Looking for that one story: Not Impossible Labs founder on making the impossible, possible

Mick Ebleing, founder of Not Impossible Labs, talked about his journey from video producer to healthcare innovator at HIMSS19.
By Laura Lovett
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Mick Ebeling delivers the HIMSS19 closing keynote. (Photo by Oscar and associates)

It all started with dinner and a movie. Mick Ebeling, founder of Not Impossible Labs and a video producer by trade, and his wife were going to their typical date night routine when a friend threw a wrench into those plans by making them go to a gallery opening. 

He was dreading it. But once he got to the event he found out it wasn’t like a typical gallery opening — it had music, dancing and street art. When he asked to meet the artist, Los Angeles grafitti artist Tempt1, his friend informed him that he couldn’t — the artist had ALS and was confined to a wheelchair. The opening was to raise money for his care because he didn’t have insurance or money. 

Struck by this story, Ebeling decided to do something about it. When he found out that the artist had to communicate through eye movements across a paper chart, Ebeling was struck by the absurdity of it. So he decided to get a team together to try to figure this problem out. 

“If we solve for that one person maybe, just maybe that solution for one can help us help many. What’s our worse case scenario? We solve for one person?” Ebeling said during his closing keynote at HIMSS19. 

Promising the artist and his family that he could help him, he invited friends and innovators into his house to see how they could start to find a solution. The group used everything from sunglasses to trash bag ties to configure the technology. 

In the end, the group came up with the EyeWriter, a system which uses eye tracking technology let the artist draw again. This won numerous accolades and featured worldwide in news stories. 

This project kickstarted the Not Impossible Labs, which focuses on innovating for what many think are impossible problems. Ebeling said it all comes down to absurdity and stories. It is important to have a human-to-human interaction and listening to one person’s story. From that story he picks up on the absurdity of a situation and what should be a fixable problem. Then he goes to work. 

After the EyeWriter came out, Ebleing heard another story, this one about a doctor who had gone to Sudan to treat patients in one of the most dangerous conflict zones. The doctor said he hated doing amputations. When Ebleling hear the story of a 12-year old boy who had both arms blown off by a bomb, he decided this was the next story to focus on. Eventually he worked with a team to figure out 3D-printed arms for Sudanese amputees. 

More recently the Not Impossible Labs created Vibrotextile, a system designed to help people with hearing impairments experience music. The technology translates audio as vibrations wirelessly to the user’s body. The team found that it had an unexpected consequence when people with Parkinson’s disease: it helped people who had hand tremors steady them.

The next step for Ebeling and his team is to validate the technology and go through the FDA channels. 

“Why do we pull this all off? Because we shouldn’t,” he said. “We didn’t get the memo we weren’t supposed to pull this off."