Plimes secures $1.4M seed round, helps hospitals monitor swallowing ability of elderly patients

Plimes founders – From left: CCO Atsushi Nitasaka, COO Tomoya Shimokakimoto, CEO Kenji Suzuki, CTO Dushyantha Jayatilake
Image credit: Plimes

See the original story in Japanese.

Plimes, a healthcare startup spun-off from the University of Tsukuba in Japan, announced in late March that it has raised nearly $1.4 million US in a seed round from robotics venture Cyberdyne (TSE: 7779), a fellow University of Tsukuba native for the startup. Plimes is also allying with Cyberdyne to accelerate the development and market expansion of their product.

In general, people’s swallowing ability decreases with age, which puts the elderly at risk of aspiration and in turn increases the chance of pneumonia and/or death. Physicians may choose to alter the diet of patients with the decreased ability to swallow by switching them from solid food to mashed pastes, or in some cases patients may require gastrostomy for direct nutrients.

Gokuri, the startup’s product, is a medical support device designed to improve the quality of life (QoL) for such eldery people. The device routinely measures whether or not swallowing is normal from the sound picked up using a microphone attached to a user’s neck, and it aims to improve the efficiency of user rehabilitation. The ability to accuratly monitor swallowing increases the possibility that the user can regain the power to eat and enjoy tasty solid foods.

The Gokuri swallowing monitoring device
Image credit: Plimes

This is seed funding for the Plimes team after 10 years since they started basic research at the University of Tsukuba and the University Hospital of Tsukuba back in 2010 (not yet incorporated at that time). Funding was made possible by Gokuri’s high level of accuracy, 97.3% or more, with regards to measuring normal and abnormal swallowing conditions, and the establishment of a business model using hospitals as sales channels. The current business model assumes that hospitals will adopt the solution to improve medical services for patients.

Plimes COO/Co-founder Atsushi Nitasaka says,

For example, hospitals don’t want to see any patient with a brain tumor is cured by surgery but goes on to die of aspiration pneumonia the first time he ate. […]

During the process of starting development and advancing the product market fit, we realized that there is a need for doctors to monitor the patients’ diet. However, doctors cannot be continuously looking after them. This is where our solution can help. Our business model supports hospitals with their goal of discharging patients quickly.

In collaboration with Kyotango City in Kyoto, Tarumizu City in Kagoshima, and Fukuoka Prefecture, and other local governments, the company has been conducting practical tests with elderly participants at local medical facilities. Plimes feels that Japanese startups are uniquely skilled at developing solutions for aging societies, and since aging is a social issue common to developed countries, they have started global business expansion. Plimes is currently conducting demo tests in the US, Germany, and Denmark.

The Gokuri swallowing monitoring device
Image credit: Plimes

In line with the latest funding, Plimes will begin recruitment of skilled team members for each speciality: testing for swallowing, monitoring studies, medical device development, business development, speech therapy, cloud application development, and AI technology. Cyberdene, one of the investors in thiis round, has its hands in health and medical related business, so we can expect to see emerging synergy. Plimes will receive widespread support from Cyberdyne for engineering, back office functions, and the development of sales channels.

Plimes was adopted into the Japan Science and Technology Agency’s startup business “JST Start” initiative back in 2015 followed by being incorporated in 2018. Additionally, the company has had excellent results at numerous startup events and initiatives, including receiving the IP Bridge Award at the Asian Entrepreneurship Award 2018 and winning the 2nd “Startup Accelerator Tsukuba” Demo Day.

Translated by Amanda Lynn
Edited by Masaru Ikeda