Amy Hester of HD Nursing on Her Journey to Entrepreneurship
This week's issue of Arkansas Business includes the monthly profile of an Innovate Arkansas firm, and October's feature is HD Nursing of Little Rock.
HD Nursing was founded by UAMS nurses Amy Hester and Dees Davis, who recognized a need to monitor patient falls and gauge falls risks.
Their idea was commercialized through the BioVentures incubator at UAMS, and the Hester Davis Scale is now in use at health-care facilities in Arkansas and one neighboring state with more to follow.
Amy and Dees brought on health-care entrepreneur Gary Platzman to serve as CEO, and HD is poised for growth.
Meanwhile, consider this post the "director's cut."
We've got more with Amy, where she dishes in more detail on that journey and how it all came about:
INOV8: Y'all are no longer just nurses, but nurse/entrepreneurs? Just how did that happen?
Amy: Neither Dees nor I had any business background…at all. We had a steep learning curve but had UAMS BioVentures to guide us initially. There were many pieces of the puzzle to figure out: how to packetize (and monetize) our product and duplicate it from a distance, how to get a website built, how to establish a company email system, negotiating non-disclosure agreements, licensing agreements, co-marketing agreements, etc..., the list goes on. This is where we reached out to Gary and asked him to help run our company.
INOV8: Aside from going through the BioVentures program, how did UAMS help?
Amy: We initially went to the copyright and patent committee at UAMS to protect our work. After our presentation to members, we received incredible enthusiasm in particular from Drs. Larry Suva and Mike Douglas. We were surprised to see such a response. Dr. Douglas asked to meet with us in follow up to discuss our work. When we met with him, we described the genesis and evolution of our research. He was immediately convinced that we had a product that could be taken to industry. It took him 9 months to convince us of the same. UAMS BioVentures offered to send us to its commercialization retreat. We went just hoping to learn more about the process of starting a business and hoped to meet some contacts that might assist us further. Initially we were very intimidated. Other scientists were harvesting solar energy from nanoparticles and pushing hydrogen into mitochondria. All we do is keep people from falling down.
At the end of the day everyone wanted to know more about us. We realized we were able to make a connection to all kinds of people because they could relate to what we were doing. We left the conference motivated to move forward with a company as it was clear to us that if we were to be taken seriously and impact as many people as possible with our science, a business was the only way to do it. Mike Douglas, Ben Wofford and Christopher Fasel of UAMS BioVentures mentored us from there.
INOV8: What were some of the bigger challenges to launching this startup?
Amy: We had lots of challenges. The first was getting past ourselves. As nurses, we are very altruistic by nature. We were initially just happy anyone was interested in our work and wanted to publish it. Dr. Douglas finally convinced us that hospitals did not want our work because it helped people. They would want it because it would save them money. We knew the thousands of hours we had dedicated to our program and we also knew that kind of free dedication was simply not sustainable to continue to expand our research and growth.
INOV8: Describe the resources available right now to early-stage startups like yours.
Amy: Resources depend on your affiliations. The University of Arkansas has built a highly collaborative environment for U of A students and employees. The system works together through its technology transfer offices and entities like BioVentures to foster entrepreneurship. Key mentors like Jeff Stinson and Jeff Amerine, both in the U of A system have really perpetuated a collegial environment. Other resources outside U of A include Innovate Arkansas and the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.
INOV8: What's your assessment of the local startup environment?
Amy: The local startup environment is really heating up in Arkansas. Local angel investors and venture capitalists seem more prevalent and external investors are finding more value in Arkansas based ventures. Infrastructure is starting to pick up to support startups like us. In the past, startups have had to look outside Arkansas to outsource software development, app development, website development, etc.
Today there are more resources for those needs than in the past, but they have not yet kept pace with startup demand in Arkansas and even we outsource our software development to a firm in California. As Arkansas natives with an Arkansas company, we want to keep as much of our business here in our own state and employ fellow Arkansans.
INOV8: Do you feel like this has made a difference in the lives of patients?
Amy: Absolutely. We have reduced falls and injuries at all the facilities that use our program. And the really cool part: today we positively impact the lives of millions we will never see and they will never know our science touched their lives. Tomorrow, we will help millions more age in place, free from institutionalization because a fall changed their life or their family could no longer manage caring for a faller at home.
We would never have had this reach had we not formed a startup and used our company as a vehicle for our work.
INOV8: How come nobody thought of this sooner?
Amy: Good question. It took years to develop and validate what has become the HD Falls Program. Most nurses don’t have the resources or statistical background to accomplish this kind of work. UAMS Medical Center supported us administratively and let us go out of the box whenever we wanted to. That confidence and support is not found just anywhere. The other catalyst was UAMS BioVentures, who saw a diamond in the rough.