BGV Q&A series: Sentimoto
Take one medical doctor, a design engineer, a software developer and a physicist... mix them together with a good pinch of entrepreneurial ambition and what do you get? Sentimoto - a new startup developing wearable technology for older people.
At the end of week three I talk with co-founders Maxim Osipov, Lisa Stroux, Tasos Papastylianou and Alessandro Guazzi about their experience on the Bethnal Green Ventures accelerator programme so far.
What is the problem you’re trying to solve and why is this important to you?
Alessandro: We all have older relatives, and we’ve seen that ageing is a challenging transition. Many day-to-day things taken for granted become increasingly difficult, leaving seniors feeling vulnerable, isolated, and insecure, and their loved ones concerned. Risks can develop unnoticed, and without the right information can remain hidden until it’s too late. There are a lot of new devices that are slowly changing the way people approach their health, but there’s not much for older people.
What is the solution?
Tasos: We’re designing wearable sensors to help older people make sense of their environment and lifestyle habits. They will be able to share information with relatives and friends, so that they can address any issues instantly, and make sure that the time they spend together is more social. It will reduce carer stress and burden, and help older people to be more independent.
Maxim: The device itself is small and discreet. It can be worn around the wrist or around the neck, and will record both physiological and environmental data. Some of the things we're looking to measure are body temperature, heart rate, activity, and air temperature and humidity.
Tasos: I think the healthcare sector will see the benefit. It will save costs to the NHS, so even if they’re not a primary customer they will ideally be willing to endorse the device.
How does it compare with others?
Maxim: It’s like a Fitbit on steroids. But our key focus will be analytics - all of us share a medical data analysis background.
Tasos: It’s different to what’s been marketed. Most Quantified Self devices are about fitness and burning calories. Most stuff for older people has been about environment sensors, but our approach is really personalised to the individual.
It’s week three of the programme - what have you been working on and how have you found it so far?
Tasos: It’s been a steep learning curve so far, and we’ve been exposed to things that we wouldn’t have otherwise. For example, insider tips, meeting people from the industry and getting diverse feedback from other businesses. The networking effect that BGV has is amazing.
Tasos: The structured learning is incredibly valuable, alongside the time to focus and get things off the ground. There’s an innovation culture at the University of Oxford, but this is not enough. Structure, and on the spot advice is invaluable. Being in the same room with eight other startups, observing their processes and learning from their experiences is also incredibly useful.
Maxim: At the moment we have a first prototype, and by the end of the programme we want to have developed a solid proof of concept.
Lisa: We’re also working on developing our market. We’re engaging with care homes and people in that stage of life to see what the right route to market should be.
What do you think will be your biggest challenge?
Alessandro: There is a huge element of co-design to the product, so organising focus groups and continuously iterating through the product development cycle is going to be difficult. It’s going to take a lot time, but it’s probably also going be the most interesting task.
Maxim: To do customer development, prototyping and business development all that the same time is challenging, but that’s why we’re here.
Tasos: The challenge is to generate the interest in the device. We know we have something great, and we need to persuade people that we have something that is better. People are bombarded with solutions, so how do we persuade customers that this solution is something that is really going to change things?
What are your backgrounds? How did you meet?
Alessandro: We are all doing the biomedical engineering DPhil in Healthcare Innovation at the University of Oxford. Lisa, Tasos and I are in the same class and Maxim is in the year ahead. We started chatting over coffee about a number of ideas and Sentimoto came out of this.
Tasos: The University has a big focus on innovation and we’ve all been involved in a number of startups at various times - but never together!
Maxim: And we were inspired by our professors, in particular Lionel Tarassenko, Gari Clifford and Peter Dobson. They’re all academics but they do applied work too, with practical outcomes.
Alessandro: We’ve got a really good team to be stepping forward with. Tasos is a medical doctor, Lisa is a design engineer, Maxim is software developer and MBA…
Maxim: …and he [Alessandro] is a physicist. It’s a great combination.
If you weren’t on BGV, what would you be doing now?
Alessandro: We might be on another programme, there are so many on offer. We were ready for this kind of programme because we needed some seed funding to develop our prototype. BGV has the further advantage of having a really strong social focus – this is something not many other accelerators offer.
What companies inspire you?
Alessandro: Planetary Resources, I think they've stretched the meaning of incredible.
Lisa: I think Fairphone is an inspiration.
Maxim: Elon Musk and SpaceX.
Tasos: Any company that manages to make successful products using open-source solutions and a community focus. There’s a big open source component in our research.
Call to action:
The Sentimoto team are looking for people to help with their customer development. They would like to speak with older people and carers, or organisations that provide services to this group, in order to test their assumptions and get feedback. You can contact Sentimoto via the links below.