Our Entrepreneurial Journey — a gait to better care?

Master’s student Emre Yavuz reflects on the highs and lows of taking part in a virtual hackathon – from designing an app to predict the risk of Dementia to pitching to 16 judges!

During lockdown I came across a post about a virtual hackathon called ‘Code to Care’, focusing on finding sustainable healthtech solutions which was run by Imperial College Business School. Having worked with Virtual Reality for my undergraduate dissertation, I knew there was something I could bring to this event! Through a Zoom speed-dating event during the hackathon, I connected with three other like-minded individuals who were all interested in using mobile technology to help lessen the burden of the lives of those stricken by Dementia.

We had decided to focus creating an app to help predict one’s risk of Dementia and monitor their disease progression, and had just three days to make our final pitch as convincing as possible in just two minutes. Based on the research suggesting a potential correlation between gait patterns and cognitive decline, we felt that focusing our app on the use of gait analysis would be a fruitful venture.

Not an easy journey

Ideally our app would be able to predict one’s risk of developing Dementia, monitor the progression of the disease, and identify the subtype of the disease, all by passively monitoring the participants gait using an Artificial-Intelligence (AI) based algorithm. The data from our app would then be relayed to clinicians who could then use this information. However, this end goal seemed more and more impossible to achieve as time went on. Our first mentorship session was with Clive Flashman, the Director of Strategy for ORCHA Health. Clive’s advice gave us the understanding for who we might have to partner with to make our idea a success, and what they could do to help us. He explained the regulatory issues that entrepreneurs face when trying to sell into the NHS and gave us his ideas of how these might be mitigated. He was very supportive both during and after the hackathon process.

Mentorship is key

We then had a mentorship with Ram Rajaraman, an Entrepreneur who is the Founder and CEO of CHAI Analytics, an AI start-up, who advised on making sure we had thought carefully enough about our business marketing strategy and how we were going to gain appropriate investment in our app ­– aspects we had barely thought about before the session. Following these sessions, we worked very hard over a period of 24 hours to ensure we had incorporated all of these suggestions into our pitch. After submitting our pitch to the Hackathon team, we waited anxiously for the results. At midnight, I received a message saying that we had made it through to the final five teams out of a total of 34. I couldn’t believe my eyes! We had just 24 hours to make a now three-minute pitch flawless if we wanted to have any chance of winning the hackathon…

Pitch day had arrived

We were the first team to pitch to 16 judges. After an adrenaline-pumping three-minutes, the worst part of the experience had arrived: questions. Many of the judges questioned our idea, arguing that we had not discussed how our app would distinguish between those with Dementia and other walking disorders, how it would distinguish leg movements from other movements such as the hands and how those with Dementia would remember to use the app itself. One judge even told us that there was no clear evidence that gait could be used as a biomarker for Dementia disease progression. Had we gone down completely the wrong path? How could our idea have any possible chance of reaching the market?

However, after enjoying the process of bringing together our ideas to prepare a pitch at the Hackathon, we had a sheer determination to continue growing and learning from the experience, and regardless of the outcome, really wanted to learn about the ups and downs as well as the process of developing a Medtech startup. We next signed up for an Ideas Surgery with the Imperial Enterprise lab, a session where we could share our ideas with other keen founders of potential Medtech start-ups who wanted to gain as much advice as they could on developing their idea.

Following on from this session, we were told about Imperial Enterprise lab’s monthly ‘Pitch n Mix’ event, where one could pitch their business idea in 60 seconds to get feedback, and immediately signed up. Much to our surprise, we were declared the winning pitch of the night, and also won the prize for the best backdrop during our pitch. It seemed as if our hard work had finally paid off. Following on from our success at this event, Ben Mumby-Croft, who had previously given us a mentorship session at the ‘Code to Care’ Hackathon, said that he could get in touch with members of the Dementia Research Institute at Imperial who could help us develop our idea. Was this the start of a successful venture? Let’s wait and see…

So, what are the key takeaway points?

  1. Don’t fool yourself on your product’s value:
    • Clearly identify and quantify the value it can bring and exactly who, including both the users and investors will benefit from it.
    • Ensure that it is accessible and is of value to the end user. This will require extensive product assessment within the environment you intend to use it in.
  1. A diagnostic medical device requires extensive evaluation and regulatory approval that most founders won’t have the time or cash to follow through
  2. Working with medical data requires regulatory approved data collection and storage systems
  3. Ideas will continually evolve, transform and be superseded. That’s the nature of starting a venture…

Emre Yavuz is a studying a Master’s in Translational Neuroscience at Imperial College London.

The team also included Timothy Chau, a recently graduated medical doctor, Hinal Kumar, a third year Imperial medical student and Karnsiree Chaisrirattanakul, a MSc Strategic Marketing student at Imperial.

This post was originally published on Medium.

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