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In conversation with Praxis SCI Incubate Cohort Member, Focal Lines

Interviewing Charlie Vu, a managing director of Focal Lines Technologies

Focal Lines Technologies, is a Vancouver, BC based company pioneering in the field of smart material development and its integration in remote health technology and virtual care. Their cutting-edge platform utilizes an advanced e-textile sensor system, based on novel class of nanomaterials, to seamlessly connect and monitor patients remotely. Their innovative solution offers the convenience of virtual care, cost savings, and self-management programs, all while providing smart rehabilitation insights to guide individuals through their therapeutics activities.

[supported as part of Praxis SCI Validate Program 2023]
SCI Validate Program is a 4-month program geared towards early-stage innovation projects that will receive a subset of SCI Incubate Program, with a focus on PLEX-based user testing developing technologies to transform the lives of people living with SCI.

Overall, working in the SCI Validate program was a success. One of the biggest takeaways was the interaction with the healthcare professionals and individuals with lived experience of spinal cord injury. This allowed us to validate, to challenge and disprove. Based on the insights from the program, we are shaping the roadmap for our product development. Our goal is to continue to validating the product market fit as we progress.

What is your biggest learning or takeaway from being part of the program?

The program is valuable for us because of the chance to meet and collaborate with healthcare professionals. We learned a lot from our Praxis mentors, Dr. James Laskin, a physiotherapist, and Richard Peter, who has life experience with spinal cord injury. Through meeting with them, we’ve learned more about our product and the problem it is trying to solve, and how to validate it through the program. Before the program, we worked on many hypotheses—some of them right, many of them wrong. From the program, we have created a clear roadmap for product development.

Has your business strategy changed based on what you’ve learned from the program?

Before the program, we focused on technology development and product development. One of the biggest takeaways from the program though is that the safety part is very, very important. The biggest changes to our company’s product and business strategies revolve around focusing on the necessary steps to transform our vision into the commercialized product. Our primary emphasis shifted towards ensuring safety, visibility and user rating. And as a result, we have been actively working on developing protocol documentation implementing design control; these efforts are crucial in preparing for the product registration with the regulatory authority, in Canada and with the FDA, guaranteeing that it meets the required standard and regulation.

I do have the experience with medical device development but in the spinal cord injury field, it’s sometimes a unique feature that we need to consider; we need to engage with healthcare professionals in a different way and then approach the user in a different way.

We’re also getting one more team member— a fresh graduate from UBC, but very talented—so now we have a team of three.

Before you started the program, how did you view the challenges your target customer had? And how much has it changed since going through the program?

Previously, we relied pretty much on the assumption, and in many cases, guesswork. But now we have a lot of concrete knowledge of how our system can be effectively utilized, focusing on developing a system that monitors the muscle health of individuals continually in their home setting. It is crucial for us to transform the collected data into the meaningful information for clinicians, and actionable insight for the user. I think that now we are more informed. We had the chance to work with both clinicians and people with lived experience; that makes a difference.

Prior to the program, we tended to complicate things because our understanding was limited. It’s very difficult to actually imagine their daily life until we talk to potential users. We thought about providing all the data, but people just simply want to keep track of muscle activation in one area. It’s just one small aspect, but I think it’s helped a lot in shaping the vision for the product development there, when you have more understanding about what people need.

What makes Focal Lines and its product unique?

In comparison to other similar products, we also have muscle biofeedback but our wearable device stands out because it’s comfortable, even during strenuous exercises for an extended wear period. And we will be able to make it in various forms so that the consumer can monitor any desired muscle areas. We make it so that they can use this in their home setting as a wearable device, with Bluetooth streaming data to and from their phone, uploading to the cloud and the dashboard of their healthcare professional. Physical therapists can monitor and track the recovery process of their patients.

It’s a wearable with the core technology of the sensor integrated directly into the fabric. There is no sticky electrode, and no wires. People just wear it as a wearable device. Focal Lines is one of the pioneers in researching the application of graphene and other nanomaterials in many fields, and one of the important applications is that we can integrate these materials into fabric.

We’ve shown that the graphene sensor has 20 times more sensitive than the current golden standard on the market. Moreover, it’s reusable unlike traditional sticky patch electrodes.

What did you hope to get out of the Validate program when you started?

We came into the Validate program with Praxis with clear goals in mind. Number one, validate our solution. Number two, get support from the expert to improve our product design, based on the user and the clinician needs. Number three, support with the navigation of regulatory pathways. And I believe that we got all of those with completing the program.

Additionally, we have access to the professional network that could aid us in our future, that can provide us with the support when we need it. So that’s one thing I really appreciated during the program.

We are also much more ready for investment than before the program. All of this is very important for an early stage company like Focal Lines in order to grow.

How would you persuade a company to take the program?

The SCI Validate program offers valuable networking opportunities, access to industry experts, and gives guidance on how to create impact for people living with spinal cord injury. It is a valuable program for founders looking to make a difference in the field of medical technology for SCI, to solve the problems and improve the quality of life of people living with spinal cord injury.

One of the mentors has been living with spinal cord for several years; interacting with him and talking to him really motivated us to keep working on this project because we believe that we can help people like him to get better.

Learn more about the 2022-2023 Praxis SCI Incubate Alumni!