By Sonam Jain
Each and every one of us, especially during these trying times, has felt the personal responsibility and duty to keep our loved ones safe and healthy. For family caretakers, they take on even more responsibility, which can prove challenging and lead to burnout and stress. In order to combat this problem, UC San Diego entrepreneurs Ji Lee and Brandon Peck co-founded Mercury Health, a hands-free remote medical alert device designed to detect and respond to both emergency situations and consistent patterns in patient behavior.
Lee and Peck’s journey with Mercury Health started as early as high school at Yorktown High in Virginia, when they won first place in the US Imagine Cup competition as the team leaders of “Project Mercury,” an AI based fall detection system with vocal inquiry. From here, Lee attended UC San Diego, Peck attended the University of Virginia, and they founded the startup while living on opposite coasts.
We connected with Lee to dive further into his inspiring story behind co-founding a startup in San Diego as a young tech entrepreneur.
Year Founded: 2018
Headcount: 9 students recruited by Lee and Peck
Headquarters: The Basement (Mandeville Auditorium, UCSD)
Technology: Mercury Health uses artificial intelligence “to detect specific events or emergency situations using an encrypted optical sensor data.” Upon purchasing, caregivers can personalize the motions detected to align with the needs of their patient or loved one. Additionally, the product uses machine learning to record patterns such as repeated falls or consistent bathroom breaks; caregivers are thus notified immediately of the specific activity after which they can take the necessary steps to ensure patient safety. The startup’s essential goal is to utilize artificial intelligence to create a “smart caregiver” or assistant to ensure the safety of our community. While the product is currently a stand-alone device, tailored to be set up in a household, the startup aims to create an iOS app for Mercury Health in the future.
Market Potential: The market for caregiving products is set to grow 13 percent in the next four years, “resulting in an aggregate revenue opportunity of $279 billion” (AARP 2016). According to estimates from the National Alliance for Caregiving, 29 percent of the U.S adult population (or 65.7 million Americans) serve as caregivers for an ill or disabled relative. Of these caregivers, nearly 90 percent of them report suffering from lack of sleep. Lack of sleep often causes forgetfulness, which can throw off patterns of proper medicating, feeding, and supporting of a patient performed by a caregiver. With Mercury Home, Lee hopes to alleviate the lives of caregivers by creating a dependable product, reducing their need to stay with their patient at all times.
Inspiration: Growing up, Lee watched many of his close family and community members struggle with health issues. Having felt helpless for years, he and Peck decided Mercury Health was a product they felt passionate enough to pursue. Lee said he wishes he had access to a device like this when his loved ones weren’t receiving the immediate care they required. To him, Mercury Health was “not about the money, but rather about the long-lasting impact it will make on the caregiver and patient industry.”
Challenges: Like many student entrepreneurs trying to figure out their path, Lee’s biggest crossroads was in determining whether he would abide by the norm and acquire a full-time job post college or pursue his passion of creating a startup from the ground up. With the full support of his family, he decided to commit to Mercury Health and “fulfill his hopes of bettering the community around him while designing a product he can call his own.”
Funding: Lee and his team received $2,000 in funding from The Basement at UCSD, which helped in the initial stages of creating a prototype and procuring necessary materials. Aside from this, the team bootstrapped the remaining funds. Looking forward, Mercury Health aims to secure twenty to fifty paying customers before scaling further. As for its revenue model, the product will be sold on a $35/month subscription-based platform, with the first month being free.
Mentors: In the process of founding Mercury Health and learning about the entrepreneurial community, Lee attributes much of his success to his mentors: Christine Liou, Monal Parmar, and George Eiskamp. Lee met his mentors while working in The Basement and believes he “couldn’t have done anything without their guidance and support.”
On the Horizon: After releasing the product out to the public, Lee hopes to grow his network and work with companies to market the product. In order to further promote the product, Mercury Health plans to rely heavily on social media ads, word of mouth, and consumer campaigning. They’re currently working with one of Southern California’s largest in-home care services and in the progress of partnering with geriatric facilities and institutions to learn more about the industry.
San Diego Tech Ecosystem: Lee sees the San Diego tech ecosystem as rapidly growing towards being “the place to be as an entrepreneur.” He intends to headquarter and grow Mercury Health in San Diego. As someone who got his start at The Basement, Lee credits the incubator as one of the primary startup growth influencers in the region, as well as one of the few incubators sponsored by a university. With the new remote environment, Lee believes “San Diego and the local startup scene will continue to flourish and expand with the plethora of resources available in supporting a thriving startup ecosystem.”
Tacos: Lee’s favorite place to get tacos is The Taco Stand in La Jolla.
Editor’s Note: TritonTech is an original series on UC San Diego created by Fresh Brewed Tech that showcases the innovative ideas born in the halls of academia that are making a great impact on our ecosystem and beyond.