2022 Most Disruptive MBA Startups: Xpressivetech, University of Washington (Foster)


University of Washington, Foster School of Business

Industry: Medical Device

Founding Student Name(s): Ian Kopp, Khang To, and Jeff Shuey

Brief Description of Solution: “Xpressivetech has created a wearable medical device that helps patients with chronic pain communicate their pain effectively and enables objective, consistent measurements so doctors can provide more effective and proactive care.”

Funding Dollars: We have currently raised $7.5K from entrepreneurship competitions, but we want to raise $100k by the end of 2022.

What led you to launch this venture?

Ian: All of our founding members have family and loved ones who have experienced chronic pain. We know how hard it is for people with chronic pain to express their pain to their doctor and get treatment that is effective and accessible. Upon further investigation, we found that biases related to gender, age, ethnicity, race, and language can make communication of pain almost impossible for many people and determined that the 10-point pain scale is not an acceptable pain assessment tool due to the level of subjectivity that comes with it. We also knew that opiates and other pain medication were becoming a bigger problem and that many lawsuits were being brought to court due to the over-prescription of pain medication. That is why we decided to make a medical device that would help patients with chronic pain communicate their pain more effectively and provide an objective pain assessment tool for doctors so they can treat their patients proactively and reduce the over-prescription of opiates.

What has been your biggest accomplishment so far with venture?

Ian: Our biggest accomplishment was being accepted into the Jones Foster Accelerator Program (JFA) through the University of Washington. We participated in many competitions the previous year and had the privilege of competing in the Dempsey Startup Competition and the Holloman Healthcare Innovation Challenge. We feel that the JFA will help us reach the next stage in our company’s growth and success, and we have already learned a great deal so far. Through the JFA, we have gained a team of spectacular mentors and access to one of the largest networks in the PNW and we are grateful for the opportunity and support.

How has your MBA program helped you further this startup venture?

Ian: The UW MBA program was where the founding team met, and it has been an indispensable resource for our startup. We were taught to have a growth mindset and that core value has stayed top of mind as we created our company. The amazing network at the UW allowed us the opportunity to participate in competitions against some of the best in Seattle, gave us funding for our prototype development, and provided the tools we would need to perform customer discovery through the I-Corps/We-Reach Accelerator Program. The education we received throughout the program showed us the perspective and thought process needed to think more strategically and helped develop a solid foundation in accounting, finance, entrepreneurship, and marketing.

Jeff: The entrepreneurial classes in the Foster program provided an excellent source tools and practical experience in areas such as defining the problem to be solved, validating the solution with customers, pitching the idea, and adaptively iterating to refine and improve the idea and plans. The Software Entrepreneurship class in particular mixed MBA students with software developers and UI/UX designers and was led by a software professor and venture capitalist to create a startup-like environment and experience with a high level of enthusiasm and excitement.

What founder or entrepreneur inspired you to start your own entrepreneurial journey? How did he or she prove motivational to you?

Ian: The first inspiration I had for being an entrepreneur was my father. He had a carpentry and remodeling business and was a hardworking and determined person. He was always working long hours to provide for his family and showed me that building something isn’t easy, but it can be very rewarding.

As I got older, I became inspired by Nikola Tesla and his out-of-the-box, forward-thinking inventions. His creativity in science and engineering helped frame how I look at entrepreneurship. I always thought I wasn’t the creative type, but as I learned more about him and his inventions, I realized that innovation comes from creativity and that entrepreneurship is no different. To me, an entrepreneur is passionate, hard-working, and willing to take risks on something that no one has done before, and that is who I strive to be as a founder now.

Khang: My parents were coffee farmers in Vietnam. Their hard-working ethics inspired me to continue to work on improving myself. Their kindness and generosity with the little that they had inspired me to want to improve my community.

Which MBA class has been most valuable in building your startup and what was the biggest lesson you gained from it?

Ian: The most valuable class from my MBA that helped build our startup was entrepreneurial finance with Lance Young.  This class had one of the greatest variety of subjects possible all rolled into one.  While it didn’t go as in-depth as some of the other more specialized classes like supply chain management or strategy, it painted the bigger picture of business in general and “connected the dots” between all the different elements of business.  The class helped develop the founder mindset and added an entrepreneurial perspective that was often missing in the core MBA classes.

The entrepreneurial finance class showed me how strategy plays a role in defining a competitive advantage and the different paths that come from them, the basics of calculating free cash flows and how to navigate the different accounting sheets, how to develop term sheets and what the different jargon within them meant, and how shares and capitalization works for startups and companies.  Overall, the most important thing it provided was how all these aspects of business work together and how to take advantage of them to make a financial strategy that optimizes the competitive advantages that are available. While other classes have helped shape our vision and goals, this has had a major influence on our strategic planning and business plan.

Khang: Venture Capital Investment Practicum Entre 542 taught by James Newell. The class teaches students to think like real investors. As students, we are given the necessary tools to evaluate real early-stage startups. The VCIC competition which we competed at the end of the class solidified the learning throughout the entire quarter. We are given 48 hours to evaluate business plans and defend our rationale to real investors as to why we would invest in the company. The learning allowed XpressiveTech to clarify our value proposition and refined our pitch deck when we presented our idea.

Jeff: The class that I loved and that benefited me the most was Software Entrepreneurship. It was about finding a problem to solve, developing a solution with classmates, iterating, pivoting at times, and pitching with team mates to continually enhance the concept while receiving feedback and votes from classmates, the instructors, and entrepreneurial veterans. I learned so many amazing things, but the one that sticks with me the most is the power of telling a story. As an entrepreneur, it’s important to have an idea and a vision, but effectively sharing it with others, be they potential customers, investors, or collaborators, is so key to communicating that vision, shaping it, and inspiring people to get behind it, often through your personal connection to the issue and by demonstrating your passion for it.

What professor made a significant contribution to your plans and why?

Ian: Lance Young is probably one of the most influential professors for our business plan for more reasons than one.  Not only did he teach the entrepreneurial finance class, but he also took the time to talk to us about our startup on a 1:1 basis.  I remember telling him about our idea and talking through our strategy and he was just as passionate about it as we were. He was able to provide significant insight into the key issues we had and advised us on how to plan for the future of the company. His input has shaped the path that we have chosen and guided us toward the business plan we have today. Without his help, we would be on a completely different path and for that we are grateful he took the time to help us.

Khang: I was lucky enough to be enrolled in the full-year class of Angel Investing and Entrepreneurship taught by John Hansen. As an entrepreneur and angel investor, John’s wealth of experience was instrumental in answering all my questions about starting a startup. Just the simple act of having a professor who has struggled through the same concepts was enlightening. John was supportive and guiding in all his lessons and mentorships.

How has your local startup ecosystem contributed to your venture’s development and success?

Ian: We are fortunate to be a part of a very rich start-up ecosystem and have access to the UW entrepreneurial network. The community we have been welcomed into is the largest contributor to our success and we would not be where we are without them. We have been blessed with amazing angel resources that we hope to be a part of soon and have met many VCs and founders who have nothing but support and advice for us as we go through our development. Our company has had the privilege of competing in numerous competitions through the UW and other universities and received guidance and mentorship from many programs through the UW. I have also met many founders across multiple sectors and have found nothing but support and passion from everyone I have met. This experience has given me renewed excitement and passion for our solution and company, and this passion is what makes our ecosystem here in the PNW so special.

Jeff: The startup community in the Seattle area is amazing. There are opportunities for help and advisors with truly impressive credentials at every turn.  Although it is sometimes hard to hear, what I love the most has been the very honest inputs they provide. When you know that your advisors truly desire to see your success, then you begin to get excited to hear about potential issues and talk more about how your ideas can be continually improved. In addition to the advisors and programs available to help out, the other early-stage entrepreneurs we have met have also been very supportive on the journey, as they face similar challenges and can share both their stories as well as their encouragement.

What is your long-term goal with your startup?

Ian: When we started Xpressivetech, we wanted to make a product that would help patients with chronic pain get the care and understanding required to live fulfilled lives. We wanted to change the way people communicated their pain and reduce the amount of bias that exists in the healthcare system currently. That goal hasn’t changed, but how we get there has developed beyond our previous strategy.

Our long-term goal is to help patients, doctors, and hospitals by creating a product that can enhance communication, provide objective measurements, and reduce the cost of healthcare for patients who have chronic pain. We want to get a patent, FDA approval, and perform clinical trials for diagnostic capabilities and eventually have an IPO or be acquired by a company like Grainger, Merck, or Boston Scientific. We want to make a product that can be scaled and available to as many people as possible. We believe our product can revolutionize healthcare and we want to become the new gold standard for pain communication.


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