The UCI startup is tapping into the growing online education market to teach students from high school to medical school basic surgical procedures.
It’s no secret the online learning community has exploded to accommodate the pandemic’s massive shift to digital platforms. But SimRated has been ahead of the curve since 2018.
SimRated is a UC Irvine (UCI) startup that provides online simulation training programs for medical procedures with a mission to improve patient safety by effectively training healthcare workers and students to perform these procedures through simulation-based training. Co-founder and CEO Dr. Cameron Ricks, clinical professor of Anesthesiology and director of the Medical Education Simulation Center at UCI’s School of Medicine, and his team have honed the program’s development and are now in revenue, reaching hundreds of students in their path to startup success.
FROM CLASSROOM TO COMPUTER
For over a decade, Ricks has taught anesthesiology and, during his time as the director of the Medical Education Simulation Center, began to realize a potential venture in online simulation training.
“I saw there was an opportunity to increase the number of students that we could influence and were able to train medical procedures by standardizing and putting the training online,” said Ricks. “SimRated allows you to remotely evaluate participants and students in medical procedures on simulators.”
About five years ago, Ricks and his partners, Michael Ma, co-founder and chief technology officer, and Keith Beaulieu, co-founder and chief operations officer, started a conversation about the concept for SimRated. Although the team agreed that it had great potential, they decided to wait to see if someone else in the market would think of the same idea.
“We thought ‘well, we’re not business people, we’re medical people, someone else is going to do this. It’s a great idea, this is clearly the next step,’” said Ricks. “We waited and started looking around and no one was doing it and we decided to take a stab at it.”
After Ricks provided the initial funding to get the software into development and other expenses, SimRated launched in October 2018 and less than a year later, his team began marketing SimRated’s programs to high schools and technical schools.
“Cameron and I work toward standardizing medical education, particularly in medical simulation for increased competence and patient safety down the line,” said Beaulieu. “We have customers in high school career and technical education programs using our products to learn how to do vital signs and suturing, all the way to the other side of the continuum with advanced airway techniques for medical students.”
SimRated’s program features over 30 online courses that teach students, from high school to medical school, different healthcare procedures, ranging from proper handwashing to intubation. Lately, their focus has turned into a business-to-business approach with high school teachers being their main demographic.
“There’s a lot of interest, especially recently,” said Ricks. “Because the kids aren’t in class, a lot of teachers were really looking for online opportunities, so we do fit that bill.”
This is how it works: A student logs into SimRated and studies the reading materials, and then takes an online exam. After passing the online exam, the student watches a video of the procedure while marking a checklist provided on the screen, which is based on the information from the assigned reading and the video components. The students will then upload a video of themselves completing the procedure where Ricks and a team of clinicians review and use the checklist to calculate the student’s score. A student with a score greater than 90 percent passes the course.
“We’re having fun with it; it’s an entrepreneurial adventure. It’s education for us; we’re learning, we get to interact with high school students and teachers,” said Ricks. “We also get to interact with the clinical experts who help develop the videos.”
THE ONLINE BUBBLE
Though SimRated’s original intent was to provide an online learning tool for students interested in the medical field, the abrupt shift to online learning during the pandemic helped the team gain momentum in high school classrooms across California, as teachers sought out new programs.
“Education is changing and people are looking to see what’s out there and are interested in online options, especially in spaces where they may not have that primary education because having a physician or nurse come into the classroom is not always possible because these clinicians are busy,” said Ricks. “We solve that problem by coming into the classroom remotely and I think that’s part of what attracts the teachers, as well.”
Though the world’s switch to online learning has been beneficial for the startup’s impact on high school educational reach, SimRated experienced their first sale about a year and half ago. Currently, their primary clientele, high school teachers, range in location from the Bay Area to Los Angeles Unified School District and local school districts in Orange County.
“SimRated allows me to scale my impact,” said Ricks. “It’s one thing to teach a group of six people every day, it’s another thing to be able to impact hundreds or [even] thousands of people.”
Since its launch, the SimRated team has utilized UCI Beall Applied Innovation’s resources and programs to help the startup progress. Because Ricks was using his own capital to initially fund the company, Ricks consulted with licensing officers to ensure he was launching the startup through the appropriate UCI avenues. The team also took part in the I-Corps program, Applied Innovation’s market discovery program funded by the National Science Foundation, and have since joined the Wayfinder incubator, where the team remains as they move their startup forward.
“Our first customer came to because Juan Felipe [Vallejo] introduced me to an Innovation Advisor who said I should call this high school,” said Ricks. “So, I called and that was our first customer.”
Looking ahead, the team plans to study the growth of their startup, during and post-pandemic as well as expand into more high schools. SimRated also wants to move into higher education, like junior colleges and medical schools, Ricks says, each one with their own separate market and learning curves.
“My hope is one day this grows big enough that I can work for fun and stay at UCI because I enjoy it,” said Ricks. “I think I have many years until that happens, so I’m not quitting my day job anytime soon.”
Learn more about SimRated.
All Photos and Graphics: Julie Kennedy, UCI Beall Applied Innovation
Produced by UCI Beall Applied Innovation
Directed & edited by Julie Kennedy
Filmed by Josh Kaiser & Julie Kennedy
SimRated training videos provided by SimRated