By Brooke Geils & Diana Wright, ISU Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship
This story is part of a series featuring each of the twelve startups in the CYstarters 2017 summer cohort. Each team had the opportunity to focus on their startup or business idea while receiving $6,000 or up to $12,000, along with mentorship, accountability, and educational sessions on how to build a business.
Get to Know: Dillon Hurd
School: Iowa State University, Bachelor’s degree in Biological Systems Engineering, minor in Biomedical Engineering; Currently pursuing a Ph.D and Masters in Biological & Chemical Engineering
Hometown: Roland, Iowa
Passionate about…serving others through the use of my talents which most days means building technologies with the goal to save lives.
Most recently I…went to Phoenix to present my research at the Biomedical Engineering Society Conference.
Currently working on: Hurd Health Group
Hurd Health Group is a bio-medical engineering company developing novel solutions to the most challenging problems with current cardiac devices. The Heart of Tomorrow™ is the company’s first research and development project, focused on the development of a wireless, pulsing ventricular assist device to give quality of life back to those suffering from heart failure.
Origin? During my time as an undergrad at Iowa State, my then-girlfriend (now wife), was having heart surgery at age 18 for a rhythm disorder. I read up on the surgery and learned if it didn’t go well she would have to take medicine the rest of her life or eventually need a heart transplant. That’s when I started looking into heart assist technology…
Circling back to Iowa State, Professor Rollins in Chemical Engineering & Statistics joined me and helped support the grant. He convinced me to work towards my Ph.D due to the level of research I had initially accomplished. I’m lucky because all of my post doctoral research is on a topic and project I care deeply about.
Why is this important? Why now?
In the United States alone, more than 735,000 heart attacks occur annually, with 5.7 million adults suffering from heart failure. Every year, $110 billion dollars are spent on treating heart attacks and an estimated $20–39 billion on heart failure in the United States. There is a substantial need right now to more effectively treat and resolve the problem, as heart failure remains one of the greatest costs & challenges facing our country’s health.
What is currently being done after someone experiences a major heart failure?
If your heart is pumping less than 20% of what it should, then you are going into heart failure, and you need a heart transplant. Unfortunately, it is rare to get a heart that matches you. In the meantime, you may be put on a heart-lung machine. This is a very high risk solution because of the many tubes coming out of your body — it is not a long term solution.
The remaining options include a continuous flow ventricular assist device (VAD) or a total artificial heart (TAH). Current day VAD devices on the market require external leads (more invasive) and turbine-driven pump machines (causing Thrombosis due to a body’s response of rejecting foreign objects).
Tell us how The Heart of Tomorrow™ works.
Our product will replace the current ventricular assist device (VAD) by not having any moving parts (not relying on turbine-driven pumps). This is crucial because the blood in your body attacks moving parts, creating situations where you can get blood clots that may lead to death.
The Heart of Tomorrow™ is an electromagnetic device that is placed on opposite sides of the heart, pulsating the heart to prevent stretching and to move with the heart’s natural rhythm.
We see it as a bridge from heart failure to transplant. By addressing the problems associated with exit lead infection, The Heart of Tomorrow™ allows for wireless charging and a highly energy efficient drive system.
What is your biggest challenge today?
The electromagnet is the challenge right now. I am working on a flexible magnet that bends and stretches with the heart. Another setback in general is entering into the world of medical research. It is kind of an old boys club, so just getting them to recognize your name is frustrating and time consuming!
What has made you successful?
Iowa State has been great on bringing the project forward. Dr. Rollins, my major professor, has helped with the research and credibility. In addition, Iowa in general has a strong support for small businesses, so it’s a perfect place to start out.
Advice to Aspiring Entrepreneurs
Most of what you learn about business will not be in the classroom. You need to read, listen, and talk with other entrepreneurs. Then go out and DO it. The classroom is for the fundamentals, and I believe continued education is key.
Finally, create opportunities from wherever you see problems. Find value in the things that are your passions. If you have a passion, turn it into a business.
Favorite Part of CYstarters
The education workshops — it’s great to listen to those who have had experiences, backgrounds in business, and are just knowledgeable in general. Listening and learning from their successes and mistakes is great. I have also enjoyed networking with other CYstarters students going through the program. Everyone has a unique view and a unique way of doing things.
Momentum so far…
Grants from National Institute of Health (NIH) through the National Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) & Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) programs;
3MT — a thesis competition speaking about the project;
Selected and currently going through the ISU Startup Factory program.
How can others join you?
Two ways — I would appreciate any connections to doctors in the cardiology field and specifically connections to those who are performing these transplants. Second, we hope to have internship opportunities for students next summer and will be looking for students interested in working in a startup. Please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.