Jamesville-DeWitt grad wins $46K 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 soccer. Then an injury changed everything.

Catania tore a ligament in his ankle 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 the sport at Cornell University. But it did inspire him to come up with an idea to improve physical therapy for both 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 little bit of coding in high school for fun. I was always interested in starting my own business at some point.”

Catania launched Yoomi, an AI-driven health platform to connect physical therapists with patients doing at-home exercise programs. The app includes interactive games that evaluate participants’ movements in real time video with motion-tracking technology to improve rehabilitations with motion corrections and motivational messages. A leg raise program, for example, shows a range of motion that physical therapists can adjust for patients to work on at home.

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

“The number one problem in physical therapy is a lack of compliance and engagement from patients. Also, because patients don’t consistently complete their exercises at home, physical therapists have to spend the bulk of their time re-teaching the same exercises,” he explained in a business pitch for Dr. Pepper’s recent “Hail Mary for $23K” contest.

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

Catania said he spoke with a number of physical therapists, including his own, while researching the project. There have also been clinical trials 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 takes shots towards a hoop — virtually. Cuban chuckled as he swished a non-existent ball through the net, then offered some serious advice.

“You’re not a technology company, you’re a marketing company,” Cuban told Catania. “Because the tech – there’s a thousand people who can do it, right? The hard part is creating those relationships, and that’s what you’ve been great at… it’s your relationship that’s going to set you apart.”

Yoomi

“Shark Tank” star Mark Cuban tries out Yoomi’s basketball program for physical therapists to evaluate movement. (Provided photos)

The celebrity judges picked Yoomi as the winner, awarding Catania $23,000 towards his tuition at Cornell and $23,000 in seed money for his business. The prize split is a nod to Dr. Pepper’s famous 23 flavors.

Catania, who graduated from J-D in 2019, said the money will help allow him to work on Yoomi as a full-time CEO when he matriculates from Cornell with a business degree in the spring. In the meantime, he and his team are working on market clearance from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration.

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

It’s also the largest amount of money Yoomi has raised to date, and goes a long way towards helping his team of “broke college students” that have been building the platform by their bootstraps. He said the tuition money would also help his family, who have a lot of health problems.

“This is really going to be a game changer,” Catania said.

Benjamin Catania

This 2017 file photo shows Benjamin Catania (No. 12) in a Jamesville-DeWitt soccer game against Oswego. (Photo – Roger Hagan)

For more information about Yoomi, visit

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