A lot is written about Fintech and the environment of startups that work in that area. Many virtual column inches and hours of reading are given over to gaming. Discussions over the future of travel happen on panels at technology conferences over the world. And rightly so — these are all important issues in the world of tech, and the world more generally.
But one area that gets comparatively little attention is health tech. It’s certainly not an unknown, some of the biggest companies in the pharma industry have poured billions into R+D, and how we digitise healthcare is a huge topic. But given how much attention the world of startups gets in general, it’s a little odd that literal life-saving technology comes near the bottom of the pile.
That doesn’t mean there’s not work going on. North European startups news website Silicon Canals recently compiled a couple of lists on health tech startups in Northern Ireland and the Netherlands, respectively.
A healthy level of growth
Take Sensum, for instance. The Belfast-based startup makes software for any industry that looks to do something quite unique: understand human emotion. Sensum’s product, Synsis, is, the company says, “a universal classifier of human states — modelling the user’s emotion, behaviour and physiology in real time from the widest range of sensors and data on the market”.
It works in three stages — it measures human data, interprets it using “established psychological models”, and “enhances” a client’s product. It does that final stage, it says, by helping the products “finally understand the humans that use them, and respond appropriately”.
According to Silicon Canals, the company has a list of big-name clients including Ford, the BBC, Unilever and Cisco. It’s raised €1.4 million in two funding rounds.
Another more consumer-focused product has been designed that helps users to understand how their cognitive health. BrainWaveBank, Silicon Canals says, “measures cognitive performance by monitoring brainwave activity while playing fun, engaging mobile games that test specific aspects of your cognitive health.”
Playing these games a few times per week creates a record of users’ cognitive health, it says. An analysis of that record lets users understand how their performance has varied over time and how factors like sleep, diet and exercise have affected their performance. It sounds a lot like a Fitbit for your brain, and the product has clearly impressed investors, as the company has received £3 million in funding across five rounds.
One more example bears looking at. Techworld, in its list of best UK healthcare startups, lists Elder, which connects vulnerable elderly people with healthcare professionals in their home. The aim is to keep elderly people living in their own homes rather than having to move to a care home.
This is less futuristic than some of the other startups, but no less valuable, given that it creates a simple way of helping a vulnerable group and creates efficiency savings on the way.
The range of health tech startups
That point is worth considering, too. The health tech startup scene is seriously diverse; technologists have created apps and companies that help at every stage of the healthcare process: physical, mental, safety, preventative, diagnosis and administrative, like Elder.
Administrative issues — things like connecting patients with the right type of healthcare provider more efficiently, or freeing up beds in hospitals — are not the most “sexy” area for tech startups, but they are certainly valuable.
The NHS has spoken at length about its digital ambitions, arguing that digitalisation can go some way towards fixing the huge budgetary problems it faces. While the issue of healthcare in the UK is a massively politicised issue, with many arguing that the only true answer is larger budgets, most also agree that the smart application of technology solutions to the whole healthcare infrastructure could really make a difference.
That is perhaps why there is such a thriving health tech startup ecosystem in the UK and Europe — as we have seen, companies from Ireland, the Netherlands and the UK have all received many millions in venture capital funding. Presumably, those investors know that down the line these solutions will prove invaluable to health services such as the NHS.
For a tech worker, the health startup scene could be a dream come true — big companies with big budgets doing exciting — but maybe more importantly — life-saving, valuable work.