“Make the Product as Accessible as Possible”: an Interview with Hot Spot

Jeffrey Henebury
TechArb
Published in
6 min readAug 21, 2017

by Jeff Henebury

It’s a rare privilege, seeing the early stages of an innovation that might very well save lives. Those involved with the TechArb Student Venture Accelerator this summer have been lucky enough to witness such growth through Hot Spot, whose smart-fabric socks can predict and potentially eliminate diabetes-related ulcer development — all while remaining both affordable and user-friendly. It’s a venture that represents the very best of what TechArb hopes to develop: smart, ambitious students with an eye towards furthering the greater good.

I recently sat down with one of Hot Spot’s founders, Anthony (Joey) Fici, to talk over how the company came to be and what comes next.

(L to R) Rowena Ng, Azia Harris-Martin, and Joey Fici present at Tech Trek

Can you tell us a little about yourself, your team, and your business?

We’ve designed a smart-fabric-integrated sock for diabetics. Diabetics are prone to foot ulcers, which are the leading cause of diabetes-related amputation in the United States. With Hot Spot Fabric, the idea is that a temperature-sensitive, color-changing material can work as an early alert system; patients can have a hands-on monitoring tool that’s easy to understand and gives immediate feedback, so that they know if there’s any development of ulcers in their feet and can take preventative action.

I’m a Materials Engineer at U-M, going into my final semester. Hot Spot was originally a student project through the Fast Forward Medical Innovation program; there were four medical students working with a doctor, and they came up with the concept. They pitched it at a Shark Tank-style competition and applied for funding, but they were hitting some road bumps and found that no one was taking them seriously without a prototype. So they turned to the College of Engineering for help, where it was turned into a Senior Design Project. That’s where my group of six engineers joined, and we made the sock prototype, which we want to be our company’s first product.

Can you tell us a bit more about who Hot Spot will help?

Hot Spot’s designed for people in the diabetic community who are currently reliant on insurance coverage to get access to wellness devices. They might be lower-income and/or lower-mobility. So we’re trying to make the product as accessible, simple, and understandable as possible so that they can easily monitor their ailment.

Azia and Joey coaching high school entrepreneur mentees

That’s great that your team was able to connect across very different disciplines — medical and engineering — to get Hot Spot started. How did that connection happen?

That was our professor, Max Shtein; he’s part of the Materials Science department, and he’s also part of the Center for Entrepreneurship. He was the coordinator for the Senior Design Course, and when he got the request from the Medical School for prototype help, he turned it into something we could do for our class. And when he saw how successful we were in actually making a prototype and suggested this could be something much bigger that we could move forward with, that’s just what we did!

We’re so glad he did! Has taking part in TechArb changed the way you’ve approached your business?

Going into this, the engineers on our team really had no idea how to run a company — or even be a part of a company. We needed to learn the business side, what it would take to make this company successful. TechArb’s really given us multiple perspectives — a lot of focus on exactly what we need to accomplish, and finding the right people to talk to. I’d say, if we’d done it all ourselves we’d have had very little success!

Rowena Ng explaining the product to a Tech Trekker

Has Hot Spot’s business approach shifted during your time here?

It has, a bit. We met with some people who know a lot about FDA regulations. We wanted to be more of a medical device to start, and we’d identified our competitors in the market. But after talking to people who knew the regulatory body, they actually told us that they’d looked into our competitors, and they’re not FDA-regulated because they’re not sold as medical devices.

And that was kind of an epiphany: “Oh, they were able to avoid regulation and go straight to market because of the claims that they make.” We were actually overthinking it before that; it turns out we don’t have to claim that we’re solving the problem of diabetic foot ulcers; we’re a monitoring device, we’re going to help people be fully aware of their condition, rather than fixing it. Luckily we found this out not too far along, so it didn’t ruin everything for us!

Agreed, it’s great that you caught that early! What’s something you’ll remember after you’ve finished with the accelerator?

We did a Spotlight presentation — presenting to other teams and the TechArb community about what we’re struggling with at this point, and people chime in and give advice. Ours had to do with our ecosystem map, which is a way we can visually understand who to go to next, and how all these different players connect: how you get from a doctor to the people who are influencing the purchasing of your product within the hospital, that kind of thing. So we presented our ecosystem map, and people looked and said, “Well these things are missing,” “I think you’re looking at it the wrong way over on this end, what about this…” We also presented our logo idea. It’s just a great little workshop — the group brainstorming is a lot of fun.

Hot Spot’s logo, before and after

We’re a pretty young team at Hot Spot on the engineering side — most of us just graduated or, in my case, are soon to finish undergrad. There’s so much experience within the TechArb cohort, so much excellent insight. It’s a great community within the cohort — you can say, “This is really hard right now, I’m not sure what to do!” and people bring up so many good ideas. It’s amazing.

That’s really wonderful to hear. Before we finish, for those in the community reading this, is there anything Hot Spot needs help with right now?

Our biggest concern right now is knowing the right people in the ecosystem. We have great resources through our medical team, can talk to lots of doctors and patients that could potentially use our product down the line, but there’s so much more to it. We need to know manufacturing, distribution, and the eventual retail of the product, getting it in the hands of consumers. It’s slowly getting better as we make connections, but if someone just knows more than we do about the selling of health & wellness devices, it’d be so much easier.

To learn more about Hot Spot, follow them on Twitter. If you can help Hot Spot or just want to connect, email them at hotspot2020@umich.edu!

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