LIVE FROM DISCOVERING START-UPS 2012: A quarter of participants in a showcase for tech start-ups in London were health-based firms. And one of the health firms, Skin Analytics, was among the eventual winners of the event.

Five out of the 20 participants in the Discovering Start-Ups event were health-based. They offered services that included deducting emotion from the voice of patients dealing with depression, using a cameraphone to analyse for melanoma, turning paper-based patient records electronic in the UK’s NHS, providing a mesh-based network for emergency services and developing sensor technology for ADHD sufferers.

Such start-up gatherings in the US typically highlight mobile health start-ups because it’s a sector that has attracted investor interest. The London event proved the same could be true of the UK too.  

Investment funds are flowing into health start-ups in the US, partly at least, because investors believe the US health system is in crisis and there is a demand for radical ideas to transform it.

Similarly, one of the firms, Patient Source, is responding to a particular UK requirement: the need to move from overwhelmingly paper-based patient records in hospitals to an electronic system. Others, such as Skin Analytics and EI Technologies, are based on ideas that potentially have universal application, not just in the UK.

The winners were chosen for how innovative the technology behind their pitches was. Several of the 20 firms had strong presentations and good ideas but could be aped by competition within a relatively short time, so undermining their financial value.

Among the health firms, Skin Analytics is developing a system to help people to monitor themselves for small changes in moles on their skin, the most significant indicator of melanoma. The aim is to launch in Australia next year. The firm is eager to differentiate itself from apps, which typically cost £3 in an app store. “Credibility is key. We need people to know we are backed by proper medical people,” said founder Julian Hall. Key also is the technology that will enable users to accurately detect any changes to their skin. The company’s model involves charging an annual subscription of £25-£30.

Of the four other health-based ventures, EI Technologies’ idea is to improve treatment of depression by using smartphone-based voice recording of the patient to determine their mood. Current treatments rely on patients compiling diaries and have a high dropout rate. The firm’s service records and analyses the patient’s voice, so requiring less engagement from them. Possible clients include private health insurers. “Our aim is to increase value of therapy by making the recording of mood easier,” says co-founder and CEO Matt Dobson. However, the product is still under development.

Although Skin Analytics is more advanced (as can be seen from the judges’ verdict), it and IE Technologies have something in common. For both companies, credibility among users is absolutely key. This means differentiating themselves from the many, low-priced apps that superficially sound similar to them in the App Store and Google Play, many of whom are of dubious quality. The backing for their products of medical professionals is important to this process. So is carefully maintaining the line that they offer a guide to the patient who should go to their doctor for a full diagnosis.

Another health firm was Patient Source whose idea is to turn the UK hospital patient records from a paper to electronic format. In his pitch, founder Dr Philip Ashworth said the NHS spent £324 million on maintaining paper records. The firm has developed a web app for activities such as prescribing and issuing drugs in hospital. Ashworth confirmed to Mobile Health Live that plans to make its system accessible from tablets and smartphones could happen in 2013.

Although not specifically mobile health, Ubitech is targeted at emergency services which could include paramedics. The firm’s mesh-network software enables communication between devices even when existing networks have crashed during an event such as a natural disaster or terrorist attack. CEO Arvind Ramrekha claimed the system has cost and scalability advantages over the existing Tetra system used by emergency services in the UK. The Tetra system is currently up for replacement.    

Biodigitalhealth has developed sensor technology for treating ADHD sufferers. Similar technology has been used for gaming but founder Ian Glasscock says the firm’s target market is health and education market. A cloud platform and a mobile app are now live. Possible applications include assisted living and telehealth. The business model includes either government grants or licensing the firm’s IP.

Even though it was a UK-based event, Google and Qualcomm were both among the sponsors of the Discovering Start-Ups event which was organised by Cambridge Wireless, an industry forum, and Silicon Southwest, a networking firm.

The four other winners were Anvil Semiconductors, D-RisQ, Smart Antenna Technologies and Topic Logic, none of whom were health firms. The event was staged by law firm Taylor Wessing. Other sponsors were Rohde & Schwarz and Setsquared partnership of UK universities.

The winners each received £500 from Qualcomm, as well as free access to GSMA Mobile World Congress 2013 and the Future of Wireless conference, which is organised by Cambridge Wireless.