Yale startup Spring, which uses artificial intelligence to help doctors make the best treatment decisions for mentally ill patients, won the second annual Harvard-Yale Pitchoff. The event has been held for the past two years at Harvard Innovation Labs, and pits three startups from each school’s accelerator program against one another before a panel of judges from the investment community. Enthusiasm was especially high this year with the pitchoff happening just two days before the annual Harvard-Yale football game. Spring recently participated in the YEI Fellowship, an 8-week bootcamp for accelerating ventures run by the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute, and won the $25,000 Thorne Prize for Social Innovation in Health or Education from InnovateHealth Yale.
Cofounder and CEO April Koh (YC ’16), pitched at the iLab before a packed room representing both rival schools. Their technology is built around a machine-learning model developed by cofounder and Chief Scientist Adam Chekroud, a PhD candidate at Yale, in collaboration with John Krystal, Chair of the Department of Psychiatry, that was published in medical journal The Lancet Psychiatry. They have developed a 10-minute test that can identify which common antidepressant will work best for a patient with better accuracy than a psychiatrist. Spring’s platform is being developed by cofounder and CTO Abhishek Chandra (YC ‘16).
The team has had a series of successes since graduating from the YEI Fellowship. They received a $30,000 Bioscience Pipeline award, an innovation award from the American Psychiatry Association and they were accepted into the New York Digital Health Accelerator which connected them with leading healthcare providers including St. Barnabas Health System, Aetna and Medicaid clinics.
“We have a network of psychiatrists and are working to get our product into the hands of physicians,” says Koh. “With the help of these ‘beta users,’ we are able to refine our product and build something that’s really usable for physicians and patients.”
The team is focused on ending the trial-and-error process of early depression treatment. While the disease is widespread—impacting over 16 million adults in the U.S.—matching patients with effective drugs has proven challenging. Less than one-third of people treated for depression find relief from their first antidepressant, and the search for the right treatment can take years.
Spring’s test uses a proprietary algorithm based on clinical data to uncover the best drug option. With the test, “patients feel more confident,” Koh says. Doctors, too, have responded well to the platform and have guided the startup’s development. “We’re now providing doctors with the logic behind the results,” Koh says. “They want to know how the machine-learning works, and why we are making a certain recommendation.”
Other teams from Yale featured at the Harvard-Yale Pitchoff included Chops Snacks, which is developing all-natural beef jerky from premium brisket, and Connecticut Bail Fund, a social venture that provides bail to low-income people.