Angel investors put faith, $160,000 in Ashland firm

iPad app helps emergency room workers, boosts patient attention

Frustrated by tools unfit for his tasks in hospital emergency rooms, Brian Phelps decided there was a better way.

When Apple introduced the iPad two years ago, the ER doctor sprang to action. "After 10 years of frustration using information systems in emergency departments, I knew there was a better way," said the chief executive officer of Montrue Technologies in Ashland. "There's a great depth of development talent here, and the people look out for each other."

By GREG STILES

Mail Tribune

Necessity remains the mother of invention.

When Ron Gandy re-started his roofing company in Grants Pass to provide a summer job for his son three years ago, the State Accident Insurance Fund required a ladder safety plan.

That led the retired air traffic controller to develop a device that connects ladders to gutters or the house itself.

Contracting friends and families knew he was on to something.

Attendees at the Southern Oregon Angel Investment Conference agreed, awarding Gandy and his wife, Carrie, the Concept Company award, providing $7,500 in mentoring, incubator aid and cash.

"There was nothing on the market like it," Gandy said. "We used to just tie a rope around the gutter."

The first 50 sets were fabricated at Brill Metal in White City during the summer of 2009, and patents are moving through the system.

Last month, Ladder-Tite sold 150 units. The homeowner units retail for $29.95, while the contractor pack sells for $36.95.

The vision, however, is to grow well beyond a few shops in Josephine County.

"We either want to keep the business in the Rogue Valley or license it to large ladder companies," Gandy said.

The biggest drawback at this point, he said, is liability insurance.

"Liability insurance costs $2 per unit," he said.

He recruited two fellow Ashlanders: Eric Turner, a veteran of startups and a developer of Apple-related software, and Matthew Beers, a chief systems operator for a Chicago firm.

In just more than two years they've produced a technology that will give ER personnel a better handle on their jobs and provide patients more attention.

Their emergency department information system grabbed the attention of 23 investors who awarded them the $160,000 Southern Oregon Angel Investment prize Wednesday at Bigham Knoll Conference Center. Montrue Technologies beat out Blue Feather Products, Organic Nation and Eco Vision Packaging Inc. for the award.

It was the second angel investment award for Montrue, whose name comes from the French word for platform. The group captured a $200,000 investment 10 months ago at the Willamette Angel Conference in Corvallis.

"We were all experts in our field, so we knew we had as good a chance as anyone," said Phelps, a native of Martinez, Calif. "Being a startup CEO is a lot like being an emergency room doctor: you have to make critical decisions with limited information."

Montrue Technologies is on the brink of testing its systems at Ashland Community Hospital, but it also is negotiating with other hospitals.

"The market is evolving, and we're in very good position to ride the wave of mobile devices into the mainstream hospitals," Phelps said. "Our system solves a huge problem for all hospitals that have emergency departments."

"This is a team which would stand head and shoulders with some of the Silicon Valley teams," said Jim Huston of Portland Seed Fund, who was not among the investors. "If you're going to do big things, you need a good team."

Turner was a founder of Starseed, whose WebRing product was a key component of a $33 million acquisition by GeoCities that in turn was sold to Yahoo for $4.6 billion.

Turner said he's armed with experience he didn't have in the past, but every startup is different.

"Problem solving is different," Turner said. "The people you work with are different. There are some common elements, but the most important element is chemistry. No matter how great the idea or how smart the people, if you can't get through adversity together, you don't have a chance. We have a rare combination of talent, opportunity and chemistry."

Beers' role is to work with hospital technology staffs.

"When Brian came to me, he had a very unformed idea, but definitely had strong opinions about the things doctors need to do their job," Beers said.

The solution developed to aid emergency room doctors was a software application for iPad called Sparrow, allowing doctors to do multiple patient-related tasks while "looking patients in the eye," Phelps said.

The other software element known as Ground Control lets the company interact with hospital databases so the information collected by the emergency staff goes where it's needed with the intended results. They hope to begin testing the system in Ashland later this month.

The idea is to reduce the complexity of getting the information in and out of the system, Beers said. "That part's complicated."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or email business@mailtribune.com.


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