Wisconsin State Journal | Business Class: Madison startup develops conversational AI tech for healthcare uses

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Wisconsin State Journal | Emilie Heidemann

Nick Myers remembers when he was around 8 years old, having to grapple with a harrowing leukemia diagnosis and the treatment that came after.

The now-CEO and co-founder of Madison-based startup RedFox AI, with an office on the city’s East Side, had trouble consuming oral medications. His only alternative was massive injections that his parents had to give him. The procedure sometimes required the guidance of a health care professional over the phone, which for Myer’s parents meant minutes to hours of waiting to get someone on the line.

That experience fuels Myers’ ambitions now as RedFox AI is actively developing a technology, using conversational artificial intelligence, that aims to help people walk through how to take specific medical tests, such as screenings for cancer. And Myers envisions a future in which an AI digital guide not only instructs a user, but offers emotional support as well.

RedFox AI launched in 2019, Myers said, initially with a focus on using the skills of Amazon’s Alexa virtual technology assistant as a backbone to create voice applications. But after the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on the healthcare industry, Myers and the RedFox AI team of less than five employees shifted their focus. Amid the health crisis, the team observed how millions have turned to diagnostic tests as a way to find out if they’ve contracted the illness.

Then in August 2021, RedFox unveiled its conversational AI tech, which has so far captured the attention of health care companies and organizations both locally and around the U.S. The startup has yet to receive its first round of investment funding, Myers said, but he expects that to change soon. RedFox has grown without external funds since its formation, he said.

“Nick Myers and his team have built a conversational AI platform that represents a coming wave,” said Wisconsin Technology Council president Tom Still, who saw the tech demoed in 2019. “(The software) is a prime example of tailored conversational AI, which can be ‘trained’ for specific uses. It’s a natural evolution in voice AI technology with possible uses in health care, which is the RedFox target, but other business sectors, as well.”

Pulling up the software on his phone and computer monitor, RedFox chief technology officer and co-founder Brett Brooks demonstrated on Wednesday how the tech is supposed to work. The user asks the AI a question about a medical test, in this case for COVID-19, and a voice similar to Apple’s Siri or Alexa responds. The tech then provides instructions about how to take the COVID-19 test, and helps the user troubleshoot any problems that may arise as it’s administered.

Then in August 2021, RedFox unveiled its conversational AI tech, which has so far captured the attention of health care companies and organizations both locally and around the U.S. The startup has yet to receive its first round of investment funding, Myers said, but he expects that to change soon. RedFox has grown without external funds since its formation, he said.

“Nick Myers and his team have built a conversational AI platform that represents a coming wave,” said Wisconsin Technology Council president Tom Still, who saw the tech demoed in 2019. “(The software) is a prime example of tailored conversational AI, which can be ‘trained’ for specific uses. It’s a natural evolution in voice AI technology with possible uses in health care, which is the RedFox target, but other business sectors, as well.”

Pulling up the software on his phone and computer monitor, RedFox chief technology officer and co-founder Brett Brooks demonstrated on Wednesday how the tech is supposed to work. The user asks the AI a question about a medical test, in this case for COVID-19, and a voice similar to Apple’s Siri or Alexa responds. The tech then provides instructions about how to take the COVID-19 test, and helps the user troubleshoot any problems that may arise as it’s administered.

Already, the startup is in talks with companies like Madison-based biomedical giant Exact Sciences, maker of the Cologuard test, which allows people to screen for colon cancer at home, as well as Milwaukee-based Rockwell Automation and other companies to bring its tech to market.

But official agreements haven’t been signed yet, Myers said.

A powerhouse?

RedFox AI likely plays a role in what Washington, D.C.-based think tank Brookings Institution said last fall is Madison’s potential in becoming an AI powerhouse. Educational institutions like UW-Madison only boost that notion, a Brookings report states.

Brookings used seven metrics to assess the research capabilities and commercial activities of 385 metropolitan areas in the United States. The metrics put each area into one of five categories.

The report touted Madison as a center for research (the third category), but suggested that in order to keep up with the country’s emergent AI industry, local business leaders should forge more corporate research partnerships with UW-Madison, promoting entrepreneurship and encouraging local job retention and attraction.

“Significant money is flowing into the region to support almost exclusive contracts or research and development initiatives,” explained Mark Muro, Brookings senior fellow and report co-author last fall. “That’s very important in itself. At the same time, because federal research done at UW-Madison is also building a talent base of skilled researchers and graduate students, there’s a pipeline for future AI expansion.”

Digest

  • Madison-based electronic health records company DeliverHealth has acquired Presidio Health, a health care technology company based in San Francisco for an undisclosed amount of money within the last few weeks. Presidio Health provides software that helps read medical charts, and DeliverHealth aims to simplify health care workflows not only for EHRs, but also patient engagement and tech that keeps track of revenue streams.
  • The Madison Region Economic Partnership is piloting a vanpooling program for its eight-county coverage area. MadREP is partnering with Enterprise Rent-A-Car to help people without adequate transportation options commute to work. The program will provide a $500 grant per van per month for up to three van pools, according to a statement from MadREP. The organization plans to announce in the next few weeks some companies that are taking advantage of the program.
  • An organization that promotes the growth of women and minority-led businesses, Madison-based Doyenne Group, has through its Evergreen Fund made a $50,000 investment into a company that has created a “toolbox” that helps people plan development projects. 2ft.D is a Milwaukee-based women- and veteran-led company.
  • The Ideadvance Seed Fund, out of both the Center for Technology Commercialization and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., has opened its 13th round of grant funding for which state businesses can apply. The deadline is July 21. Launched in 2014, the fund has awarded grants to 82 companies, totaling $2.8 million.
  • A groundbreaking ceremony for the Urban League of Greater Madison’s Black Business Hub development on the city’s South Side is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on April 8 at 2222 South Park St.
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