Driven by his own medical nightmare, Chen Sarfati Halabi founded a start-up on a mission to eliminate human error in medical labs, especially fertility clinics. After his family attempted to conceive a child through IVF via a surrogate, they discovered that the baby being carried was not their own, and not just because it was being carried in another woman’s body. They were faced with this startling revelation only because the Israeli government requires couples to undergo genetic testing if they use a surrogate. That pregnancy, sadly, ended when she miscarried.
Distraught and confused, Sarfati tried to trace back the original samples to find his biological child – if he or she exists – and found to his dismay that there are so many ways in the system that a mistake like this could be made, that it would be almost impossible to trace back his original DNA sample among the millions of others.
“One in every 100 couples who undergo fertility treatments will experience a mix-up and people don’t speak about it,” Sarfati said.
Halabi eventually founded a startup — Verified Planet –to bring lab-security and quality-assurance management solutions to an overburdened health system. The startup applies specific codes to samples that can only be accessed by using a unique password, ensuring that only those authorized to access a sample can do so and will have to follow a strict procedure every step of the way.
Chen Sarfati Halabi
Verified Planet was just one of a dozen intriguing and important Life Sciences startups participating in the first ever Israel Lean Launchpad program, which just wrapped up in Jerusalem. The Lean Startup method is a five-month “crash course” that teaches start-ups how to cultivate, market and fine-tune their ideas using immediate feedback of their potential customers and partners at the earliest stage possible. The Lean Launchpad program, a condensed 2-month affair focusing on scientists, engineers, academics, and entrepreneurs, was brought to Israel for the very first time by businessman and philanthropist Paul Merage, who designed the Launchpad method based on the Lean Startup methodology. Ran Meged, Merage Institute leader for the Israeli Lean Launchpad said the focus of the program is to train entrepreneurs going from research to product and the transformation of their ideas into business models.
The focus of the Jerusalem program was to help accelerate life sciences startups in an increasingly competitive ecosystem. Implemented in ten day-long workshops and seminars scattered over 2 months, the program focused on the startups’ commercialization, including rapid-fire feedback from target audiences on business hypotheses, revenue models, partners, storytelling and more. The startups exhibiting at the graduation ceremony in Jerusalem’s Kahn Theatre were all tackling one type of health system pain point or another.
RenewSenses, a startup working on a way to convey vision through sound, worked on an app that connects to glasses which stimulates areas of the visual cortex so the person can recognize objects, and even faces, through sound.
Genetika+ helps doctors decide on the appropriate medications to administer to patients suffering from depression, by analyzing blood tests based on genetic markers for depression. The company says it has a patent pending, is two years away from hitting the market and a clinical trial is currently underway.
CardioVia makes a device to perform an accurate cut between the layers of the heart’s pericardium membrane, with no needle ever pointed directly toward the heart.
Bringing Lean Launchpad to Israel was a collaborative effort, involving Start-Up Nation Central, The Jerusalem Development Authority, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and its new innovation arm HUJI Innovate, The Jerusalem School of Business Administration, The Magid Institute for Continuing Education founded by Hebrew University, and Yissum, the technology transfer company of the Hebrew University.
Start-Up Nation Central, an independent nonprofit that helps develop Israel’s innovation ecosystem and builds bridges to it globally, was involved in the effort through its Jerusalem ecosystem development team, led by Executive Director Wendy Singer. SNC’s role in Jerusalem is to act as a conduit for connectivity between all the capital city’s centers of innovation and its startups, investors, businesses, local and national government, design colleges, and other tech industry stakeholders like multinational corporations.
Wendy Singer, Executive Director, Start-Up Nation Central, at the NGO’s offices in Jerusalem.
“Lean Launchpad fit the bill,” said Singer. SNC’s Jerusalem ecosystem development also includes developing the major annual Tech Meets Design events series and convening a Jerusalem Tech Forum for the city’s stakeholders. “While we’re based in Tel Aviv, we chose to put down a flag in Jerusalem both because it’s the capital and because it was an interesting test bed. It’s a small but growing tech ecosystem. If positioned well, the formula of success can be replicated in cities all around Israel and maybe even the world,” Singer added.
Meanwhile, Verified Planet’s Chen Sarfati Halabi is resigning to the idea that it would be impossible to find his and his wife’s original embryo. The mixup, as he later learned, was caused by confusion as there was another couple with the same last name seeking treatment at the same time.
“I have no chance to find my baby, if he’s even out there.”
Still, Sarfati is pushing to get his company off the ground, at least so that others won’t have to go through the same painful experience.
The next Lean Launchpad class is scheduled to take place this summer and the current group of graduates will participate in the prestigious Merage Lean Launchpad event in California.