Mpirik Expands Orthopedic Software Suite, Aided by $1.7M Investment

It’s a dilemma that many tech startups face: How quickly should they expand beyond their first product? Adding new products and services might help grow sales, but young, small companies need to be careful that they don’t bite off more than they can chew.

Milwaukee healthcare technology startup Mpirik wrestled with that question, and decided to waste no time in pushing ahead with multiple products at a relatively early stage. “It made more and more sense” as company leaders realized their three software products are “very much symbiotic,” CEO Sue Ela says.

Mpirik, originally known as Medical Companion, was founded in 2013 by Milwaukee-area orthopedic surgeon Joe Kohli, who came up with an idea for a mobile application that doctors and other medical staff could use to communicate with patients before and after surgery, as well as to send real-time updates during surgery to patients’ family and friends in the waiting room. The company quickly recruited Ela, former chief operating officer of Milwaukee-based Aurora Health Care, a network of hospitals, clinics, and pharmacies.

The communication software, now dubbed Ori, is used in eight Wisconsin hospitals, says Jake Bartnicki, who handles business development for Mpirik.

Buoyed by this early, albeit small, traction, Mpirik intends to roll out two additional products this year: ClinicCompanion, which uses the Xbox Kinect’s motion-detecting camera and Mpirik-developed software to assess patients’ recovery after surgery; and Joint Registry, which will crunch all of that patient data after a joint replacement.

The company will be able to juggle three products, Ela says, for several reasons. Having a seasoned hospital executive at the helm and a practicing orthopedic surgeon as a founder certainly helps the company understand its target market and makes it easier to get in the door of potential customers.

Mpirik also got a boost from a recent $1.75 million investment by the BrightStar Wisconsin Foundation and a group of undisclosed angel investors. The company has raised $2.5 million to date, Ela says. The new money has allowed it to hire three software developers, which means the company can advance its products more quickly than it could when it was using only outside contractors, Ela says. “We’re much faster in development and can be immediately responsive to customers, which is great.”

Mpirik now has 12 employees and several local contractors and business partners, including Madison, WI-based startup Catalyze, which hosts Mpirik’s data on its servers.

There’s been a big push lately to build a strong healthtech cluster in Wisconsin, particularly in the Madison area, which is home to Epic Systems, the leading provider of health records software for hospitals and clinics nationwide. A steady stream of ex-Epic employees have gone on to form healthtech startups in Madison, and local and national investors are starting to pay more attention to the sector there.

Milwaukee has generated less buzz around healthtech startups, but there are pockets of activity, such as companies like Mpirik and Geppetto Avatars, as well as university-led initiatives like a healthcare app development partnership between University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the Medical College of Wisconsin.

Mpirik CEO Sue Ela

Sue Ela

Ela thinks it’s a good time to be a healthtech startup in Wisconsin. “There’s just not the saturation that there is in other parts of the country,” she says. “There’s openness and excitement here and willingness on the part of the healthcare systems to … support companies like ours.”

That may help Mpirik establish a foothold among orthopedic practices in Wisconsin and the greater Midwest, where the company has initially set its sights, but it could be difficult to gain mass adoption around the country. Mpirik is certainly not the only company developing these types of products. There’s been an explosion of software startups that say they can help hospitals and clinics achieve the ultimate ambition of improving the quality of care while lowering costs—an imperative with the rollout of the Affordable Care Act.

Ela recognizes Mpirik has its work cut out in trying to expand, but she thinks the company’s combination of communication and data-tracking tools for a targeted field like orthopedics could help it stand out. “There’s a strong business case for each of the three products, but together they provide this very powerful orthopedic care management tool,” she says. “Ori is out there now. It’s meeting a need around patient communication and satisfaction. As the other ones come, they increase the overall potential of the company.” All three products are designed to be secure and HIPAA-compliant, she adds.

The ClinicCompanion software will take the video feed from a Kinect device and measure things like range of motion and gait. This, combined with information from patients’ self-assessment surveys, will allow doctors to more objectively measure their recovery post-surgery, Mpirik says. All of this data will be incorporated in the Joint Registry product, which hospitals and clinics could use to draw broader conclusions about the decisions doctors are making during surgery. For example, a hospital could look at a group of patients that exhibit improved strength and range of motion, and try to understand if those outcomes might be a result of certain surgical approaches or the type of implant used, Bartnicki says.

Ori, the communication tool, is being further developed so that it better complements the other two products.

Right now, healthcare providers use Ori to … Next Page »

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Jeff Engel is a senior editor at Xconomy. Email: jengel@xconomy.com Follow @JeffEngelXcon

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