HMH’s Innovation Center makes first investment: $250K to startup Pillo Health

Hackensack Meridian Health’s Innovation Center is making its first investment in a startup: $250,000 for Boston-based Pillo Health, which has created a medical hub that is used in one’s home.

The product, Pillo, is a health care companion that syncs with all smart home and mobile devices and will change the game for home health care, according to Dr. Andrew Pecora, chief innovation officer at HMH.

“We think Pillo is kind of the future of health care in the home,” he said. “Pillo made a technology that allows you to, in a live way, communicate with your loved ones.”

It is like having a robot at home, he said.

The voice and video-enabled device can remind a patient to take pills using the voice of a loved one, as well as pinging a loved one so they can make a call or follow up. It also can sync with smart devices, logging information such as weight and blood pressure, and digitally coordinates prescription refills.

“We were just blown away,” Pecora said. “This first project, funded less than a year after launching our ideation center, is a major achievement to improve health care.”

Here’s how the process works.

Ideas are presented to the Innovation Center, which opened last summer in Newark at the New Jersey Innovation Institute on the campus of New Jersey Institute of Technology.

Ideas deemed worthy of advancing are presented to what is known as the Bear’s Den, a “Shark Tank”-like program.

Pillo is the first product to launch from Bear’s Den. Others, however, are currently under review.

Not bad for a not-for-profit hospital, Pecora said, adding that the experts who help screen the companies are easily finding Pecora and the team.

“The entrepreneur community is incredibly sophisticated and intuitive in finding things,” he said. “NJIT refers people to us, other people refer people to us.”

And, with the news of the first investment, Pecora figures the reputation of Hackensack Meridian Health will go global.

“They figure if Hackensack Meridian Health invests in us and lets us use their facilities, for a small company, that’s huge,” he said. “I had to do it the old-fashioned way, begging venture capitalists. We’re very close to making our second investment, but we can’t talk about it yet.

“The goal for each investment is improving outcomes for patients and reducing total cost of care.”

Pillo’s aim is to meet that goal by ensuring better drug compliance and facilitating better communication between the patient and caregivers and families, Pecora said. Doing so means the patients are less likely to end up in the hospital for a costly emergency visit, he said.

James Wyman, Pillo Health co-founder and chief operating officer, said he was happy for the opportunity to collaborate.

“The Pillo Health team has tremendous respect for Hackensack Meridian Health and for its commitment to innovation,’’ he said. “We’re excited to engage with experts at Hackensack Meridian Health to revolutionize the way health care is coordinated, managed and delivered in patients’ homes.’’

In addition to the cash, the health system is offering its services to Pillo to conduct system trials, a contribution valued at about $500,000, according to Pecora.

So far, fewer than a dozen ideas of the 50 screened to-date have reached Bear’s Den, Pecora said.

He said some of the ideas are from outside companies, but some are internal ideas from the HMH team.

The potential to help create innovative products — both inside and outside of the organization — is important to Hackensack Meridian Health co-CEO Robert Garrett.

“We are excited to invest in Pillo Health and to support the development of the Pillo in-home care companion technology,’’ Garrett said. “We see this as a landmark moment for Hackensack Meridian Health and for our commitment to leveraging innovation to improve the lives of our patients and countless others.’’

Pecora, who said he hopes to get more ideas from Bear’s Den, said he is taking it systemwide.

“In every hospital in our network, we are putting in a Bear’s Den,” he said. “So, people can come down from their work and register one of their ideas to get to ideation.”

This will remove the burden of employees having to trek it all the way to the ideation center at NJII.

“My job is to innovate at the place,” Pecora said. “And I’m trying to create a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship and make it fun.”

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