Asking questions, creating answers

Dalton Shaull, a UI human physiology graduate and former Hawkeye football player, and Eric Pahl, a UI engineering graduate and current Ph.D. student studying health informatics, created TXP Chat™, a software product that helps reduce communication issues leading to donor-organ loss.

Shaull was originally motivated to start this project after undergoing a nerve transplant after a motorbike accident. As he looked into the average wait times for transplants, Shaull began asking ‘Why is it taking so long?’– so he found a business partner and created a solution. In addition to Shaull’s experience with transplants, Pahl has four family members on transplant waitlists. The two met at a networking event hosted by Iowa JPEC’s entrepreneurial honor society, Sigma Nu Tau, and decided to attack the problem together.

Joining UI’s entrepreneurial network

Pahl and Shaull launched HealthTech Solutions, Inc. (HTS, Inc.) out of the Bedell Entrepreneurship Learning Laboratory (BELL) at the University of Iowa in 2015. Housed in the Bedell Entrepreneurship Learning Laboratory (BELL) at the University of Iowa, the Founders Club helped HTS gain access to office space, mentorships, funding, and other resources that were crucial to the development of the startup.

Shaull says the curiosity to understand the workflow of the organ transplantation process, coupled with a personal connection to transplants, motivated the team to take the leap and build a business. The two quickly pulled together a team of industry experts and completed a three-pronged market research project during their first eight months in the BELL. Their findings led them to create HTS’ first software product, TXP Chat™, which facilitates communication between healthcare staff to improve organ donation success rates.

The duo still operates out of the BELL as they move forward in rolling out pilot programs for their mobile software system. Shaull says there is no magic methodology that brought the business to this pivotal point, although he admits that the key to getting something started is not being afraid to fail. HTS is doing simulated tests with three organ procurement groups: Iowa Donor Network in North Liberty, LifeSource in Minneapolis, and LifeCenter in Seattle. These trials have taught HTS the difference between what the market says they want and what they actually want, a big difference that cannot be truly understood until people are using the product. Pahl and Shaull plan to add more test sites in the near future.

A huge milestone for the company was in December 2016 when the Iowa Donor Network began piloting TXP Chat™.  Alongside their current organ procurement communication system, TXP Chat™ is helping the Iowa Donor Network boost the number of successful organ transplants that occur through their organization.

Learning, progressing, growing

In 2017, HTS was awarded a $238,400 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the National Institute of Health (NIH), a $100,000 loan from the Iowa Economic Development Authority, and a $25,000 prize (including an additional  $75,000 worth of in-kind consulting services) at TCU’s 2017 Values and Ventures Competition. The company also received a $100,000 Wellmark Fund investment. The company is working to close out a 1 million seed round ($550k already closed) and plans to raise a Series A round of venture capital funding by mid-late 2018. To date, the pair has secured over 1 million in private investments and non-dilutive funding.

The two young founders have successfully moved the business through the concept and startup phases and are now looking toward commercialization and distribution. This shift in focus created a demand for new talent within the company. Shaull and Pahl expanded their development team, which now includes three full-time developers. In addition, they have added test sites in both Ohio and New York. The HTS team will be one to watch through 2018 as they continue to prove that entrepreneurship is thriving in Iowa.