On a dreary November afternoon, the news bulletins are dominated by the fallout from the Mid Staffordshire hospital scandal and predictions of another tough winter in A&E departments but, at LSO St Luke’s, a church turned concert hall in Old Street, east London, all is optimism and light.
The NHS may be lurching from one crisis to another but, to listen to the entrepreneurs gathered beneath the eves of this Hawskmoor-designed church a stone’s throw from tech city, the health cavalry is on its way.
Twenty health tech startups from around Europe have gathered at St Luke’s to pitch to a panel of venture capitalists in a Dragons’ Den-style competition. Up for grabs is a share of a €50,000 prize and the ear of an investor who can fast-track their device to market. The event’s sponsors, Johnson & Johnson, have billed it as a digital health masterclass.
First up is Johann Huber, co-founder and CEO of Soma Analytics, a London-based company that describes its product as the “world’s first evidence-based mobile resilience programme”. In plain English, Huber and his partners have developed a smartphone app that purports to measure employee stress levels by analysing their speech and texting patterns.
“Using our algorithm we can design a 21-day personalised programme to help employees manage their stress and build mental resilience,” he tells the dragons.
Next up is Paul Doherty, head of sales at Shimmer, a Dublin-based company specialising in “clinical grade wearable wireless sensing technology”, such as the Shimmer3, a slimline sensor that can be strapped to an athlete’s arm in training to provide coaches with biophysical data.
Doherty is followed by Andraz Ogorevc, a Slovenian entrepreneur pitching a mobile app and Bluetooth-enabled wristband that enables the wearer to send an SOS message within 20 seconds of suffering a heart attack. “The market is huge. We estimate there are 1.2 billion smartphone users with health conditions,” he says. “Our goal is 20 million users within five years.” The star of the afternoon, however, is Don Jones, vice-president of Qualcomm Life, a subsidiary of the chip makerQualcomm and a big sponsor of wireless healthcare technology. In a slick 30-minute presentation, he takes his audience on a whistlestop tour of the fast-changing market for health apps and digital medical devices – a market predicted to be worth $26bn by 2017 in the US alone.
Monitoring your own health is the key to the apps.
From the LifeWatch V, a smartphone embedded with sensors that enables users to monitor everything from body temperature and ECG to heart rate and oxygen saturation, to the YOFimeter, a compact wireless blood glucose meter for diabetics, Jones explains that new technologies are rapidly altering how, when and where people monitor and manage their health.
“Think of every way you have ever interacted with a medical professional or someone in a clinical setting – a doctor, a nurse, or your corner pharmacist – then think how that can be replicated digitally so that the process is both more convenient and faster,” he says. “The odds are that someone in Silicon valley is already working on it.”
To spur innovation, last year Qualcomm announced a $10m prize for a Star Trek style “tricorder” to be awarded to the first developer to succeed in designing a mobile platform capable of diagnosing a set of 15 conditions, including pneumonia, diabetes and sleep apnea, without recourse to a doctor or nurse.