Growing up, Jonathan Truong ’18 was a very avid tennis player, a decent break dancer and he loved to rock climb, but he was injury prone.
“To date I’ve had five different surgeries, one of which was my ankle. My ankle should have taken eight months to heal, but it ended up taking two years because I didn’t do my therapy,” said Truong, an entrepreneurship major from Texas. “When I felt ok, I went back to playing tennis and reinjured myself through the course of those two years. My regret of not doing my therapy is something I want to help other people avoid.”
In his company, Verapy, Truong is using virtual reality to create games for rehabilitation.
“We empower patients to adhere to their therapy plans that their athletic trainer or their therapist has planned for them. We turn mundane exercises — let’s say a flexion and extension exercise of moving the wrist up and down — instead of doing that, you can play a game while doing it.”
As patients play the game, their range of motion and pain levels are being tracked and viewed from a progress chart.
“As patients play these games, therapists will know if their patients are actually doing it,” Truong said. “Noncompliance and efficiency issues are the main problems for therapists. If a patient is noncompliant, they get reinjured.”
Truong has letters of intent from The University of Tampa Athletics, as well as six physical therapy clinics, who are interested in doing beta testing. Truong is working on funding to create the patient profile database, so they can begin the beta testing.
The drive an entrepreneur needs to get through the struggles, to pivot and keep recreating their business, takes a tenacious spirit. The biggest motivator for Truong are his parents. His father, who spent a year in a concentration camp, and his mother escaped Vietnam in the late 1970s. They came to the U.S. with nothing and built their way up. Truong’s father worked in corporate America for more than two decades before starting his own trucking company transporting fracking sand.
Even with the drive of family pushing him forward, Truong’s start at UT was lonely. He was a transfer student who left behind his home state and his luxury menswear fashion design company, whose shares he gave up to his two business partners. Truong had participated in UT’s CREATE business plan competition in Fall 2016 and had come up with a new idea in a completely different field: health technology. He was feeling a bit like a fish out of water and had called home to express his concerns to his family.
A few days later, he was in a UT Entrepreneurs Club meeting and heard about Startup Weekend Tampa Bay, where startup enthusiasts gather in a competition to pitch ideas for new startup companies, form teams around those ideas and develop prototypes in one weekend.
“I’m a very introverted person at heart so when I heard about the program I didn’t want to do it. But I had just had that conversation with my mother — and thought if I don’t do it, I’ll regret it,” Truong said. “Lo and behold, I would have completely regretted it.”
By the next weekend, Truong was in front of 100 people pitching his idea, which was chosen as one of the business ideas to be focused on for the weekend.
“Just within those three days we pivoted, we changed, we got more than 300 surveys completed by physical therapists, and it was a really amazing experience,” said Truong, who is also involved in UT’s Spartan Accelerator. While his team didn’t win, he did meet his business partner, Tad Svendrys, now the co-founder and president of Verapy.
It was just the connection he needed. Truong got the momentum he needed for Verapy, landed an internship with the Tampa Bay Wave tech accelerator in May 2017, and by November 2017, he was accepted into the Tampa Bay Wave’s 90-day accelerator program. Over spring break, he participated in the program’s Demo Day, where he pitched to an investor network of more than 60 companies, 15 of which wanted to pursue further talks with Verapy.
In addition, Truong’s team applied for a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant for $225,000 for feasibility research from the National Science Foundation back in December and hope to hear the results this month.
“It’s really been quite a journey,” he said.
Materials by the University of Tampa. Original article “UT Senior Uses Virtual Reality to Encourage Physical Therapy Results” appeared April 3, 2018. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.