From prototype to market-ready in 5 months: the story of Vital
Nearly 1 billion people around the world suffer from hypertension, or high blood pressure. For patients with this chronic disease, and many others like it, vital signs can offer immediate clues to lifesaving measures. Yet, it takes at least 4 dedicated devices to capture an individual’s core vital signs. Each takes time and costs money, even if you can afford your own equipment at home.
Vital, an emerging business focused on connected health (formerly known as Arc Connected Devices), is creating an easier and more affordable way for patients to monitor and track their vital signs.
In the U.S., the financial burden of managing chronic diseases is upwards of $300 billion annually. 87% of deaths in China are caused by chronic illnesses. As the global population ages, this will only increase. Vital sees a real opportunity to save lives by enabling IoT connectivity on their device, making vital signs key indicators of health that are more useful and easier to manage than ever.
Finding the right formula
After seeing how effectively their first product, a contactless thermometer, helped doctors treat patients in remote areas of Liberia, the team at Vital was inspired to take their product further. They envisioned one single finger cuff that could:
- capture key vital signs: temperature, pulse, blood pressure and Sp02 levels
- attach to a smartphone
- connect to the internet via Bluetooth/WiFi
- transmit vital signs to a mobile app
“The healthcare market is full of technology from the 1980s and we’ve been talking about changing it since then,” said Irv Gross, Vital’s Chairman. “Now it’s actually happening.”
When Vital took their idea to investors and go-to-market partners, they echoed their excitement. So, they built and tested a raw prototype that used light and pressure sensors to form a working finger cuff. Their business plan was strong and investors were ready to see the product at an upcoming Mobile World Congress in San Francisco—but the prototype wasn’t market-ready.
The tubes, wires and cables on the product functioned, but they were far from functional. Vital needed help. It was May 2017 and Mobile World Congress (MWC) was only 3 months away.
“A working prototype was everything to us, but as a startup it didn’t make sense to invest in our own engineering team—we were moving fast,” said Mark Khachaturian, CTO at Vital. “Yet, we found that few firms have engineers who both understand and support all facets of hardware and software design.”
Making the prototype work
The Vital team started to explore options for contract manufacturers, but felt they weren’t taken seriously. Fortunately, a colleague introduced Irv to Avnet. “I thought of Avnet as an electronic components distributor,” he said. “I didn’t realize how much their expertise and infrastructure could help us scale and get to market more quickly.”
Lou Lutostanski, Avnet’s VP of IoT, says that finding the right partner is a common issue for startups like Vital “It’s a tough spot to be in—it’s hard to distinguish hype from reality. Startups don’t have the time to evaluate companies in separate disciplines and often aren’t sure of their exact requirements. So, technical feats can seem huge when in reality most are solvable.”
Avnet’s IoT and design groups dove right in to Vital’s project. “They came to us with a rough prototype and a set of specs, and we got to work on figuring out the rest,” said Arnie Grever, General Manager of AVID, one of Avnet’s design units. “We knew that we needed two big pieces: electrical and mechanical expertise. We organized a team and got into a regular cadence of communication with Vital. It was a pretty intense effort—we didn’t have much time.”
Avnet’s 3-Month Prototyping Process for Vital
- Begin mechanics work
- Create render, review and approve with Vital team
- Design mechanics, including plastic parts and screws
- Design 4 PCBs
- Place schematics and parts
- Lay out PCB while accommodating a pump, valve and pressure sensor
- Purchase parts
- Develop prototype mobile app
- Design parts, including handmade plastics
- Design 4 PCBs
- Purchase all remaining parts
- Complete 10 prototypes for MWC
Main Challenges Overcome
- Add sliding mechanism to cuff to make it adjustable for various finger sizes
- Connect the cuff to the phone via magnets
- Ensure proper connectivity between the Bluetooth algorithm and mobile app
- Complete work without affecting the electronics in the cuff, including a pressure cup and light
- Individual finger cuff attached to smartphone
- Measures temperature, pulse, blood pressure and Sp02 levels
- Vital sign data transmitted to secure mobile app
Though time wasn’t on their side, two things were: good communication and fast decision-making. It also helped to keep the scope of their initial engagement manageable, Arnie said.
“We set an audacious goal in a compressed timeframe, so the day-to-day communication from Avnet was crucial,” Mark said. “I’ve worked with a lot of companies who were very good with mechanical and electrical design, but being able to quickly put in connectivity chips and apply a strategy for the cloud is really impressive.”
Ready for distribution
Not only was the prototype ready for MWC, it enabled Vital to secure a distribution deal with Lenovo and Motorola. “It was a fantastic product that looked great and functioned very well. The Avnet team did an incredible job of putting it together in such a short time,” Irv said.
Now, the Avnet and Vital teams are focused on getting to production. Thanks to Avnet, they’re still moving at a fast clip.
While the core team was focused on the prototype, other teams at Avnet were already planning ahead on Vital’s behalf. “It was reassuring to know that when we were ready, Avnet’s sourcing and supply chain were ready, too. This sped our time to market exponentially,” said Mark.
“We customize every engagement, so we help startups with all kinds of needs,” said Wade McDaniel, VP of supply chain at Avnet. “Vital needed a channel partner to manage the complexity in their distribution model, so we set up an entire business system for them. Orders go right off of the design board at our facilities and into a PO with their end customer. It very much simplifies things for them.”
Unlike many startups who don’t prioritize their supply chain until they get their first order, Avnet ensured Vital was ready to jump right into distribution. More importantly, thanks to Avnet’s help, Vital is able to stay focused on its research and development work to enhance the product with additional measurements, such as EKG readings for cardiac monitoring and perhaps even glucose readings for diabetes management.