BUSINESS PROFILE

Learning from patient Tina Jones

Shadow Health's technology lets students perfect their skills at physical exams


David Massias, co-founder and CEO of Shadow Health, poses with staff members at their office at 15 SW First Ave. in Gainesville.

Doug Finger/Staff
Published: Sunday, December 9, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, December 7, 2012 at 6:29 p.m.

By the end of next month, somewhere between 2,000 and 4,000 undergraduate and graduate students at more than a dozen nursing schools will be examining Tina Jones as part of their training.

Facts

David Massias

Age: 41
Occupation: Co-founder and CEO, Shadow Health
Personal: Married to Michelle for 10 years; children Noah, 8, Mary, 5, and Hannah, 6 months
Pets: “One imaginary great Dane named Simba.”
Dream partner for lunch: “A minimum of 60 minutes of quiet, undistracted time with my wife.”
Favorite book: William Law’s “An Address to the Clergy”
Favorite TV show: “Call of the Wildman”
Favorite listening: Run-DMC’s Greatest Hits
Hobbies: “Collecting and immersing into old TCM movies and music, running or any outside activities with my kids.”
Education: Case Western Reserve University’s Master’s of Law

Jones is a 29-year-old black junior college student with uncontrolled diabetes and asthma. But she exists only in the digital realm, created by Gainesville company Shadow Health to give nursing students practice with physical examinations so they can learn how to talk to real patients to make proper diagnoses and prescribe treatment.

The software is already being used by graduate nursing programs, and the company is releasing a version for undergraduates in January with support from Shadow Health’s staff of 30 people working out of the former American Apparel location on Southwest First Avenue in downtown Gainesville.

The technology has its roots in the University of Florida Computer and Information Science and Engineering lab of professor Ben Lok, who has been working on it since 2004 with federal funding along with a handful of other nursing schools and computer science departments.

When Lok and graduate assistant Aaron Kotranza decided to try to commercialize their technology, the UF Office of Technology Licensing introduced them to serial entrepreneur David Massias.

Massias, 41, came to Gainesville eight years ago after working on Wall Street for a firm that helped put together deals for global venture capital buyout companies such as the Blackstone Group and Bain Capital.

Massias and his wife, Michelle, who are both from Jamaica, wanted to be closer to family in South Florida, and he said he wanted to do something more meaningful. She accepted a residency in pediatric medicine here and he used his background in business and finance to get involved in Gainesville’s startup community, serving as “big brother” to dozens of new companies and co-founding and investing in several others such as Red Lambda, a computer network security company.

Kotranza, 29, serves as Shadow Health’s chief technology officer. He said the technology existed on large format screens and included head-mounted goggles for a complete virtual reality immersion, which restricted it to laboratory use.

Massias’ idea was to take the technology from the lab to the laptop so it could be used more widely. He visited medical schools and nursing schools.

“For the next six months I knocked on doors around the country and said, ‘If I did this and this and this’ and I had this concept brewing in my brain, ‘would you buy it and how much would you pay for it?’” Massias said.

Kotranza said they decided to focus on nursing because the nursing shortage made the market more open to online technology that helps save time and gives students clinical-type experiences.

Massias started recruiting a team even before he was ready to hire. He targeted Linda Nichols, who was retiring as chair of health sciences at Santa Fe College, to help develop the products.

“I said, ‘You don’t know me, but I’m going to recruit you.”

“We created Tina Jones on the back of an envelope.”

While on a plane coming back from one of his “door knocks,” he met Becca Evanhoe, who has a bachelor’s in chemistry and is getting a master’s in fine arts.

“I immediately thought ‘she’s going to write the script for our patient,’” Massias said. “I said, ‘You don’t know me today, but in six months I’m going to call you and offer you a job.’”

With the start of a team and a concept, Massias raised the first round of funding in May 2011 and dropped his other ventures to focus on Shadow Health full time. To date, he has raised about $2 million.

Nursing faculty from his visits consulted on building content tied to national standards. A team of programmers, led by Kotranza, and health educators, led by Nichols, built Tina Jones as a fully animated patient who responds to questions typed by students. She has 1,500 possible responses to student questions that most closely match a database of 20,000 questions. She has a history, a back story and a personality.

Students perform exams by clicking on various body parts, with text describing what the patient feels, sound for respiration and real photographs of the retina and throat. Massias was the model for Tina’s eardrums.

Shadow Health has three sales staff based around the country, and it hired Rob Kade away from Intuitive Surgical as national sales director. To support customers, the company has added programmers as well as educators who help nursing schools integrate Tina Jones into the classroom.

In addition to nursing, Shadow Health has a pilot product for medical schools and has had offers to create products for pharmacy, physicians assistant and physical therapy training.

Massias said that while people tend to focus on their animation, Shadow Health is more of an education company than a technology company.

While starting with health education, he said they might go after other markets, such as K-12 education.

“I think we’re going to change education — how it’s taught, how it’s learned, how it’s interacted.”

He said a digital Abraham Lincoln could help teach history.

“Think of seventh-graders saying, ‘Hey Abe, tell us about this.’”

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