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Former Steelers quarterback, Pitt team up for startup

By Harrison Kaminsky / News Editor

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Charlie Batch’s Pittsburgh heroics started with his game-winning drive for the Steelers in 2012. Now, he looks to take that sports fame off of the field and into the doctor’s office.

Impellia, a Pittsburgh-based sports medicine startup led by now-retired quarterback Batch, has partnered with Pitt to develop and commercialize Pitt-created sports medicine technologies and innovations, according to a University press release on Tuesday. Impellia will act as a middleman by preparing those technologies for market. According to Marc Malandro, associate vice chancellor for technology management and commercialization and interim director of the Innovation Institute, Pitt completed the deal with Impellia because “we thought they had the best ability to commercialize our technologies, with the added benefit of having a new company here in Pittsburgh to benefit the region.”  

According to the release, these Pitt-researched innovations include interACTION, PIVOT and Versatile and Integrated System for Telerehabilitation, or VISYTER. InterACTION is a joint-function monitoring tool used to improve physical rehabilitation. PIVOT is a tablet application that quantitatively assesses the pivot shift test, the most specific clinical exam for diagnosing a torn ACL. VISYTER is a software platform that can be the base for developing telerehabilitation applications.

According to Richard Walker, co-founder and managing member of Impellia, Pitt was “a good place to start” for the company because of its “outstanding reputation in sports medicine, healthcare and engineering space.”

Malandro also said Batch’s NFL experience will help drive Impellia’s success. 

“When we start companies around Pitt innovations, we try to find people with ‘domain expertise’ to serve as leaders of those teams,” Malandro said. “Who better to partner with than a company that has a professional athlete as a key part of the team?” The specific terms of the deal are confidential, according to Malandro.

Walker said Impellia’s technologies will benefit a mix of people. 

“We can go after the professional sports leagues, major colleges and universities, high school and youth sports,” Walker said. “There’s also the healthcare side to it. Grandma, who just had her knee replaced, can use it as well. There’s a nice blend between sports and health care.” 

According to the release, plans for the partnership between Pitt and Impellia began last summer with an introduction to the Pittsburgh Technology Council, a regional trade organization for local technology-based companies. 

“We had a getting-to-know-you meeting with Impellia,” Evan Facher, director of enterprise development for the Innovation Institute, said in the release. “They had a list of some of our technologies they were interested in, so we brought in those innovators to give 30-minute presentations to the group.”

Walker said, aside from his football career, Batch is a businessman. 

“He’s owned multiple companies and is a partner in [Impellia],” Walker said. “He really brings the professional sports experience and relationships.”

Batch has previously worked in the restaurant and real estate industries, and Walker said Impellia is his first technology-focused venture.  

“Through Charlie’s 15 years in the NFL, he had six surgeries and knows top class, top-notch medical service,” Walker said. “Part of our goal is to bring that top-notch, elite technology to the public.”

Impellia is not the first company to partner with Pitt as a developer and licensor. 

According to Malandro, since 1996, “more than 104 companies have been started based on Pitt innovations, including six in fiscal year 2014.”

Notable partners Pitt has worked with include ALung Technologies, Inc., Cohera Medical, Inc., Panther Learning Systems, Inc., NanoVision Diagnostics, Inc. and Diamond Kinetics, Inc., among others. 

Walker said Impellia will use the “option period” to do customer discovery and kick the tires on the technologies to identify the best-use cases. 

“The period allows us greater access to the innovations. As we figure out the best use cases for the technology, we also want to identify the type of people that can use it,” Walker said. “Ultimately, we want a suite of integrated tools that address the growing rehabilitation and wellness market.”

Walker said Impellia’s partners are looking forward to the future opportunities they have with Pitt and other institutions.

“The folks at the Innovation Institute are very helpful, and we’re looking at this as the beginning of a long-term relationship,” Walker said.

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Former Steelers quarterback, Pitt team up for startup