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Part of the Shift Labs team at its new office.

After three months in Y Combinator, an oversubscribed financing round, and a large federal grant, Shift Labs is well on its way to helping doctors and nurses take better care of their patients.

ShiftLabs co-founder Beth Kolko.
ShiftLabs co-founder Beth Kolko.

The Seattle startup just reeled in a $1.6 million seed round and a $300,000 USAID Ebola-related federal grant that will help the 6-person company accelerate development of its DripAssist medical device that monitors IV drips.

Shift Labs just moved into a new office in Fremont — a few steps down the hall from GeekWire HQ, actually — adding another milestone to what’s been a busy 2015 for the three-year-old company.

Co-founder Beth Kolko and CTO Koji Intlekofer spent the first three months of the year at Y Combinator, the premier startup accelerator located in the Bay Area. Kolko, an educator-turned-entrepreneur who teaches Human Centered Design at the University of Washington, said she was intimidated before moving to Mountain View for three months but called the experience “transformative” for both her and her company.

The DripAssist.
The DripAssist.

“All stereotypes of Silicon Valley with gender and age flew out the window,” she said. “I was really nervous about those things, but it was the most inspiring and welcoming community I’ve ever been a part of.”

Kolko, whose previous co-founder left the company in 2013 due to family-related issues, spent an extra month after Y Combinator with Intlekofer raising the seed round and returned to Seattle with capital that’s helping Shift Labs roll out its product.

The DripAssist monitors and measures the pace of IV drips, which eliminates the risk of fluid overload, but does not require special tubing sets and relies on a battery-operated flow monitor. As a result, the product — which runs off one AA battery — features a more simple design and cheaper cost than what’s available today to help minimize training needs and save hospitals money, Kolko explained.

“We identify unmet needs within the market,” Kolko said. “We’ve found that those needs are often unmet because lower-cost, lower-margin devices don’t fit with existing business practices. We have built a business model that makes lower cost devices a viable part of a for-profit business.”

The funding, which came from a mix of institutional and angel investors, has enabled Shift Labs to hire more employees and pursue partnerships with distributors around the world. It has interest from organizations like WHO and UNICEF and the company is awaiting FDA clearance for the DripAssist.

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“We have a variety of international distributors that want to sell the device,” Kolko said. “It’s really exciting.”

Kolko and two colleagues are headed to Rwanda this weekend to visit a national teaching hospital and conduct environmental, accuracy, and usability testing for the DripAssist product. Next month, Kolko will travel to an Ebola treatment unit in West Africa to do usability testing.

Kolko also plans to bring along other medical devices, like Thomas Larson’s Micro Phone Lens, to show doctors and nurses in Africa. After three years leading the charge at Shift Labs, Kolko knows how difficult it is to actually get an idea or prototype into the hands of customers or patients. Now that she’s experienced the process first hand, she wants to help other entrepreneurs do the same.

“One nice thing about YC and the funding is that it puts us in better position to help other innovators,” Kolko said. “That’s really important to us and is the core of our mission.”

Kolko noted the difficulty with bringing medical devices to market, but she’s committed to seeing Shift Labs succeed.

“If you are a hardware company, manufacturing is really hard,” she said. “If you are a medical device company, regulatory is really hard. If you are selling internationally, distribution is really hard. Put those three things together — it’s really hard. But, it’s also really fun.”

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