U of A spinoff company named Edmonton Startup of the Year

True Angle Medical Technologies recognized for success of life-changing device that helps cancer patients regain their ability to swallow.


The U of A spinoff company True Angle Medical Technologies was named Edmonton Startup of the Year in recognition of its successful U.S. market launch of Mobili-T, a "mobile therapist" device and app that help cancer patients regain their ability to swallow. (Photo courtesy of True Angle Medical Technologies)

A University of Alberta spinoff company that created a life-changing device to help cancer patients regain their ability to swallow is being recognized for its growing success.

True Angle Medical Technologies Inc. has been named Edmonton Startup of the Year by the National Angel Capital Organization (NACO), which helps foster investment in early-stage companies to facilitate growth and success across Canada.

The award was given in recognition of the company’s strong business strategy and growth in launching Mobili-T, a pocket-sized, home-based swallowing exercise device, into the United States market last fall.

“It shows how our company has been able to bridge the gap between having a product in the lab and taking it out to the real world,” said Jana Rieger, co-founder and CEO of True Angle and a professor in the U of A's Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine who led the development of Mobili-T.

Born as an idea in Rieger’s lab in 2013 with co-founders, research colleagues and U of A alumni Dylan Scott and Gabriela Constantinescu, Mobili-T—short for mobile therapist—is being used by speech-language pathologists to help patients recover from swallowing impairments.

“It shows how our company has been able to bridge the gap between having a product in the lab and taking it out to the real world.”

Research has shown that approximately one in six adults in the United States will experience a swallowing disorder in their lifetime, as a result of conditions such as stroke, cancer and neurological disorders.

The one-of-a-kind mobile exercise device is now being used in 21 American states, has attracted $3.4 million in grant funding and $2.5 million in investment since 2014, and has experienced a 25 per cent month-over-month increase in sales since launching, thanks to a huge grassroots following among the customers using it, said Rieger, who is also director of research at the U of A’s Institute for Reconstructive Sciences in Medicine.

The product is marketed online, but word of mouth among clinicians about the affordability and high performance of Mobili-T has mushroomed over the last six months as they talk to their colleagues, she noted. 

“For a long time speech pathologists have been looking for a technological solution to improve their outcomes and they’re so excited, they’re talking to other clinicians about it. It's been exciting to fill this need they had for this kind of technology.”

While occupational and physical therapists “get their bionic walking suits and arm movement devices and speech-language pathologists have tongue depressors and dusty workbooks, our patients deserve the best we can offer. This device could be an accessible purchase for most departments,” said Marie Severson, a speech-language pathologist based in Wisconsin. 

Mobili-T is a wireless piece of hardware that senses muscle activity when placed under the chin and gives patients direct feedback about swallowing muscle activation. An app that provides real-time biofeedback on a mobile device, such as a cellphone, leads patients through swallowing exercises. 

The device pairs real-time visual biofeedback with a smart software-based coaching system, all while maintaining a direct connection to the speech-language pathologist, who can, for the first time ever, reliably track a patient’s progress. The software offers a personalized approach to health by helping people set targets for their daily exercises, through sensing their muscle energy levels and setting realistic goals. 

Good online reviews are showing how the benefits of Mobili-T are being felt by patients struggling to eat and drink normally, Rieger noted.

“When I started with your product, it took me five hours to drink a cup of coffee. I can drink one now in 15 minutes! And I am now drinking two of them a day. This is a big improvement for someone like me,” said a New Jersey customer. 

“I have moved from just water to having at least one pureed meal each day,” wrote another patient recovering from tongue cancer. “I hope to continue to improve even more.”

Work continues on refining Mobili-T to meet patients’ individual needs, said Rieger, noting that True Angle has already collaborated with 11 U.S. centres including Stanford University and the Department of Veterans Affairs to gather real-world evidence about what types of patients and clinicians to focus on. 

True Angle has expanded its team to 10 employees—including nine U of A graduates—some of whom are working on strengthening Mobili-T software to track nutrition, symptoms and exertion levels in patients. “It increases our ability to make therapy more personalized.”

The company also plans to expand into the European markets in the next few years, and has gained permission from Health Canada to start testing the device with patients in Alberta.

Rieger said she’s excited about True Angle’s growth, noting that early assistance from organizations such as TEC Edmonton, ThresholdImpact University of Alberta Venture Mentoring Service, University of Alberta Health Hub & Accelerator and the Office of the Vice-President (Research and Innovation) helped give the company its start.

“Without those supports, it’s difficult to do something like this, but now we have an innovation that solves a big problem, we have the right team to do this, we have the potential to be massively scalable. All of these things make True Angle highly investment-friendly.” 

Mobili-T research and development has been supported at various points by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, National Research Council Canada, Alberta Cancer Foundation, Alberta Innovates and Glenrose Rehabilitation Research, Innovation and Technology program.

Great ideas change the world, but ideas need a push forward. At the University of Alberta, we know that push has never been more important as we do our part to rebuild Alberta and keep doors of opportunity open to all. We're making research discoveries. We’re cultivating entrepreneurs. And we’re giving our students the knowledge and skills they need to turn today's ideas into tomorrow's innovations. Read more stories about U of A innovators.