Innovation Prize Goes to Two Penn Seniors for Device That Continuously Tracks Body Temperature
This is the second of two features introducing the University of Pennsylvania’s 2016 President’s Innovation Prize winners.
The thermometer is one of science’s most iconic measurement tools, but, even as tubes of mercury and alcohol made way for digital equivalents, they all lacked a common, sought-after feature. Taking a person’s temperature at a single point is increasingly simple, but using the same technology to continuously monitor that temperature remains a challenge.
Enter Fever Smart, a digital thermometer that is applied like a Band-Aid under a patient’s arm and wirelessly feeds temperature to a smartphone.
It is the brainchild of University of Pennsylvania seniors Aaron Goldstein, a senior finance major in the Wharton School, and William Duckworth, a mechanical engineering and applied mechanics major in the School of Engineering and Applied Science. They are two of the four winners of the inaugural President’s Innovation Prize.
As President’s Innovation Prize winners, Duckworth and Goldstein received $100,000 to implement their project and as much as a $50,000 living stipend. They will also receive dedicated space at the Pennovation Center, as well as continued mentorship from the Penn Center for Innovation.
Despite the proliferation of high-tech consumer devices that track vital statistics, such as smartwatches that can display the wearer’s heart rate by looking at the flow of blood under the skin, something as simple as continuous temperature monitoring remained elusive. However, it took a mix of market research, medical perspective and personal experience to arrive at what the team calls an “early warning system for the human body.”
Goldstein, from West Palm Beach, Fla., and Duckworth, from Lake Forest, Ill., brought their interests together by following in their parents’ footsteps. Goldstein’s father is a physician and entrepreneur, Duckworth’s an engineer.
Neighbors in the Quad their first year, it was another mutual friend who first inspired the idea that brought them together as business partners.
Collin Hill, a Wharton senior, had been recently diagnosed with cancer and was being treated while at school. Patients undergoing chemotherapy have suppressed immune systems and so must keep careful watch for any sign of an infection. One such sign is a fever.
“Collin was constantly taking his temperature to make sure he didn’t have an infection,” Goldstein says. “Most of the time he was fine, but there were a couple of instances where he would have a normal temperature, go to sleep, then wake up five hours later with a 105-degree fever and have to go to the hospital.
“Talking to Collin, you could tell he was really frustrated by not being able to continuously monitor his temperature and getting an alert when it started to rise.”
Goldstein and Hill launched a crowd-funding campaign for the device that would eventually become Fever Smart in the fall of 2014, raising more than $65,000. They soon brought on Duckworth for his technical expertise, as well as Goldstein’s older sister, Becca, a fellow Wharton student, to help run their nascent business.
Fever Smart also enlisted Matthew Grennan, an assistant professor of health-care management at Wharton and a Senior Fellow at Penn's Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics. He will serve as the team’s faculty advisor.
The Fever Smart team reached out to Grennan, who teaches a class on health-care entrepreneurship, to help navigate the shifting landscape of markets for medical devices and services. Given the relatively straightforward technology behind their innovation, finding the right customers was paramount.
“At first,” Goldstein says, “we thought it was just having parents sleep through the night not having to worry about their kids. But now we’ve seen the focus groups that say they’ve been waiting for a product like this for a long time.”
“That’s what surprised me most on the technological side,” Duckworth says. “You can take a few simple components, put them together and have a million people say, ‘Oh, my god, we’ve been waiting for this.’”
The students first looked to market their device to parents of children with febrile seizures, a condition that is caused by a spike in body temperature, but they quickly expanded its scope. The Fever Smart team envisions uses ranging from tracking ovulation for family planning to public-health interventions in the wake of disease outbreaks.
“We have simple hardware that can be used in a hundred different ways, just by changing the software side of things,” Duckworth says. “We have a customer in Australia who puts them in HVAC piping in the ceiling and figures out where he needs to increase the sizes of his pipe because air isn’t flowing.”
The team’s next big goal is to move Fever Smart from the home to the hospital.
“In the hospital,” Goldstein says, “a nurse comes in every hour or so to manually take a patient’s temperature, so, if you want continuous monitoring, you hire two more nurses and have them walk in and out of the patient’s room all day.”
“When we found that out,” Duckworth says, “it seemed crazy to us. We knew there was a bigger problem here. It wasn’t just something that would be nice to have, it was something that was needed. You could have each patient on a floor wearing a Fever Smart and have single nurse monitoring them all — much more efficient.”
Goldstein and Duckworth are also exploring markets in China, where Goldstein will spend the next year as a Schwarzman Scholar. But from their dorm rooms to Beijing, the team credits a supportive environment for helping their idea grow and take shape.
“We’ve found opportunities and resources in every corner of the University and made use of them all,” Goldstein says. “If you have an idea like this, it’s up to you to make the most of it.”