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Driving Safety Research Gets Traction as Business Venture

Published on October 30, 2015 in Cornerstone Blog · Last updated 2 months 1 week ago


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Diagnostic Driving, a startup company spun out from The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute, has spent the past several months accelerating from an idea based on teen driver safety research into a thoroughly researched, successfully piloted business model for improving the safety of corporate automotive fleets.

The company’s journey is an illustration of what a growing number of CHOP-generated ideas may experience soon under the guidance of the new Office of Entrepreneurship & Innovation. The office identifies and supports potential spinouts, develops strategic partnerships, and helps people at CHOP to develop early stage ideas including innovative devices, therapies, mobile applications, and software tools.

To trace Diagnostic Driving’s road from research to the startup world, let’s hit reverse and see where it began. Diagnostic Driving emerged from driving safety research led by Flaura K. Winston, MD, PhD, scientific director and founder of the Center for Injury Research and Prevention (CIRP) at CHOP, and co-founder of the new startup company with Venk Kandadai, MPH, a project manager and statistician at CIRP. Dr. Winston has led decades of research on driving safety and risk reduction for teenagers and is a national leader in the field.

Earlier this year, Dr. Winston and colleagues at CHOP and the University of Pennsylvania reached a major milestone in their research: They validated a simulated driving assessment software package they had developed to assess driver safety and provide insight to personalized interventions to improve driving.

“We had this validated tool to differentiate drivers based on skill and experience,” Dr. Winston said. “We knew we needed to get it out there.”

When the opportunity arose to apply to the DreamIt Health startup business accelerator program this spring, she and Kandadai applied and were accepted.

DreamIt Health, a collaboration between the business accelerator company DreamIt Ventures, Independence Blue Cross, and Penn Medicine, helps launch startup businesses focused on health and healthcare. For the past two years, CHOP-developed teams have participated alongside the independent businesses accepted into DreamIt Health to receive mentoring and training in business development strategy, finance, legal consultation, technology, and market research.

During the four-month incubation, Diagnostic Driving shifted and grew. The team built its first mobile prototype in July and constantly sought and responded to feedback from potential customers. They decided to concentrate on marketing the driving assessment software to corporate fleets, a market that is worth $4 billion. Kandadai noted that corporate fleets lack reliable ways to predict and quantify crash risk in their employee populations, and to intervene to improve safety in targeted ways.

“Corporations spend $60 billion per year on crashes,” Kandadai said during his presentation Monday, Oct. 26, as part of DreamIt Health’s Demo Day, which outlined the company’s growth and vision to an audience including industry leaders, potential investors, potential customers, and media. Diagnostic Driving has received interest in early adoption from several large corporations, including a parcel delivery company and a cable television company.

Diagnostic Driving is next seeking seed funding from venture capitalists and other investors, as well as contacts at Fortune 500 companies with large automotive fleets.

“Our work is fundamentally about population health,” Dr. Winston said. In that realm, Diagnostic Driving is poised to make a potentially big difference — making the roads safer while reducing the bottom-line cost of insuring drivers at large businesses at the same time.

Entrepreneurship and Innovation at CHOP

Diagnostic Driving is one of the earliest companies to accelerate into business based on ideas developed at CHOP, but it is not alone. Last year, the CHOP-spinoff medical information security company Haystack went through the DreamIt Health incubation process, and it is continuing to grow as an independent company.

All of the CHOP-spinoff companies are independently owned and operated, while CHOP owns equity. CHOP’s involvement also includes logistical support, such as protected time to focus on the entrepreneurial venture that Kandadai noted was particularly helpful in the launch of Diagnostic Driving.

“We have a lot of smart clinicians, researchers, administrative staff, and others who come up with great ideas,” said Patrick FitzGerald, who joined CHOP in the newly created position of vice president for entrepreneurship & innovation in June. “CHOP is a fantastic place to be to develop ideas from a scientific perspective, but people here didn’t necessarily have the outlet to explore their ideas from a business perspective.”

The Office of Entrepreneurship & Innovation has created a centralized hub for managing existing and future entrepreneurial and innovative projects. It will begin holding open office hours biweekly on Fridays beginning Nov. 6 for CHOP employees to discuss their ideas and learn about innovation.