Industry Watch

See me, hear me, touch me, feel me

These rock stars are the future of the health sector

By Kevyn Burger
07-25-2016

The health sector continues to be one of the economy’s largest, fastest-growing and most lucrative industries. Consuming over 10% of gross domestic product in most developed nations, health care represents a robust proportion of the national economy.

Minnesota holds a storied and historic role in health care. It’s the home of the distinguished Mayo Clinic and the site of major breakthroughs in medical devices and biomedical technology.

So it’s no wonder that Minnesota is seen as inviting by the young entrepreneurs who are putting their own spin on devices, products, research and services to help others live healthier lives.

SEE ME

Since the invention of movable type, when people read they gaze at a printed page.

But today, our eyes take in content via a screen, and it’s not just the written word. Video, text messages, social media and e-mail create a 24/7 visual smorgasbord.

“Many people spend more time staring at screens than they do sleeping,” says Justin Barrett.

“Digital light is more intense than what the eye has ever been exposed to. It takes a toll; 70% of the population has eye strain and eye fatigue.”

Barrett, 32, is poised to be the leader in protecting eyesight. The Carlson School graduate is co-founder and CEO of Healthe, a company that creates vision-sparing barrier technology, or “sunscreen for eyes,” as he puts it.

“Right now, business looks at screen protection as a perk for employees, but in the next five years, we believe it will be OSHA-regulated,” Barrett adds.

Barrett doesn’t think a competitor who would jump into the vision protection field could catch him. Founded in 2013, Healthe holds six patents and has locked down the supply chain for the proprietary technology, with the companies that make the products as strategic partners.

He’s also signed deals with Fortune 500 companies to install his product in theirs.

“This year we’ll do 75,000 screen covers for Mattel’s kids’ tablets,” he says. “Mattel has emerged as an advocate for protecting children’s eyes. Consumers care about that.”

The 10-employee, Eden Prairie-based company will see sales of $1.5 million this year; revenue projections jump to $5.6 million in 2017.

Partnered with a doctor, Barrett bootstrapped the company for the first two years.

“We had a ton of failure and didn’t raise capital until we had positive results,” he says. “It’s very difficult to do what we’re doing, to make it and scale it.”

Barrett received an innovation grant from Minnesota DEED and research is being conducted with the University of Minnesota. He credits that support and Minnesota’s angel tax credit program as a component of his breakthrough.

“This is the perfect place to be,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

HEAR ME

A passionate music fan, Jackson Mann preferred his rock n’ roll local and loud until he got too much of a good thing.

Attending a concert, he stood next to the oversized speakers — and ruptured an eardrum.

“I felt pain that night, and went to a doctor who verified it,” he says. “Thankfully, I had no permanent hearing damage but the doctor warned me to be careful around loud noise in the future.”

That set Mann, now 27, on the search for a product that would safeguard his ears without muddying the music.

“Most musicians wear in-ear protection that costs hundreds of dollars,” he says. ”I wanted something for the audience that was that good at filtering the dangerous decibels but at an affordable price point.”

Mann developed Vibes, a high fidelity, virtually invisible, reusable set of earplugs that come with a pocket-sized carrying case, three interchangeable tips and sell for $24.

“They’re nothing like the foam earplugs that are widely distributed,” he says. “We use an acoustic filter and the music comes through sounding clear.”

The St. Thomas graduate is currently marketing Vibes online and at a few record stores. He’s also sold them at several Target Center concerts and outdoor music festivals.

“The venues and concert promoters are feeling a social responsibility to protect the concert-goer,” he says.

While his startup is focused on the local market, Mann envisions a global audience for Vibes. He cites research that indicates that 440 million people worldwide are at risk for hearing loss due to live entertainment from exposure to relatively loud sounds over a long period of time.

He likens the growing awareness of hearing loss to the new knowledge about the permanent damage posed by concussions.

Mann thinks this generation of music-lover is willing to listen to a prevention pitch.

“We grew up with helmets, sunscreen and seat belts,” he says. “Maybe 18- to 24-year-olds think they’re invincible, but they’ll outgrow that.”

TOUCH ME

Native Minnesotan Molly Glasgow was living in Northern California when she began looking at alternatives to western medicine to improve her own health.

“I tried acupuncture, but the needles bothered me and weren’t beneficial. That’s when I found out about acupressure,” says Glasgow, 29. “It uses the same points on the body, but stimulates them with light touch.”

Fascinated with the technique, she began studying Chinese medicine and went on to become a certified acupressurist.

When she returned to Minnesota in 2009, Glasgow found interest in integrative medicine expanding, with a greater number of people seeking alternatives to supplement traditional care.

She established Point Acupressure in Uptown, operating as a sole proprietor and offering Reiki and reflexology as well as acupressure, all hands-on techniques that can benefit people with various diagnoses.

“I’m often the first experience that someone has with alternative medicine, and sometimes they’re skeptical. I understand that; I was the same way before I experienced relief myself. I’m seeing a shift and a change in acceptance,” she says, noting that she routinely provides care through Mayo Clinic’s Dan Abraham Healthy Living Center.

“That’s a really huge marker, when a leading research institution like that sees the value in this kind of medicine,” she notes.

Running her own practice has gotten Glasgow fired up about strengthening small businesses and enhancing the Buy Local movement. After serving on the board of the Twin Cities Independent Business Alliance, she was elected its current president. Now she’s strategizing about improving the health of other businesses anchored in neighborhoods.

“It takes flexibility and ingenuity to run a business, but the biggest piece is the support network, what one entrepreneur can offer another,” Glasgow says. “I like to be a part of building something.”

FEEL ME

Macarena Corral remembers 2007 as a particularly stressful time in her life. She was planning her wedding while juggling classwork and research for her doctorate in psychology.

That’s when she took her first yoga class.

“It made me feel strong, like I could conquer it all,” she remembers.

Corral, 33, went on to pursue the serious study of the ancient discipline. Today she is integrating yoga with her training as a psychologist.

In April of 2015, she established the Center for Collaborative Health in Edina, with a focus on alternative treatment for mental health and an interest in the aftermath of trauma. While talking through a difficult issue with a patient, Corral might pause in her therapeutic treatment and incorporate alternative treatments.

“Trauma impacts mood, behavior and relationships, and it is held in the body. Data confirms that body awareness, and adding interventions like yoga, mindfulness and meditation, can enhance our results with clients,” she says. “When you build a better relationship with your body, you take better care of it.”

Born and raised in Madrid, Spain, Corral came to the U.S. at 18 to attend college in Boston. That’s where she met the Twin Cities native who became her husband; they located in his hometown after graduation.

Corral co-founded her practice with partner Nicole Slavik, 35, whose expertise is in chemical dependency and women’s issues. Slavik, too, blends yoga and mindfulness with psychotherapy.

The two previously worked together as clinical supervisors at a nonprofit mental health center, where they identified their complementary styles.

“Macarena is a natural born leader and I’m a really good vice president,” says Slavik. “We’re not two alphas; we share the same work ethic and responsibility for our clients.”`

The pair have a plan to grow their practice through their innovative approach.

“We have evidence that shows that by targeting the body, we get more lasting results,” Corral says. “That’s what motivates us.”

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