Startup Profile: Ready Teddy
By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail, according to both Benjamin Franklin and LaunchPad participant Max Orozco. Nearly half of children who receive an MRI require sedation because the unexpected loud noises and confines of the test cause them to move, rendering the results unusable. After working with children as a neuro-imaging researcher at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA), Max realized adequately preparing children can dramatically reduce sedation rates.
To this end, he created Ready Teddy, a virtual reality technology that helps children prepare for MRIs. After creating a prototype in 2019, he won first prize at the Medical Capital Innovation Competition at the Cleveland Clinic, filed a patent on Ready Teddy’s IP, developed partnerships with CHLA, Stanford Children’s Health, and the Keck School of Medicine of USC, was selected to participate in the Blackstone LaunchPad Social Impact Fellowship, and recently won second place at the LaunchPad Annual Pitch Competition, held virtually this year at Startup Grind’s Global Conference.
Without Ready Teddy, a child who needs an MRI is assessed by a child-life specialist, who asks the parents if they think their child can stay still for the duration of the scan. Depending on the answer, the child’s age, and the length of the test, the advocate will suggest whether the child needs sedation, which typically includes propofol, ketamine, or fentanyl.
“We insert ourselves into the protocol,” Max explains. “A nurse puts a virtual reality headset on the child and a friendly bear walks them through the experience, sights, and sounds of an MRI. There are games to help teach the kids to stay still.”
The biggest concern with MRI result usability is head motion, and the VR headset measures head motion perfectly, helping the team assess whether the child needs sedation. The biofeedback and habituation techniques that Ready Teddy employs are not new — some well-resourced hospitals use a fiber-glass mock scanner to help children prepare for MRIs. This device, however, is large and expensive, meaning most hospitals can’t access it. Not only does the size and price of Ready Teddy make it more accessible, the program is available in both English and Spanish, with plans to add additional languages soon.
Increasing access to quality healthcare is a key motivator for Max. While the average sedation rate for children getting an MRI is 49%, Max has noticed that the number often varies by population. At one large, well-resourced hospital that serves primarily white, higher income patients, Max reports that child sedation rate is as low as 18%. At another institution that serves primarily lower-income, non-English speaking communities, he learned the rate is closer to 66%.
“That disparity is part of our mission,” Max said. “There’s an unfortunate cycle in healthcare. Wealthier, privately insured patients get access to better tools, have lower sedation rates, and report better patient satisfaction. That increased patient satisfaction reinforces their reimbursement rate, meaning those hospitals can continue providing better care. The opposite happens on the other side of the system, and the gap is widening more and more. By providing interventions, we hope we can bridge the income gap for urban hospitals and give all kids the best possible chance.”
While Max knew that Ready Teddy solved an important problem, he’s the first to admit that he needed help turning the idea into a company. In addition to bringing his brother on board to develop the VR experience, he turned to the Blackstone LaunchPad at his alma mater, the University of Southern California, for support.
”My background is in sciences. I think linearly, in terms of tests and hypotheses. Through LaunchPad, I’ve learned how much of entrepreneurship comes down to storytelling. It’s important to be able to articulate the problem, your solution, and what you see for the future.”
In the lead up to the LaunchPad Pitch Competition, Max was coached by a Blackstone Ambassador, Senior Vice President of Transformation Jai Subrahmanyam, who helped him improve his storytelling.
“The experience was fantastic,” Max said. “We only had two minutes to pitch, and it can be really difficult to boil everything down into succinct messaging. Having a mentor with a fresh set of ears helped me focus on the main points to touch on.”
In addition to the coaching, Max appreciated the opportunity to connect with and learn from the other participants during the Pitch Competition.
“I was so happy that Hopscotch won,” he said. “Pediatric healthcare is one of the most difficult fields to innovate in. It can be a really long haul. It’s been wonderful to see LaunchPad be so supportive of companies like Ready Teddy and Hopscotch who are trying to change the dynamics of pediatric healthcare delivery.”
When asked what advice he might give to other students considering entrepreneurship, Max had only to pause briefly before saying, “Be persistent. I’m a first generation college student, and the first member in my family to get a graduate degree, but I also come from a family of entrepreneurs — my grandfather had a tile shop and a bakery. It’s all about persistence. The more you push, the longer you push, the more that people will see your work. Focus on the value you can bring, and just keep pushing forward. Keep pushing forward.”