"The NIH SBIR grant was a gift that we felt obliged to pay forward to our community. We set out to create a product to transform the lives of people with tremor. In doing so, we discovered other ripple-effects including the creation of jobs and a community behind our work."
– Anupam Pathak, Ph.D., Lift Labs Founder and CEO
Lift Labsis a medical device company that creates stabilizing technologies to help people with Essential Tremorand Parkinson’s disease. Both Essential Tremor (ET) and Parkinson’s disease (PD) are neurological movement disorders that interfere with many aspects of a patient’s daily life including eating, drinking and writing. Essential Tremor affects around 10 million people in the United States alone and millions more are afflicted by tremors due to other neurological damage or dysfunction.
Lift Labs has been acquired by Google in September 2014 and will be integrated into Google Life Sciences, which is part of Google X. The details of the deal remain closed, but Google Life Sciences hopes that the Liftware spoon will be the beginning of a long road that could potentially lead to other technologies.
Getting Started with NIH SBIR Funding
Anupam Pathak, the Founder and CEO of Lift Labs (formerly known as Lynx Design), began his journey as a social entrepreneur after he graduated from his engineering Ph.D. program. As a graduate student, Pathak began developing his technical expertise through his work for the Army Research Laboratories where he researched and developed technologies to stabilize weapons for soldiers in combat. Pathak soon realized that active stabilization technologies, which offset tremors rather than suppress them, could be very useful to patients with essential tremors and Parkinson’s Disease.
Upon graduating in 2010, Pathak applied for his first NIH Phase ISmall Business Innovation Research (SBIR) award that provided funding for a feasibility study of an Active Cancellation of Tremor (ACT) device. At that point, Pathak left his laboratory job and established a sole proprietorship, Lynx Design, where he worked by himself on the feasibility of a new technology for one year. His research results proved to be very promising and received additional Phase IISBIR funding in 2011 to continue the ACT product development through clinical research and additional R&D. Overall the NIH support was instrumental in accelerating all of the research and development efforts and enabling the commercialization of the product within three years. Pathak also participated in NIH’s Commercialization Assistance Program, where he said he learned how to design a viable business around his ideas and how to execute his strategy to deploy his technology to the general public.
Liftware™ Launch in 2013
In 2013, Lift Labs received a small private round of funding enabling it to launch its newly branded product Liftware™, a spoon that uses sensors to detect hand tremors and counteract them to minimize the spilling of food. “Eating can be more about being with people instead of worrying about spilling,” says Pathak. Depression due to frustration and social isolation are typical symptoms for ET and PD patients in particular. The product can help many people stay independent longer and regain their self-confidence in being able to lead better quality and socially active lives.
The initial launch generated a lot of interest online and the product demonstration videos received millions of views. This surge of online interest helped the product gain market traction and Lift Labs started to receive its first online orders. The product currently retails for around $300, and the company has raised enough money through foundations and donations to give away a few hundred spoons to people who cannot afford them.
Lift Labs manufactures locally in Fremont, CA, which is close to San Francisco where the company is based. Pathak explains that "Lift Labs tells a very human story that the company strongly believes in. We want to continue to develop technologies that impact the lives of people in a very fundamental way."
Proprietary technology uses an on-board computer to adapt to a user's tremor.
Before the acquisition, Lift Labs did not spend any money on advertising, and instead, focused its marketing on sharing their story and reaching customers through social and traditional media outlets. "Many reporters have approached us about sharing our story, including the National Public Radio’s (NPR) All Things Considered segment, NBC’s Nightly News, and the Discover Magazine." Many of these videosand testimonialsare available on Lift Labs’ website.
The Future of Lift Labs
“In the summer of 2014, Lift Labs had about seven people on payroll and expected that to double by 2015,” explained Pathak. “Our future goals included expanding our product line to launch additonal attachments, including a fork and a deep spoon, and a desire to keep designing products that stretched beyond eating utinsels to commonly used hand-held tools, offering added benefit and relief to people with tremors,” says Pathak. “We are forever grateful for NIH SBIR funding and hope we can continue to be living proof of what government seed funding can do and how it helps the public.”
Location: San Francisco, CA
Company Website: http://www.liftlabsdesign.com/
Information for this success story was gathered through an interview that was conducted by Dr. Lenka Fedorkova, the NIH SBIR/STTR Program Manager and Betty Royster, the NIH SBIR/STTR Communications Coordinator.