ALYNnovation: 'Impossible' is not in our vocabulary

Treatment at Alyn Hospital
Treatment at Alyn Hospital

ALYNnovation takes medical innovations developed at the ALYN pediatric rehabilitation hospital out of the hospital so that all children can benefit from them.

Although most children on respirators are also paralyzed, they can derive a great deal of benefit from treatment with water. The problem is that their respirator must not become wet. "Our doctors found an interesting solution using a cooler, which our biomechanics expert adapted to the respirator, which was put inside it. We put the cooler with the respirator on a pneumatic tube, and the child was put on another pneumatic tube near it, and was put in the water this way. It sounds simple, but it is the only hydrotherapy pool in the world in which child patients on respirators can be treated."

The speaker is ALYNnovation director Danna Mann, the new innovation company of pediatric rehabilitation hospital ALYN. She was previously a manager in the Our Crowd crowdfunding firm and the Jerusalem Venture Partners (JVP) venture capital firm. "When I got the job, I discovered that innovation was part of these children's daily lives," she says. "The hospital's organizational culture contains the secret spice of the startup nation - medical accessories are adapted to the needs of each child, and the word 'impossible' is not in our vocabulary."

When ALYN became aware of the hospital's innovative potential, it was decided to establish a venture for cooperation with startups for commercializing some of the inventions developed there, so that children not hospitalized at ALYN, and even adults, could benefit from them. "The company's motive was to take rehabilitation outside the hospital. Only later did we think about turning this activity into a source of income for the hospital."

This attitude is appropriate for the hospital's background, as described by Mann. "ALYN Hospital was founded in 1932 by an American Jewish doctor named Henry Keller, who visited the Middle East and saw the affected children, both Jewish and Arab. He was told that nothing could be done, that it was from heaven or from Allah, because that was the attitude at the time. In the beginning, Keller only opened the clinic. No official institution recognized it before the polio epidemic arrived." The epidemic, which struck thousands of children in the late 1940s and early 1950s, increased the demand for hospital rehabilitation.

"The vision of Keller, which has stayed with us to this day, is that we treat every child, regardless of who he or she is," Mann says. That sounds like a cliche, but it is critical for ALYNnovations activity. "If the shelf product doesn't do what it's supposed to do, they analyze the problem in the laboratory and find a solution. Because this is the only pediatric rehabilitation center in Israel, we run into all sorts of problems and cultural backgrounds."

The first cooperation between ALYN and industry involved a wheelchair developed by entrepreneurs and ex-Keter Plastic employees Pablo Kaplan and Chava Rothstein. They contacted ALYN with a proposal to build a special wheelchair adapted for developing countries. "Many children in these countries have no wheelchair at all," Mann says. "They are not mobile. They sit at home all day unless someone carries them outside. They don't go out to play, and they certainly don't walk to school. Five million children worldwide do not take part in society because they can't walk. The loss of five million children's education means the loss of $3 billion in GDP to the world's economy each year."

Why do they have no wheelchair? The problem is not just the price. "Many chairs are donated for Africa, but they don't fit the location. The metal heats up in the sun, and the wheels are designed for moving on asphalt, not dirt roads with potholes. We learned about the problem from the Bedouin people treated in our hospital. We always had to wrap the chair in some kind of cloth and strengthen the wheels."

"Raising donations is hard work"

Cooperation between ALYN's doctors with their practical experience and entrepreneurs in the plastics industry led to the founding of the "Wheelchairs of Hope" venture, which has sold 3,000 chairs in four continents to date at $100 per chair. The hospital then realized that the accumulated knowledge could be used in products used by many children, and also adults, while extra income would certainly do no harm. Today, 70% of ALYN's financing comes from payments by health funds for some of the services provided at the hospital, and 30% from donations. ALYN has no government budget, and there are no private medical services at the hospital.

"Raising donations again each year is very hard work. ALYN Hospital director Morit Baari and the hospital's management felt that it was much better to leverage the hospital's core into revenue," Mann explains.

The first steps have already begun. Melissa and Doug, a toy development company that also has a department for making toys for disabled children, was helped by ALYN to adapt a game like the one in which lights are turned on in a certain sequence, and the children have to remember it and press colored buttons in order to duplicate the sequence for use in a hydrotherapy pool. This turns treatment in the pool into a game. There is no reason not to sell this toy to healthy children also, but it was created with disabled children in mind.

Another product developed at ALYN is a soft posture corset. Today, children unable to hold their upper body straight are wrapped in a hard plastic splint to hold them. "We managed to create the same posture effect with a flexible product made out of diving suit cloth with thin metal strips sewn in to support posture. This product is much more comfortable, and we sew it in the hospital," Mann says. "Children who have received a product like this when they were hospitalized came back to order it from us. It is being sold at NIS 900 per unit. Up until now, the hospital had not regarded it as a product, but it is a product for all intents and purposes - there is demand for it, and it can be sold."

Another product was developed for a boy in a motorized wheelchair. "The boy explained to us that he didn't want the chair near him when he was sitting with friends on the sofa, but he also didn't want to ask them to move the chair to one side or bring it back. So we developed a remote control connected to his mobile phone he could use to move the chair aside and move it back. We saw a young boy who wanted to be independent, and that was his request. When the product was unveiled in the media, we were deluged with requests from people with motorized wheelchairs who wanted to order it."

Mann says that there is a school at ALYN, and it also needs special educational technologies. "The teacher stands in front of five children who communicate by computer. He sees only the back of the screen and hears five identical voices. How does he or she know who's talking? We developed a system that gives each one of them a different voice, and that's how a group discussion was created. It's not hard, but the fact is that no one developed it before."

The question is who will pay for it. It is customary to say that medical products that are only "nice to have," not "must have," will not be subsidized by insurance companies, and will therefore have no market.

"When people feel more independent, they also participate more, and not just because of ability, but also because of self-confidence. That's why it worthwhile for insurance companies to support this. Not every one of our developments will be a startup with an exit of hundreds, or even tens of millions of dollars, and that's fine. Fortunately, we can make a prototype very easily and carry out trials easily, because we are already in a hospital. Even if the products don't reach giant markets or stunning exits, the return on the investment is adequate," she says.

"Let the news reach more audiences"

ALYN is now contacting more entrepreneurs. Those who choose to cooperate with the hospital will get a place to work, basic office needs, access to the special biomechanics laboratory of ALYN, which already has expertise in these matters and, perhaps most important of all, access to doctors, carers, and patients. "You don't have to go very far in order to test your product," Mann says. "In most companies, it takes a long time from the beginning of product development to knowing the consumers."

ALYNnovation will raise $2 million to pay for the first five years, but the plan is to pay for itself afterwards, without returning to donors and investors. "We might raise a fund in a few years, but we're not at that stage," says Mann.

To sum up, she comments, "The world of assistive technology (technology that improves the lives of people with disabilities, G.W.) has recently become very lively in Israel. Israel has been a startup nation for a long time, now, and it is about time for this to reach groups of people who have yet to benefit from it. A variety of technologies have already been developed, including facial identification capabilities, sensors, or robots. All that remains is to apply them to aid for people with disabilities."

Investment company Medx Ventures, which operates the Medx incubator and also has holdings in microbot companies listed on Nasdaq, such as XACT Robotics and others, has chosen to help ALYNnovation for free as its contribution to the community. Medx deals in medical equipment, with a specialty in robotics, a capability of great use in developing accessories for supporting people with bodily disabilities.

Medx founder and chairperson Harel Gadot says, "We considered several possible ways of contributing to the community. We mainly wanted to find something involving children. When we encountered ALYN's activity, we realized that this was a great match. They have entrepreneurship, innovation, doctors, and a target market, but they don't have what Medx has - engineers, businesspeople, patent and regulation advisers, and experts in international marketing of medical equipment.

"As I see it, this partnership is enabling the company to contribute its knowledge in order to enable a social organization to bring solutions to the people who need it. This is the impact contribution of the future. This approach is a game-changer in contributing to the community."

Through Medx, ALYN's entrepreneurs can also meet investors in the Medx incubator, including Sheba Medical Center, Boston Scientific, and the Intellectual Ventures fund, whose investors include Bill Gates.  "For us, Medx is a very important addition," says Mann.

Published by Globes [online], Israel Business News - - on February 25, 2018

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2018

Treatment at Alyn Hospital
Treatment at Alyn Hospital
Twitter Facebook Linkedin RSS Newsletters גלובס Israel Business Conference 2018