Bennett Gatto is a founder, CEO, and physical therapist with a commitment to improving the lives of patients with neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s. His startup, Active Therapy Systems, is located in Nicholasville, Kentucky. We sat down with Gatto to talk about it.
How did Active Therapy Systems begin?
Gatto: Back in 2012, I started doing volunteer work for a community-based nonprofit that coordinated exercise for Parkinson’s patients. Later, I gained clinical experience working in an outpatient neuro rehab center in Tupelo, Mississippi.
What I observed was that patients would improve while coming to the clinic, but when their care was finished, they would start to regress. I reconnected with contacts I met from my nonprofit days and began to put together a company plan that allowed for personalized medicine and exercise with online components and tracking for these patients.
My team officially formed in 2017.
Where did you obtain funding?
Gatto: We were successful in securing two grants in 2018 and 2020 that included state funding. By 2020, we were offering online classes—on-demand fitness for aging individuals, including those with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s—branded as Total HealthWorks. Total HealthWorks was the first product of Active Therapy Systems.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) grant, making progress in product development for Active Therapy Systems, is focused on evidence-based protocols, proprietary algorithms, and wearables.
We also joined the XlerateHealth cohort in 2021 and are working on relationships with health institutions, such as the Cleveland Clinic. We’ll be applying for Phase II SBIR funding in 2022, and we’re doing a round of fundraising now with friends and family to raise up to $850,000.
What were some of the roadblocks you faced in the beginning?
Gatto: I knew physical therapy, but not technology. We had to learn how to incorporate data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI) and automation into our product.
How did you get started with a tech solution for physical therapy for neurodegenerative diseases?
Gatto: The tech behind our solutions is really just a replication of what we’ve been doing in the clinic for the past 20 years. Our core team, Jackie Russell and David Zid, are the industry leaders in treating and helping patients manage Parkinson’s disease with regular exercise and lifestyle modifications. We’ve not only helped thousands of people with Parkinson’s and their families but have also educated and trained over 4,000 clinicians with our evidence-based methods.
Now we’re taking it to the next level by personalizing protocols and treatment sessions using data analytics. This allows us to provide the most effective treatment sessions based on the individual. Over the next 12 months, we will expand our reach to help those living with multiple sclerosis (MS) and mild cognitive impairment by adapting our protocols to meet the challenges of those diagnosis.
What do you see as the main advantages to your solution?
Gatto: We are improving the way that people with neurological disorders access physical therapy. For so long, participation in ongoing PT for these lifelong conditions has required a patient to regularly travel to a therapy clinic. That is burdensome, time-consuming and costly. Eventually, it’s not sustainable, and people just stop attending.
Our solution gives our patients control. It puts them back in the driver’s seat by providing virtual, personalized therapy sessions that can be performed at home, practically anytime they’d like, with care being monitored and managed by a physical therapist.
We are removing many of the barriers that prevent someone from engaging in therapy, ultimately helping patients improve and maintain their independence while also reducing costs. Compliance and communication are key. We can provide feedback to the patient’s neurologist via report structures for clinical decision-making. Some of the data monitoring is reimbursable, and this hybrid of telehealth and keeping patients exercising reduces falls. In some cases, it also reduces medications. We’ve now touched more than 200 patients with our model via online classes.
What are some of the advantages of launching a startup in Kentucky?
Gatto: Launching here in Kentucky has been great. There’s so much talent between the coasts with universities and smaller colleges scattered throughout the commonwealth. We’ve been able to find development talent and build relationships within the entrepreneurial community that has paid dividends over the past couple of years.
We’ve been fortunate to have participated in two Kentucky-based startup accelerators, Launch Blue and XLerateHealth. The help from the coaches and mentors and the experience we gained throughout both of those programs has helped us go from just an idea to a revenue-generating company that is supported by the NSF and the state of Kentucky. We’re very thankful for those opportunities and all that we’ve been blessed with here in this great state.