Marcia Shade, PhD, and team win innovation award

Marcia Shade, PhD

Marcia Shade, PhD, UNMC College of Nursing assistant professor, earned a significant boost towards developing an app that allows patients to receive real-time assessment and evaluation of pain.

Dr. Shade’s team and her small business, Voice-It, were one of six winners of the 2023 National Institute of Aging’s Start-up Challenge and Accelerator, which promotes innovation to support NIA’s goal to improve the health of older adults in underrepresented populations. The honor earned her company a $60,000 cash prize.

Dr. Shade’s team has worked to develop a conversational, AI-driven app that enables older adults to engage in a real-time holistic pain assessment and verbally share their pain experience within the natural environment. Dr. Shade said the goal of the app is to give patients an outlet and more control outside of clinical visits to monitor and share their symptoms while undergoing pain management.

“The interaction goes beyond just asking a scale of your pain level from zero to 10. That is just one aspect of pain,” Dr. Shade said. “This is beneficial for older adults because you have clinic visits that may last 15, 30 minutes, and not much time is spent on pain itself, so you don’t really have time to gather that much information.

“What we’re doing is getting that pain experience from the person’s own words, and we’re going to capture that narrative so that it’s an efficient method or vehicle for the clinician or care provider to have some additional support for clinical decisions regarding pain management.”

The app is undergoing testing in the proof-of-concept phase. To help move the app’s development along, Dr. Shade applied for the 2023 National Institute of Aging challenge cohort and was competitively accepted from a pool of more than 200 applicants. Because of National Institute of Aging requirements, Dr. Shade established Voice-It as a start-up company to house the app and future technological developments.

Throughout the five-month challenge, Dr. Shade and her team received mentoring and learned about value proposition, customer discovery, pitching to investors, marketing strategies, commercialization, IP regulations, revenue generation and financial practices.

“There were some transferrable skills that I used from presenting my research, but more from a business mindset and as an entrepreneur,” she said. “It feels great that I can toggle in between the two now.”

The 2023 NIA Challenge Accelerator program ended in December when all 20 finalists graduated and presented a final pitch and a one-page paper on how the program shaped the participants’ growth as entrepreneurs and what they would do with the prize money. Dr. Shade and her team were selected as one of six winners for the $60,000 award. She said she will use the money to continue to build the infrastructure of her start-up company and further develop the app to the MVP stage.

Dr. Shade said she hopes the app will be ready for public use by the end of 2024.

More information about the NIA’s 2023 Start-Up Challenge Accelerator program and winners can be found here.


  1. Sara Bills, PT, DPT, GCS says:

    Congratulations to you and your team, Dr. Shade, on receiving the innovation award for your groundbreaking app aimed at assessing pain in the geriatric population. Your app not only fills a crucial gap in pain assessment but also showcases your visionary approach to healthcare technology. Your dedication to advancing healthcare through innovation sets a shining example for all of us in the field.

  2. Peggy Moore says:

    Well Done Dr. Shade and Team!

  3. Precious Davis says:

    Congratulations Dr. Shade and team! I love your passion for this topic because assessing and determining one’s pain goes beyond the scale. ITEACH indeed.

  4. Anna Schwartz says:

    Outstanding work!

  5. Mariya A Kovaleva says:

    Congratulations, Dr. Shade!

  6. Tonya Cejka says:

    Congratulations! You are amazing!

  7. Marvin L Stancil MD , Dept of OBGyn says:

    Strong work Dr. Shade . Congratulations to you and your team for this novel approach to evaluation of pain in this patient population .

  8. Andy Lim says:

    Congrats, Dr. Shade!!! What an exciting project!

  9. Gleb Haynatzki says:

    Congratulations, Dr Shade and team! Excellent work, as always.

  10. A Shade says:

    Congratulations Dr. Shade on all the work that you’re doing is amazing to to see things grow from empathy into a full fledged, company, supporting and growing on your division and dreams. Real outcomes, helping real lives. Your work will have an even greater impact in the community people that you set out to serve. Congratulations again.!!

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