Empathy can lead to inspiration.
Antony Fuleihan was visiting hospitals as part of his Master’s Degree studies in biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins University when he first considered becoming an entrepreneur. There, he observed patients who were experiencing extreme back pain, the causes of which were often complex and difficult to diagnose. “It became very obvious that there was an overwhelming unmet clinical need: Spine patients need care that is personalized to their specific problems,” said Fuleihan. “From that moment, I couldn’t stay away. I wanted to make sure that our invention would reach patients and physicians, and that we were actually improving lives.”
A report by The Washington Post detailed the widespread issue of doctors dismissing or misdiagnosing their patients’ symptoms. “There’s a major misdiagnosis opportunity for the spine—every year, over a quarter of a million patients get unnecessary spine surgery,” noted fellow Johns Hopkins graduate student and co-founder Evan Haas. “That’s terrifying.”
To solve this challenge, Fuleihan and Haas partnered to launch their startup CurveAssure, developing an at-home, wearable monitoring device that provides physicians with posture analysis data, allowing for faster data-driven patient care and surgical decision-making.
“What we do is we simplify the pathway,” Fuleihan explained. “Once patients see their spine surgeon, they’re sent home with a number of wearable sensors that provide more personalized and dynamic data. This allows us to help surgeons figure out what treatment is best for that patient.”
Since 2022, CurveAssure has progressed through the VentureWell Accelerator, completing the Pioneer and Propel stages of the E-Team Program, the 2023 Ascend Medtech Accelerator, and, most recently, Aspire Medtech 2023. The team spoke on our E-Team Founding Stories panel with other student entrepreneurs and was featured in the OPENminds Innovator Showcase at OPEN 2023, VentureWell’s annual conference.
“It has been awesome to be able to step through our journey of entrepreneurship with VentureWell,” Haas told us. “All of the programs [in the VentureWell Accelerator] are seeded in such a way so that we’re able to learn more about business as we continue to grow and expand. And the network has been tremendous—we’ve been finding great mentors and investors.”
Qualcomm became the inflection point in the team’s entrepreneurial journey.
Fuleihan was awarded a 2023 Qualcomm Innovator Stipend, which provided an additional $2,500 in funding to help offset the cost of advancing their innovation—a key moment for the venture. “The stipend was really helpful in allowing us to file our first provisional patent,” Haas explained. “With medical devices, it’s critical—especially in the early stages of the company—to secure intellectual property (IP). We want to make sure that everything is locked down so that our invention is secure for us to continue.”
The stipend helped CurveAssure reach a critical milestone of filing for IP, which then helped unlock additional funding opportunities through Johns Hopkins like the 2023 President’s Venture Fellowship. They also won first place at the International 2023 Stu Clark Pitch Competition for the Graduate Business Plan and Graduate Elevator Pitch. “Over the last two years, our team has honed in on a critical unmet need and a device that has the potential to revolutionize the spine space,” Haas said.
Tip from a founder: Start early when exploring how to secure the rights to your invention.
Patenting has always been top of mind for CurveAssure. “We learned that IP is critical at every step of a company’s development,” Haas explained. “All of the investors we talk to want to see our initial dive into the landscape through patenting. They want to make sure that they can trust the investment that they place in us, and that we’re able to execute and actually capture the market share that we’re aiming for.”
During Pioneer, the first stage of our E-Team Program, CurveAssure received mentorship specifically on the importance of IP. “VentureWell put together a couple of different workshops where [law firm] Cooley came in and talked about all the different ways to tackle IP challenges. They gave some wonderful advice that really helped us out early on.”
Looking ahead, CurveAssure is working to expand the value of the company. “We filed our provisional patents, and we’re looking to convert our patents to a full patent in the next couple of months,” Haas told us. “We’re looking for ways to expand and secure the other aspects of IP, trademark—all of the pieces that we have within the company.”
He offered a key piece of advice for early-stage innovators: “Don’t be scared of IP. You should dive into it. Be willing to read a bunch of patents, be incredibly confused, ask a lot of questions, then have mentors help you through this process.”
Hear more from Fuleihan and Haas about their journey as entrepreneurs and how participating in our E-Team Program accelerated the growth of their startup:
Expanding Participation Through the Qualcomm Innovator Stipend Program
In partnership with Qualcomm, we offered the Innovator Stipend Program in 2022 and again in 2023 to reduce financial challenges for student entrepreneurs, giving them the breathing room they need to develop their products while simultaneously juggling the fiscal responsibilities of school and life—with the aim of further narrowing the patent diversity gap. Recipients were awarded stipends ranging from $1,500 to $4,000 to offset the cost of participation in our E-Team Program as well as for living expenses, materials and physical prototyping, equipment, or expenses associated with patent filing, incorporation, or attorney fees.
About the E-Team Program
Through the E-Team Program, VentureWell has trained over 540 student teams and more than 1,300 student innovators. The teams have raised over $600 million in follow-on funding and have launched more than 240 ventures since taking part in our program.
Learn more about VentureWell’s E-Team Program, which supports student-led science- and engineering-based teams from across the nation in bringing their high-impact innovations out of the lab and into the market. Applications for our Spring 2024 cohort are now open!