The line to get in was long and without hesitation the door man told me, “the event’s hosts are completely disorganized.” Not a problem, I thought. The chance to see healthcare-geared startups is always worth the wait: science research plus tech is my dream overlap.
We, myself and about 35 others, were standing just off of Alexanderplatz at the Berlin Congress Center to see 10 digital health startups pitch their company to a room full of industry partners, investors and press.
Forty-five minutes after the scheduled start time, Juliane Zielonka, managing director of the Startupbootcamp’s digital health vertical, took to the stage, where she reiterated three times just how “kick ass” these teams are.
She brought that same psyched energy with her as she high-fived everyone as they went on and off stage.
These 10 were selected from 516 applications, Zielonka shared. And this demo day, the first ever, was nine months in the making. In recent weeks, teams stayed up late practicing and perfecting their presentation, so that they could “pitch like hell.”
And you could tell. The pitches were good, evoking ethos, pathos and logos. Although some failed to perfect the transition between “loss of a loved one and death” to “here’s why you should give us money.” Admittedly not easy, but it happened more than once and it was painfully awkward each time.
The stars of the show
Of the 10, three really impressed: Yuscale, Memoria and Coronect.
Designed with diabetics in mind, Yuscale created a portable scale that helps individuals document and manage their food intake. Kim Kreutz, Yuscale’s CEO, and Max Illies, Head of Business Development, both took to the stage and gave a memorable presentation, that caught the attention of two investors sitting beside me.
Memoria provides a platform to guide Alzheimer’s patients through their day, “helping them self-manage their daily lives.” Currently individuals with Alzheimer’s use a whiteboard to keep track of what they need to do, Memoria’s CEO Dor Sened explained. The app is like “giving a spaceship to people with horses,” he said.
Coronect, a three-pronged device with electrodes, acts as a portable, wearable ECG that gives individuals with heart-related illnesses a status report. The device changes colors – green, yellow, red – letting an individual know whether they need to head to the emergency room. Coronect’s COO, Norman Krüger, who walked on stage to Roxette’s Listen to Your Heart, even wore the device (roughly the size of a deck of cards) onstage, opening up his shirt to show it strapped to his chest.
Thinking beyond the app and disrupting healthcare
While the other startups had ambitious goals, they failed to, in my opinion, think beyond their app to how they will become an inherent part of the healthcare industry’s complex infrastructure. For example, no one denies that the social stigma associated with depression is pervasive, problematic and in some cases, life threatening.
But does access to a therapist or individuals who have experienced similar feelings, even anonymously via an app as offered by the startups Couch and Paralign, remove the stigma or the feelings of judgement a mentally-ill individual feels? I am skeptical interactions with a stranger over an app can replicate the feelings of warmth, security and trust, a person struggling with depression needs. Furthermore, in an era where data privacy is of serious importance, are these sessions recorded? Are they encrypted?
Besides those concerns, the main point is that these startups, although suitable for some individuals, will not disrupt the healthcare industry, nor will they make therapy better. They are simply another business model that slightly modifies a tried-and-true service – one they won’t be able to compete with.
That being said, if only 30 per cent of their startups go on to create revolutionary products and services, I think the program is a success. The principle idea behind the accelerator, that the healthcare industry is in an era of exponential growth, is an undeniable truth.
Digital solutions, which give patients alternatives and control over their health, will not only be well-received, they’ll be profitable. The only thing these startups really need to do is make sure they don’t take the care out of healthcare.