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Jamesville-DeWitt grad wins $46,000 for ‘Hail Mary’ idea to improve physical therapy

When Ben Catania was a student at Jamesville-DeWitt High School, all he wanted to do was play football. Then an injury changed everything.

Catania tore an ankle ligament during his senior year of high school with the Red Rams. He never fully recovered, despite extensive physical therapy and attempts to get back into sports at Cornell University. But it inspired him to come up with an idea to improve physical therapy for caregivers and patients.

“Once I got hurt, I had to reframe my life and figure out what I was going to do,” he told syracuse.com | The Post Standard. “I did a bit of coding in high school for fun. I was always interested in starting my own business at some point.

Catania has launched Yoomi, an AI-powered healthcare platform to connect physiotherapists with patients following home exercise programs. The app includes interactive games that assess participants’ movements in real-time video with motion tracking technology to enhance rehabilitations with movement corrections and motivational messages. A leg raise program, for example, shows a range of motion that physical therapists can adjust so patients can work out at home.

This image provided by Yoomi shows a leg raise exercise for physiotherapy.

“The number one problem in physiotherapy is lack of patient compliance and engagement. Also, because patients do not consistently complete their exercises at home, physiotherapists must spend most of their time re-teaching the same exercises,” he explained in a business pitch for Dr Pepper’s recent “Hail Mary for $23,000” contest.

“Hail Mary” is a national initiative that rewards budding entrepreneurs with tuition and seed funding for business ideas in a “Shark Tank”-style competition. Catania was one of three finalists invited to pitch in person to Dallas Mavericks owner and entrepreneur Mark Cuban, Elon University soccer player and TikTok star Jon Seaton, and Executive Vice President and Dallas Cowboys Chief Brand Officer, Charlotte Jones.

Catania said she spoke with a number of physical therapists, including her own, while researching the project. Clinical trials have also been conducted with Rutgers University and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in the New Jersey Health System.

During his demonstration, he invited Cuban to try out a basketball program that monitored Cuban’s form as he shot for a hoop – virtually. Cuban laughed as he ran a non-existent ball through the net, then offered some serious advice.

“You’re not a tech company, you’re a marketing company,” Cuban said in Catania. “Because technology – there’s a thousand people out there who can do that, right? The hardest part is creating those relationships, and that’s what you’ve done best… it’s your relationship that will set you apart.

Yoomi

‘Shark Tank’ star Mark Cuban tries Yoomi’s basketball program for physical therapists to assess movement. (Pictures provided)

Celebrity judges picked Yoomi as the winner, awarding Catania $23,000 for her Cornell tuition and $23,000 in seed capital for her business. The prize breakdown is a nod to Dr. Pepper’s famous 23 flavors.

Catania, a 2019 JD graduate, said the money would allow him to work on Yoomi as CEO full-time when he graduates with a business degree from Cornell in the spring. In the meantime, he and his team are working on marketing clearance from the United States Food & Drug Administration.

“It’s a tool that we give to physical therapists and hospital systems,” Catania told syracuse.com. “Patients have identifiers that they can access…Because we process patient data, we have to be careful of that.”

It’s also the biggest amount of money Yoomi has raised to date, and goes a long way toward helping his team of “broke students” who built the platform by their boots. He said the tuition money would also help his family, which has a lot of health problems.

“It’s really going to be a game-changer,” Catania said.

Benjamin Catania

This 2017 file photo shows Benjamin Catania (#12) during a Jamesville-DeWitt football game against Oswego. (Photo – Roger Hagan)

For more information about Yoomi, visit https://yoomi.health.

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