviews with individuals who have experience in this and in this case we were interviewing older adults as well as professionals in that space. And what we realized was that we know a fraction of what's really going on. And so I think developing an idea such as this one really depended on listening and understanding what this population needed, what they currently don't have access to, and how we can develop something that is affordable and attainable and also useful in the long run. So I think one of the beauties of this idea is not only that the biometric shoe sole is intended to be put in your foot so that you can go on with your day and not have to worry about having a watch or wearing a necklace or so. But also it's collecting this real time information that can be used later on by clinicians or the individual themselves to enhance and improve their lives.
Alexandra Arriaga: Yeah. So I'm just curious why a biometric sole? What does it do exactly?
Nicole Parada: Yeah, that's a great question. So originally we went into this competition thinking that we'll develop something like an iWatch, or the Apple watch I should say, and it would monitor any risk factors for falling. Since falling is a huge problem in the healthcare system, especially financially. And it is a huge problem within the aging community. I think once you fall, there's a 50% chance of falling again. That's tremendous. And so we thought, "Okay, that's the problem we're going to tackle, we need to understand this." But something that we learned from our interviews was that while there were interventions right now available, such as Life Alert or any of these alert systems, you push a button and you let someone know that you're hurt. We realized that a lot of individuals don't use it. And we thought, "Why not? It's already created, it's affordable. What's going on?" And we realized it was because it was impeding on their lifestyle. They felt that there was this constant reminder that they were wearing this watch or this necklace that just reminded them that this is a difficulty they have to face.
Alexandra Arriaga: Like, "Oh, I'm vulnerable, hence, I wear this everywhere."
Nicole Parada: Exactly. It was almost like, because it was a visual cue that you said, "Yeah, this is where I'm at right now," and I'm not saying that you should ignore that, but I'm saying there's probably a better way to handle that. So we thought, "Okay, what's a good way to have someone constantly wear something, feel motivated to wear it, but also not feel like they're vulnerable and telling the world that they have this issue?" And so we thought, well, everyone's gotta wear shoes at some point, whether it's in the house, which is recommended or outside, you might have your favorite pair of shoes because they create or develop that particular type of support. We thought, what about the shoe sole? Something that you insert that's easily removable if you want to interchange it. And there are more and more sensors these days that are being developed that are smaller, flexible, that we can find more creative ways to use it. So developing a biometric shoe sole is different, but we also understood that this is not a novel idea in the sense that biometric shoe soles already exist for athletes. A lot of athletes, especially runners, use it to understand how to improve their ability to become faster runners, better runners, and it enhances performance. So we thought, what if we took the reverse? Instead of enhancing performance in the sense that it's giving you information so that you can do better. It's giving you the abnormal information so that you can find a way to tell someone, "Hey, this is abnormal and this is going on continuously. How do I fix this?" Oftentimes we've learned that most people will only reach out for help once an event has happened or the event is about to happen.
Alexandra Arriaga: Yeah, which is definitely not ideal, I can imagine.
Nicole Parada: Exactly. More often than not, it's too late. So we were thinking what if we created something that could help that would be borderline preventative but can be used in different ways. So I think overall we've developed a solution that can be used for the aging community. But I think we're passionate about continuing without route because since developing this idea, we've had many, many individuals come up to us. They're really excited about it but have also recommended other ways to use it. And I think each of us, it's a team of four, have realized that we're passionate about helping this particular community because it is vulnerable and it's somewhere where there is a lot of room for innovation and to move around. And based on our interviews, I think we've done at least probably 75 or more customer interviews and that ranges from clinicians, physical therapists, and as well as older adults. And each of them has noted that this is something they want to work on as well. So our next step is to develop a prototype and that should be interesting.
Alexandra Arriaga: Nice. So out of curiosity, what type of abnormal movements would you take into account when just taking in all this data? What type of things are you looking for as a warning sign?
Nicole Parada: Yeah, so that's something we've been learning about. So we assumed that when you walk, there must be some perhaps subtle indication that you're about to fall, whether it's the angle in which your foot is moving. But what we've learned after this experience is that there are actually, I think hundreds of metrics that physical therapists or clinicians use, not just in walking but in sensory in general, just to give them a hint or a clue that something is going on biologically. And so to answer your question, some of those would be monitoring gate patterns. So walking, stride, acceleration, whether that changes in certain moments. Oftentimes physical therapists might ask their patients in the office to perform a sequence of tests, and when they're observing these tests, they will then monitor and evaluate whether or not you are at a specific moment exhibiting these risk factors. But something that we've also noted was that all of this is qualitative. A lot of it is based on observational information and jotted down. So we thought, great, what if we could find a way to track this so that there is a more finite a way to understand exactly how fast are you accelerating? And then also if you make changes, how do you improve? What's the improvement? So now we're adding this quantitative factor to it as well.
Alexandra Arriaga: Yeah, that seems like it'd be very useful, need parameters for things like this.
Nicole Parada: Exactly. It might help standardize the industry too. I think something we've learned from older adults is that when they do visit their clinician, sometimes they'll ask to perform different types of tests. And so it would be great if there's an industry standard or at least something to start with.
Alexandra Arriaga: Definitely. Yeah. And so it seems like obviously you got started in all of this thanks to being a student here at NYU, so my question to you is what entrepreneurial resources have you taken advantage of as a student?
Nicole Parada: Totally. I was an undergraduate student here and graduated in 2012 and I wish I had taken advantage of the ELab or the Entrepreneurial Institute while I was here and now that I'm back, I cannot wait to use the rest of my time there. So the Entrepreneurial Institute is really an incubator that's focused on helping students and the NYU community develop ideas for startups. And they host a series of workshops and classes. And I myself had no idea of really what entrepreneurship was except for Times 100 people and then usually there would be at least a handful of individuals who noted themselves as entrepreneurs. But I think what this Institute allowed me to do was to go in open-minded, participate in a workshop without having any ideas and realize the potential that I have. So despite the fact that I'm coming into the game late, I do have ideas and I have a background in healthcare that's allowed me to really move forward in this project. So I'd highly recommend to any student if you have an idea or if you're even contemplating a startup, or even if you just want to understand what is an entrepreneur and what does it mean to be one, I highly recommend going to the ELab, try one of their workshops. They always have these fascinating talks. They'll bring in individuals to talk about their ventures and how they got started and just join, join a competition, join anything, and it's all free, which is absolutely amazing. And every single coach there has an amazing ability to take on your project and never discourage you. I can't tell you how many times we walked out of a coaching session and thought, "Wait a second, they totally disapproved of what we were doing," but they gave us so many new ideas of what to do next. So while they might say, "Hey, listen, that might not work." They will never ever tell you to not keep going. They would just tell you that you need to go in a different direction and how to do it.
Alexandra Arriaga: That's key.
Nicole Parada: It's amazing.
Alexandra Arriaga: Obviously it seems like it's a great resource. I do think that a lot of students maybe get a little bit shy when it comes to joining competitions like that because if you don't have the background, then you start doubting, "Oh, am I even qualified enough to do anything like this?" But I think that you're a great example that you can take a leap of faith and work on it and do it.
Nicole Parada: Oh, totally. And I think a fun fact I'd like to share about Upright is that we are four members in the team, and we actually just met each other at a meetup for this competition. We never worked with each other, we're all from different schools, we're all pursuing different careers outside of this. And somehow in this meetup we got to talking, and it wasn't even talking about aging. I think we were talking about something else but decided, sure, let's try this. It's one weekend and if it doesn't work out, we'll never see each other again. And it turns out we've been working together ever since.
Alexandra Arriaga: That's awesome. Wow, that's so amazing. And actually you guys won, which is something that we haven't mentioned, but you guys won the competition.
Nicole Parada: We did.
Alexandra Arriaga: Congratulations.
Nicole Parada: Thank you.
Alexandra Arriaga: That's amazing. So I think seriously, you're just the perfect example to go for it. Just go for it, try it out. Best case scenario, you win the competition. Worst case scenario, you're getting some experience, right?
Nicole Parada: Exactly.
Alexandra Arriaga: And what advice would you give other MPH students that would like to get involved in a healthcare related startup idea or maybe if there's someone out there that has an idea that they want to develop, what should they do?
Nicole Parada: So again, I would say go to a coaching session. You can sign up easily online, find a time that works for you and you'll meet with someone at the ELab and they'll walk you through the next process if there might be an opportunity to pursue this. Maybe a business model of it, of some sort. But with that said, I would say for any MPH students, something that I found incredibly valuable here was that as most public health students, we're super passionate about addressing inequalities and issues within vulnerable populations. And that means understanding them. We're constantly taught that we need to be in the field to understand them and understand them in every direction from every perspective. And so this is something that is frequently taught within the ELab as well. We're told that we constantly have to talk to humans, not to validate our business model, but to really develop and understand our value proposition. Why are we doing this? How are we going to do this? And so I would say for any MPH student, if you're worried and you have an idea, just think about what you're doing here as a student, what we're training for as public health professionals, and think about the magnitude you would have if you decided to pursue a business. Perhaps there is potential. And in fact, I've had an opportunity to meet a number of students that are starting their own nonprofit organizations within the lab where there is a business model in place, but it's really out of a social need. So I highly recommend anyone just try it out. And especially if you might be shy, you can always sit in the back of the room. I know I do. And then just observe everyone and I guarantee by the end of the class or the workshop, you'll get into it.
Alexandra Arriaga: I think that's great advice and I think everyone should definitely go check it out and see if they can find something that they want to do. You're obviously very dedicated to this line of work and you have created a very cool concept to help vulnerable populations. But I'm wondering what drives you to do this work? To pull all nighters and to put in the hours?
Nicole Parada: Oh man. So I currently work full time at a cancer research center here in New York City. I am also borderline taking a full time course load here, but I think the most important aspect of this is that you find the time to do things that you're passionate about, whether it's two hours a day or spending your entire weekends because you've just spent the last week working and studying. As long as you find the time to keep moving forward, to keep doing the research, to understand the problem solution fit, you'll find a way to keep doing this. And so I think that's really where I get my drive. I am really passionate about finding innovative ways to address these social issues, especially in public health. And I think that NYU has opened my eyes to the idea that there is a world beyond just working for an existing organization. You can create your own, you can develop and really contribute to this field. So I encourage anyone to do that, especially public health students.
Alexandra Arriaga: Amazing, very wise words. Thank you so much for coming in today. It's been a pleasure.
Nicole Parada: Thank you for having me.
Alexandra Arriaga: And we can not wait to see what you do next.