RALEIGH – Raleigh-based respiratory health startup VitalFlo hopes to reduce the billions of dollars that American asthma and COPD patients spend on costly emergency room visits and hospitalizations by focusing on preventative care. 

And last week, the company announced a new partnership with India-based Ambee, an environmental and climate intelligence startup that builds air quality datasets. 

“With this new partnership, VitalFlo is excited to be able to offer a wide variety of air quality data to our customers that can help them provide better care and insights to their patients,” said VitalFlo CEO and Founder Luke Marshall, in an interview with WRAL Techwire. 

Ambee combines artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and proprietary models to analyze environmental factors, according to the Ambee website.  

According to Marshall, Ambee has best-in-class data quality for local outdoor air quality, including data about respiratory triggers like fine particulate count, pollen count, ozone, and wildfires. 

“It will be particularly useful to some of our research customers like Stanford University, which is using the VitalFlo platform to study the respiratory impacts of increased wildfire exposures,” said Marshall. 

Both companies are 2019 Techstars accelerator graduates; Ambee joined the Techstars Bangalore Accelerator, the first Techstars accelerator in India, and VitalFlo joined the Techstars Impact Accelerator, the cohort for startups solving social and environmental problems. 

The partnership will integrate Ambee’s air quality monitoring solution with VitalFlo’s digital healthcare platform.

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Here’s why air quality matters

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), researchers have found that air pollution can “make asthma symptoms worse and trigger asthma attacks.” According to the EPA website, environmental factors can have similar effects on chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients. 

But it’s not the same for everyone. The effect of pollens or pollutants on triggering an attack “may vary from person to person”, notes The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) in a resource website, which is why it’s important for patients to monitor how their individual condition may change with air quality changes.  how air quality affects their condition. 

If patients understand how changing environmental factors affect their asthma or COPD condition, they may be able to adjust their medications to avoid attacks or flare-ups. 

But Marshall said that air quality data can be “a tricky thing to get right.” 

“The largest free dataset (for the US) is via the EPA’s AirNow API,” said Marshall. “While it’s relatively simple to integrate with, AirNow suffers from a lack of uniformity from location to location (e.g., some weather stations have different sensors). Without cleaning and interpolating the data in some way, it is really challenging to use in many settings.”

Since Ambee’s core expertise is in making quality datasets both usable and affordable, the partnership will, according to Marshall, enhance the VitalFlo product offering without diverting from VitalFlo’s core offering of pulmonary function testing and analysis.

“VitalFlo and Ambee are on the same path to help improve the lives of people that are affected by climate change and poor air quality, and we’re excited to support VitalFlo in their mission to greatly improve the lives of people living with chronic respiratory illnesses,” said Jaideep Singh Bachher, CEO of Ambee, in the press release.

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VitalFlo breathing easy with strong growth

Marshall has also shared that VitalFlo recently launched with Sovah Health, their first hospital system partner, and is deployed in many independent clinics throughout the country, with about 1,000 patients in studies being conducted by their research customers, which include several universities, the CDC, the NIEHS, and more.

VitalFlo was launched in 2017, quickly earning both a $50k NC IDEA SEED grant and a $75k investment from The Launch Place’s Big Launch Challenge in 2018. The startup has also received funding from the NASA future contest, the North Carolina State Lulu eGames, and the National Science Foundation’s SBIR program, and has participated in both the RIoT Accelerator Program and Techstars. 

Last year, the startup scored $2.14 million in seed funding in a round led by Geekdom Fund and opened a second office in Portland, Oregon. 

And earlier this year, they announced a partnership with Vitalograph, a provider of respiratory diagnostic products and clinical drug trial services that’s been operating for about 60 years.

Raleigh startup VitalFlo breathes easy with new partnership for ‘smart respiratory health monitoring’

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