The opioid crisis is a global problem and many countries see the rise in opioid consumption for the treatment of pain.
We met with Stefan Kampusch, the COO of SzeleSTIM, to talk about their startup.By the way, SzeleSTIM won Pioneers’18 and we understand why! The startup develops a wearable device to provide a minimal-invasive, non-pharmacological, and sustainable therapy for acute and chronic pain patients. Worn on the ear and built to stimulate the vagus nerve with a pattern tailored to each patient, the potential impact of the product for the millions of chronic pain sufferers is hard to overestimate.
Our December startup: SzeleSTIM
SzeleSTIM at Pioneers’18 ©Stefan Kampusch, SzeleSTIM
What does SzeleSTIM do?
SzeleSTIM helps chronic pain patients to suffer less. The startup develops a wearable, which is worn like a hearing aid. It stimulates the vagus nerve and by stimulating it, it makes it possible to block pain. The body starts producing its own opioids. It reduces pain and as a result, reduces intake of pain medications.
Where does the idea come from?
One of the founders, Dr. Széles, is a surgeon and he had the idea a long time ago because he wanted to give his patients an opportunity to live with less or without medication. The opioid crisis is a huge topic right now, especially in North America, and unfortunately, it is also coming to Europe. Austria is already the number one country in the world when it comes to morphine use per capita.
After surgeries, almost everyone gets a prescription for opioids to treat acute pain. Normally medications stop the pain but if the pain stays, you have to continue to take the opioids. It is a really serious problem because opioids are not meant for long-term treatment and are highly addictive.
How can the patients get the device and how do they use it?
SzeleSTIM distributes its device though clinics, hospitals and medical practitioners. Normally, a patient has to pay for it and the price is comparable to other therapies. However, the SzeleSTIM team has already got some Austrian clinics on board that now pay for the device and provide it to their patients for free.
Patients with chronic pain that have been taking their daily medication for years but haven’t seen any improvement, get the device from their doctor. The patient wears it for up to 10 days and then assesses the results with the doctor. At the moment it is a single-use product and if needed, the patient gets a new device. SzeleSTIM recommends undergoing the treatment for at least six weeks but it is highly individual. A study on auricular electrical stimulation has shown that six weeks of stimulation significantly reduce the pain and keep it low afterwards.
It is normal to feel a tingling sensation in the ear, however, everyone has a different current perception threshold. For some people it might feel a bit painful. For this case, SzeleSTIM develops devices where the intensity can be adjusted accordingly. It is also possible to change the duration of the simulation in order to achieve sustainable pain reduction. Patients are able to do some adjustments on their own, within given boundaries.
“We are constantly improving the product and are now working on a device that will be more adaptable to the patient’s needs and will also measure the outcomes of the treatment”, explains Stefan.
How can you measure the outcomes?
It is hard to measure pain and the simplest way to do it is to track the pain scale of the patient via an app and a therapy management system. Future versions of the device will additionally measure heart rate variability (HRV) and other parameters. HRV is an autonomic nervous system parameter and it indicates how much variation there is in one’s heartbeats within a specific timeframe. If a person is in stress and pain these values are low. When the patient recovers, the values increase.
Who is behind SzeleSTIM?
“We are five founders”, Stefan tells us. “Our CEO, Dr. Széles, is the inventor of the method and a surgeon with decades of clinical expertise and over 10 years of experience with this technology. Prof. Kaniusas, one of our founders and CTO, is a professor of Biomedical Engineering at the Vienna University of Technology. The other founders are responsible for general management and sales, finance, regulatory and quality affairs as well as product development. We also have a business development manager in our team.”
The startup was founded in 2015. How has it evolved? What were the challenges back then and what are the challenges now?
Everything started with the development of the product. A prototype was developed at the Vienna University of Technology. In the beginning, the team was really focused on finding the right people to help with certification and of course, on raising the capital. “We were quite lucky, we had business angles. Then we also got a national funding for the research project we cooperated on with another company, which has long time experience in engineering for medical devices. This worked out quite well”, explains Stefan.
Now, the prototype is ready and the team is closing another funding round. It will enable the company to start a mass production and focus on market expansion to bring the product to the patients that need it.
What is special about doing business in Austria?
Austria is very person- and relationship-oriented. “It is important for us to meet the right people at the right clinics and at the right time. If we are too early, it is not good because the attention will drop very fast. We should think what clinics and hospitals to target first. Austria is small and the community of key opinion leaders is quite small as well. We are now developing this market step-by-step”, says Stefan.
How does the future look like for SzeleSTIM?
The team wants to first get the traction and build the market intelligence in Austria. The goal is to expand to Switzerland afterwards. Germany and USA are also very important. The US market has a big potential. It is not as fragmented as the European market and the demand is high there due to the opioid crisis.
Written by Olga Bratsun
A second edition of Health.Pioneers Conference took place in Vienna BioCenter on October 10, 2018. Over 300 healthcare innovators, start-ups and experts from across 24 countries have gathered to exchange ideas and share knowledge. It was a truly thought-provoking experience and a great opportunity to make new connections in the field of digital health.
Of course, the team of 1030 Innovation couldn’t miss a chance to spend an entire day in company of people that use technology to change the face of health sector. Below are some of the things we have heard and seen, and that impressed us the most.
Better eye diagnostics with the help of artificial intelligence
The first keynote speaker and the founder of Visulytix Sameer Trikha presented the new AI-based retina scanner that can radically increase diagnostics accuracy in the eye care industry. Acknowledging that many people are sceptical about AI or even scared by this technology, Trikha offered a fresh view on it, using an example of his company’s solution called Pegasus. It can be viewed as an “Augmented Intelligence” that is here not to replace professionals but to support them, reduce errors and save time. Working together, humans and AI can achieve great things.
Open innovation in healthcare
Collaborating with start-ups is becoming more and more popular in healthcare. Participants of the panel discussion “Open Innovation in Healthcare” shared their perspectives and advice on the start-up-corporate partnerships:
=> Focus on responding to specific gaps in your industry and fill them up with innovations offered by start-ups. It is not about replacing functioning solutions with the new ones but rather further developing the entire sector and creating the best experience for patients and healthcare professionals.
=> Set up a steering committee for each collaborative project, making sure that you don’t rely on a single person within a corporation. If your champion moves away from the company, you will still be able to continue your work.
Believe in what you do!
A great piece of advice came from Melanie Matheu, Co-Founder and CEO of Prellis Biologics, a 3D bioprinting company. Growing a start-up is quite a challenge and there are always people that don’t believe in you, your idea and business model. Talking specifically about drug discovery and clinical research, Matheu pointed out that it is impossible to successfully go through entire process thinking that what you do “might work” and “may be good enough”.
15 start-ups, ranging from the seed stage to Series A, participated in a start-up expo and demonstrated their solutions to the public. It was fantastic to see so many different ideas including: a device for couples struggling with male fertility; remote monitoring wearable and an app that together make recovery simple; a mobile neurofeedback superhero game for children on the autistic spectrum, and much more.
The most exciting part of the day was an announcement of the winner of the Health.Pioneers Challenge Award. And the Oscar goes to… ThinkSono! ThinkSono works on the intersection of medicine and technology and has developed a solution addressing the problem of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) diagnosis. This technology makes diagnostics easier and more affordable.
We are already looking forward to the next event and hope to see you there as well!
Written by Olga Bratsun
Foto Credit: Sebastian Kreuzberger
What happens when 500 startups are gathering together for two days? Just look at the Pioneers Festival in Vienna, a yearly event that brings together technology and business to realize new steps towards the future. For international as well as local startups an important date in their diary and can’t be missed – at least for the lucky ones making it among the 600 chosen startups.
Why is the Pioneers Festival so important for startups?
Networking & matchmaking: A big variety of startups, investors, companies and renowned representatives of the tech and innovation scene meet at one spot. For startups it’s a unique opportunity to meet investors and secure their funding. The festival is crucial to find new possibilities for cooperation with other startups, companies as well as to get attention for their projects within the expert audience. Therefore it’s all about the right “matches” during the two festival days.
But which matches are the most promising?
The answer lies in diversity and the resulting new combinations. This indicates that the most interesting matches often result from the clash of unexpected and at first sight not related fields. Therefore a lot of startups at the festival were looking for intended uses they haven’t kept an eye on yet but for which their technology represents a solution. So networking becomes a crucial function for inspiration and „creative brainstorming“, how you hear it from the participants.
How was diversity created at the festival?
The importance of diversity was reflected through several levels of the festival starting with the location and the atmosphere: While the historical building reminded you of the past, robots, virtual reality glasses and self-driving cars seemed to act as carriers of the future. The resulting contrast created an atmosphere of departure and pioneering spirit.
Furthermore the diversity was reflected in the thematic fields represented. In contrast to other startup festivals the pioneers unites several technical disciplines – from biotech, artificial intelligence, robotics, cyber security to space tech. So you found startups revolutionizing cancer research, developing swimming maritime drones or indicating future nutrition through mealworm farms.
On a third level the diversity of topics prevented participants from only engaging in discussions dominated by technical details. Rather general and business-orientated topics came up concerning challenges for startups like marketing, patents, support tools for several business processes, design or consistent focus on customer value. Eventually it’s not done simply by an idea or technical invention. Valuable realization and building a successful corporation goes much further.
How can networking and matchmaking be effectively organized?
All this diversity raises the question how the right matches find together in all the hustle and bustle of the festival. The Pioneers Festival managed to optimize this matching process by an online Match & Meet Service. It allowed participants to easily arrange meetings for the two days. A digital assistant provided personalized suggestions, handled requests and organized time and place for the meetings aligning to personal timetables. Through Match & Meet 2800 meetings between startups, corporations and investors were conducted on the two days of the festival. Not counted here are all those random meetings at talks, booths and countless side events. It remains to see what resulted out of all this new matches. Some of the startups might soon become successful corporations, interesting projects might be realized thanks to investors and promising cooperation as well as problems might be solved through new technologies in new industries.
By Sabrina Peterer
At the latest since the sale of the “Runtastic” app to Adidas for 220 million euro or “Myfitnesspal” to Under Armour for 475 million euro, the world knows the potential of the fitness industry for start-ups. The three founders Nico, Max and Bernhard recognized this potential during their studies at the Vienna University of Economics about 2 years ago. The developers are still at the testing stage, but soon they want to take the app and therefore also fitness studios to a new level. This is a solution for banning the pen and paper from the sports bag for the training utterly.
Our January Start-Up: Fittrack
What is Fittrack?
The hardware developed by fittrack is simply attached to the fitness equipment. The obtained data is send to the app of the customer. This gets his profile in accordance with a customized training plan according to his personal performance and its training goals.
The typical equipment of a fitness studio such as power machines, cardio equipment and free weights are now smart high-end products, which communicate with the customer. The customer is rescued from tracking his training sequence with the pen and paper. The modern customer of fitness studios gets its hard-won physical workout day directly and customized on his mobile phone. In addition to the added value for the customer, fittrack is also seeking the attention of providers of those studios. Starting with data concerning the utilization of the devices up to the spatial distribution of devices; all of this can be dealt with the amount of data stored by fittrack nowadays and in the future.
“Especially the small fitness centers are under intense pressure of competition; instead of lowering the prices, Fittrack offers the possibility for those companies to highlight themselves from other providers. Data about the behavior of the customers and the usage of the tools is really important for the providers”, describes CEO Nico the advantages and interests of the operators of fitness studios.
Fittrack is currently still in the finalization of the development phase. The product is tested in cooperation with the contract partner from Unterhaching(D). The pilot phase has been completed at the end of December 2016 and the product was and will be brought to maturity by several iterative feedback loops.
The Co-Founder and COO Max outlines that „since the devices are not changed and the hardware is just an add-on to the current devices, the conversion phase from the normal to a smart fitness studio can be arranged over night“.
Who is behind the idea? What is the nature of the day-to-day work at Fittrack?
The three founders (CEO) Nico, (COO) Max and the (CTO) Bernhard met approx. 2 years ago in the course ” E&I Garage” at the Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration. The idea of Fittrack was also emerged, shortly after the course. Nowadays the network of the start-up reaches from Serbia to England. The team is working in three groups in the areas of software, hardware and business development.
The working atmosphere is characterized by start-up flair. Each Monday at the “Monday’s kick-off” the strategic direction is rearranged by the team. Team building and the identification with the product is extremely important. Therefore, the team members are gathering together in the fitness center up to three times a week. Being active is seen as a part of work and is also an argument also for participating on larger events such as the Spartan race which is similar to a triathlon. The participation in the events is therefore particularly important for the founders. In addition to the team building process those events are an important part of the business. Many contacts are formed solely through those activities.
In addition to the Monday kick-off and the different team events, cooking together is another aspect to support the idea of the start-up. To protect the atmosphere inside the team it is very important to force the so-called “No-Secret Policy” between the team members. Everything can and should be addressed directly.
Furthermore each employee has a monthly budget of €50 for gaining additional expertise by buying books on business-relevant topics. Books for personal development can be purchased and shared. Other activities such as visiting the relevant fairs like the “FIBO” sports trade fair, characterizes the teams cohesion.
What are the biggest challenges in the future?
The test phase of the software and the hardware has been finalized since the end of the year 2016 in the premises of the Germany-based partner „Jumpers Fitness“. Funds were important for the development and growth phase. Fittrack could already raise funding’s from the incubation program “INITS” and the international accelerator program “tech founders”. Currently the financing of the roll-out phase is guaranteed by friends, family and other funding approaches.
International competitors such as the North American provider “GymTrack” are not seen as a threat. “The aim of Fitttrack is a rapid growth in the DACH region and the development to the largest fitness data provider in Europe in 2020”, says COO Max and describes their long-term objectives on this way.
We from 1030 can’t wait to join the first training with fittrack and are happy that we can leave the pin & paper at home hereafter!
1030 Innovation, Can Ceylan
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