Bootcamp was not in vein

It might be five years since they first started working on their ‘big idea’ at the University's Victoria Entrepreneur Bootcamp, but Ben Palmer and Georgia Lee have continued to develop it and are now on the brink of solving a global medical problem—with a little help from their support network, including the University's commercialisation arm, Viclink.

Ben and Georgia’s company—Viewpoint Medical—is developing a portable and contactless vein-viewing device that identifies hard-to-locate veins. Their aim is to increase the rate of first-time cannula insertions—currently 25 percent of patients require three or more needle stick attempts—reducing costs, patient distress and potential infections as a result.

“I think there’s a perception that once you leave Bootcamp that’s it, the support stops,” says Ben. “But Viclink has continued to stay in touch with us, and help out wherever it can—most recently by connecting us with the Wellington Momentum Committee so we could successfully apply for $20k of funding to develop our concept into a prototype.”

The Wellington Momentum Committee is a student-led, strategic partnership—involving Return on ScienceViclink and KiwiNet—that focuses on providing support, advice and funding to student entrepreneurs.

“The Momentum grant funded the build of a portable prototype for use in hospital pilot trials later this year,” says Ben, who holds a Bachelor of Design Innovation in Industrial Design from Victoria University of Wellington. “And that’s given us the traction we needed to secure more funding that just wouldn’t have been possible otherwise, and will ultimately help us get it to market in less time.”

He says the Momentum Committee funding is a rare opportunity that is hugely beneficial for young entrepreneurs developing early-stage concepts. “It’s one of the most difficult times for a start-up to access funds. Other funders such as angel investors generally only invest in products that are already market-ready.”

He and Georgia have worked hard to validate the market need—talking to almost 100 medical professionals around the world—thanks to an intensive eight-week market validation lab for medical technology devices held in the Netherlands last year. The lab is a partnership between YES!Delft (the Delft University of Technology’s business incubator) and EIT Health.

“What we found was that current methods such as slapping the skin, using a tourniquet, warming the skin, or using numbing patches are time-consuming as well as ineffective and painful,” says Georgia, who is currently living in the Netherlands, as is Ben.

“We also discovered that hospitals—the biggest end users of IV catheters—consider current vein viewing tools to be too expensive, while cheaper options are limited by functionality and effectiveness. Our low-cost device is economic, easy-to-use and effective, so our first market is definitely hospitals,” says Georgia, who worked for Viclink as a Commercialisation and Intellectual Property Intern while she and Ben were first getting Viewpoint-Medical off the ground.

She says that each year, over 90 percent of hospitalised patients worldwide require intravenous procedures. Patients who are very young or old, critically ill, have darker skin, are dehydrated or obese have the hardest veins to find. And increasing rates of obesity mean increasing numbers of patients with difficult-to-find veins.

“The vein illumination market was valued at $65 million in 2018 and is expected to increase to $160 million by 2021,” says Georgia.

And while hospitals are at the forefront of their marketing efforts, Ben and Georgia believe the portability and affordability of their device also makes it ideal for future deployment in rural areas, developing countries, disaster relief situations and in the home.

To help them realise this market potential, the Viewpoint-Medical team has now expanded to include Joy Hooft Graafland (an industrial designer from the Netherlands), Rahul Albuquerque (an electrical and systems engineer from New Zealand), and Nicola Rowe.

“The fact that our device could create real and rewarding impact out in the world means that every step forward is exciting to us,” says Ben. “Being able to create our own careers is beyond what we could have imagined when we first entered Bootcamp back in 2014, but we know we couldn’t have come this far without the support we have received from our families and organisations like Viclink, the Wellington Momentum Committee and YES!Delft.”