March 18, 2019

“Stand on the “x” in the center of the stage. Watch the timer. You have three minutes!” Those are the words I heard as I walked onto the intimidating SXSW stage. Then, it hit me. I was in the perfect place, standing in front of an audience including eight leading children’s hospitals who were there because they care about kids. As I worked to calm my nerves, I reminded myself they were there to learn about new innovations to help children. I took a deep breath and started to tell them about Prapela.
The Impact Pediatric Health Pitch Competition at SXSW is well known among pediatric innovators. The first IPH SXSW competition was held in 2015 to foster innovation in pediatric solutions. It fills a critical need, because the smaller size of the pediatric market does not attract early stage investors. Prapela applied in 2018 and was rejected. However, the progress we’ve made since then with SVS convinced us that 2019 could be our year. So, we tried again. With fingers crossed, I hit “submit” on December 12th and then waited as the weeks passed. Then, on January 29th we got word that Prapela was one of 12 finalists from a field of 100 applicants. We were going to Austin.

The alarm at 4 am on March 7th wasn’t very welcome after practicing my three-minute pitch most of the night. It was in the mid-20’s outside and dark. Still, a good cup of coffee and a lot of anticipation kept me alert on the drive to Boston’s Logan airport. I kept repeating my three minutes on the drive, the flight and again on the shuttle to the hotel surrounded by fellow entrepreneurs who were similarly engaged. 

March 8 at SXSW, and it was showtime. With all the ground-breaking innovations in pediatric healthcare presented that day, I did not envy the judges. They were introduced to pediatric solutions for developmental delays, hearing difficulties, visual acuity and brain bleeds. There was new cardiac monitoring technology, a new type of heart valve and a virtual reality solution to relax children during scary medical procedures. It was impressive. Everybody was on their A game as the judges asked tough questions.

In the nerve-wracking minutes before winners were announced, I received a text from a benefactor wanting to know if SXSW was “productive.” I didn’t respond. Then I heard “Prapela” announced and felt the rush. I immediately thought of all the people and organizations that helped us along the way. It felt good texting back “we won!”

The next day it became clear all twelve companies were winners, as we learned IPH and Energizing Health had arranged for all of us to meet one-on-one with several interested investors and collaborators. It was a perfect way to bring us all back together.

Prapela left SXSW with $25,000, along with introductions to eight leading children’s hospitals, several investors, and new friends leading companies to help children. Our award will help fund clinical research projects using our SVS to help the world’s fussiest babies – those exposed to opioids during pregnancy -- and the caregivers in hospitals and homes who care for them.

Prapela is honored to win this award and to have been given the privilege of meeting and working with so many dedicated individuals as we introduce SVS to help newborns breathe, relax and sleep.

Please follow us on our journey to bring SVS technology to the infants who need it. Register here for the latest in news and updates.


You’d think that 12 start-up CEO’s competing for a cash prize and recognition would be pretty frosty to each other during warmups. That’s just not the case when it comes to healthcare competitions. One reason is our products are usually vastly different. In fact, Prapela was the only company with a solution for opioid-exposed babies. What binds us are the challenges and the excitement of introducing new innovations to help others. Almost immediately, everyone exchanged business cards and offered encouragement, especially appreciated after our verbal flops and plentiful feedback during rehearsal.

That night I checked into my hotel before meeting up with Dr. Paydarfar and his amazing wife. While at UMass it was Dr. Paydarfar who had the inspired idea that Stochastic Vibrotactile Stimulation (SVS) could help preemies and newborns breathe better with a random, non-habit forming, vibration that doesn’t disturb sleep cycles. Shortly after we started Prapela, he left UMass and Harvard to take on a new challenge at the Dell Medical School at UT Austin. Over dinner we excitedly discussed Prapela’s next steps to bring the amazing innovation we call SVS to market.

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