You’re probably wondering who the funny avatar startup founder is and why he doesn’t have a “real” head shot. That guy is Dom Raban, the founder and CEO of Xploro, an international award-winning startup that removes the fear and anxiety kids feel when facing serious illnesses and treatment. And Xploro does it in a way that meets kids on their level, through interactive digital content that looks like their favorite games. One the Dom’s claims is that this “gamification” approach not only informs kids, but it also eases their anxiety so once they get to the hospital, they know what to expect. As a father of three whose kids have been known to freak out at a regular doctor’s appointment, I immediately saw the value. I invited Dom to a VisionTech Angels Screening Committee meeting earlier this month. The group immediately saw Xploro’s potential and invited him to present at our October 26 pitch events. Here’s a preview.
BP: How does a startup from Manchester, England, land in Cleveland, Ohio?
DR: That’s a long story so I’ll try to make it short. In 2021, I was introduced to the venture arm of University Hospital Cleveland Medical Center by Plug and Play, an accelerator. We co-developed a project together and it went so well, they wanted to invest in us. We also worked with Jumpstart Cleveland. The state is home to top children’s hospitals, one of which recently became a customer. So in the end, Ohio chose us for our U.S. office. The Midwest location makes it easy to reach out to the rest of the country and is more affordable than the West and East Coasts.
BP: How did you find out about VisionTech Angels?
DR: JumpStart Cleveland has been a great connector for us. They introduced us to Boomerang Ventures, which led to an introduction to VisionTech Angels. I’m also a friend and colleague of Lindsay Watson, whose company Augment Therapy is a VisionTech Angels portfolio company. She put in a good word for you.
BP: Tell me a little about yourself and your background as an entrepreneur.
DR: Except for a time in college where I delivered pizzas, I have always been an entrepreneur. For the last 30 years, I’ve been founding and running digital and creative agencies that specialize in the design and development of games, mobile and emerging tech. As a designer, I’ve always been drawn to interactive design and software that prioritizes human-centered design. I enjoy looking at things from the end user’s perspective and designing for their needs and goals.
BP: Where did the idea for Xploro originate?
DR: When my daughter Issy was 13 years old, she started taking horseback riding lessons. When she started learning how to post with the horse’s trot, she had extreme pain in the tumor in her sacrum. She was given morphine for two weeks before being diagnosed with Ewings Sarcoma, a bone cancer. When meeting with doctors, they talked to us, her parents, not recognizing Issy and her need to know. So like any other person, Issy went to Dr. Google to do her own research. The first thing she sees is her type of cancer has a 20% survival rate. The lack of information made her incredibly anxious and although she is now cancer-free, she is still reluctant to engage with healthcare providers.
I discovered from other parents that Issy’s experience is common. Anxious patients are expensive patients due to the lack of age-appropriate information. It causes anxiety, repeat testing, more sedation, higher medical costs, poorer clinical outcomes, problems at home, longer appointments—the list goes on.
I knew there had to be a better way so starting in 2016, when my agency had downtime, we started working on the Xploro platform. In 2019, it was officially spun out as a standalone company and here we are, changing how kids approach health challenges.
BP: Explain what Xploro is and how it works.
DR: Xploro is a disease-agnostic, patient-engagement platform that uses augmented reality, AI, and game play to deliver health information to young patients ages six to 14 to reduce anxiety and improve procedural efficiency. Xploro’s purpose is to prepare kids for the unfamiliar and “scary” environments and processes they experience during diagnosis and treatment of a serious disease. It educates them in a way that’s accessible and familiar: in an interactive game-like format they use on a phone or tablet.
Here’s how it works. The child creates their own avatar “friend” who guides them through the information. Their Xploro avatar can look just like them in terms of race or gender or totally different; it’s up to the child. This builds trust. Here are some examples of what a child learns. How an IV works. They see an arm, how the needle goes in and how to breathe to relax. They can experience an MRI in Xploro so when they see the actual machine, it’s familiar. And rather than giving a kid access to Xploro the day they come to the hospital, they get it days in advance, so they learn what to expect in a way that calms anxiety before it starts.
Reducing a child’s anxiety with Xploro, reduces repeat procedures, reduces the need for procedural sedation, encourages adherence, encourages patient-reported outcomes, better supports caregiver staff, and ultimately leads to better outcomes.
BP: Where are you in terms of commercialization?
DR: Xploro is live. Our first customer was Boston Children’s Hospital, the second ranked pediatric hospital in the U.S., which was great validation. The top ranked pediatric hospital, Cincinnati Children’s is now a customer as is Chicago Comer Children’s, Corewell Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, University Hospitals, plus a number of children’s hospitals in the United Kingdom. Our annual recurring revenue has grown by 54% since the fundraising round was originally priced in January. We’ve had so much success with pediatric cancer, we’re now building the Xploro platform out for any patient, any age, any condition, anywhere.
BP: Do you have intellectual property protection?
DR: We’ve protected our name and URL and applied for patents. No patents to date.
BP: How big is your market?
DR: The pediatric healthcare market that includes primary, secondary, and tertiary care is $70 million and is based on children’s healthcare providers purchasing information solutions. Our objective is to expand the Xploro platform to adults in 2025, which will dramatically increase our market size.
BP: You seem to have a number of competitors. What’s your advantage over them?
DR: You’re right, Ben. It’s an emerging market and there are a number of competitors trying to solve the information gap for the pediatric market. We’ve done three things to differentiate Xploro from all the others. First, we’ve positioned our platform for kids, somewhere between Pokémon Go and The Sims. Our production value is really high, definitely on the level of these games, so kids feel comfortable from the start. Our competitors position their solutions as hospital-provided information, which turns kids off. Second, we don’t require special hardware such as a VR headset. All of our content is accessible on a phone or tablet. Again, kids feel right at home engaging with Xploro. Third, we have published academic research that shows using Xploro reduces anxiety in kids, caregivers are more efficient and satisfaction rates are high.
BP: What round is this?
DR: This is a seed round with the goal of raising $1.7 million. We’ve already closed on $1.45 million and want to close on remaining amount by mid-December. We don’t plan to oversubscribe the round so those who want to invest should act quickly.
BP: What is your planned use of funds?
DR:The funds we’re raising will go to develop content for new treatment and disease areas, build out the sales and customer success function and extend our runway through 2025.
BP: Give me three reasons why VisionTech Angels members should invest in Xploro.
DR: That’s easy: Team, Traction and Trust. Our whole team is fantastic, but I’d like to call out Stefan Agamanolis and Joe Kemp, Stefan is our chief strategy officer and has spent more than a decade at Akron Children’s Hospital in Ohio as director of patient experience and chief innovation officer. He really understands the customer side. Joe is our technical wizard and strategist. He has 20 years of experience building immersive technologies for companies like Sony and is the perfect fit to lead our tech team. We have traction, which is validated by having the top two children’s hospitals in the United States as customers. Trust comes in from Boomerang Ventures, which was very thorough in their due diligence of Xploro and has closed their investment.
BP: What does your daughter Issy think about all of this?
DR: Issy’s now grown up and started her own career. She’s very proud of what we’re doing. She’d just rather not be the “face” of Xploro. (Laughs)
VisionTech Angels’ Virtual Pitch Events will be held Thursday, October 26 at 12 noon ET and 6 pm ET. Pitch events are open to our members and accredited investors interested in joining our group. To register, check your email for an invitation or visit our Events page where you’ll find the RSVP links. You can also email Ben Pidgeon at firstname.lastname@example.org.