How to win future battles against disease - Four case studies (Part 2)?
March 5, 2019
The whole world has been caught off guard by COVID-19, and inevitably people have started to examine our healthcare system. Questions are being asked. What did we do right, and what did we do wrong? What can we do in the future, and how? It follows that these questions will reach the ears of governments and corporate investors in the healthcare sectors, giving rise to lucrative new business opportunities.
In fact, opportunities are already emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic. While grasping these opportunities is no simple task, we can learn from the success stories of the recent past.
In our last article, How to win future battles against disease: Four case studies (Part 1), we shared two successful case studies from Avnet partners. Today, we are pleased to share two more.
Case 3: The maker’s Sherpa
Maker activities have been in vogue recently, all over the globe. The advancement of technology has given many people the chance to achieve their dreams without an electronic engineering background. Owlet founder Kurt Workman is one of these makers.
Kurt, a chemical engineering major, became the founder of a medical device company because he had observed, through his family’s and his own experiences, a “demand” for infant heart rate and blood oxygen measurement. This is especially important for newborns with genetic diseases and potential health risks.
Hospitals usually use a professional pulse oximeter that is clipped on the patient’s finger to monitor heart rate and blood oxygen through lightwaves. Obviously, it is unsuitable for normal home use. For newborns, the “foreign” feeling brought about by the monitoring device is especially uncomfortable. Therefore, Kurt had an innovative idea – to develop a wearable home device. Specifically, he envisioned a smart baby sock that adheres to the baby’s body and provides full-time monitoring, informing parents if the baby’s heart rate and blood oxygen exceeds limits, and thus eliminating parent anxiety.
Figure 1 Smart sock for infant heart rate and blood oxygen monitoring, developed by Owlet (Source: Avnet)
This was undoubtedly a cool idea, but the challenges of turning the idea into a commercialized product had the young Owlet team groping in the dark, with only a dim flashlight of an idea to light the way.
About a year into product development, the team almost decided to drop the project when they finally realized that their original idea, of sending data from the baby sock sensor module to a smartphone through Bluetooth technology, was not going to work. Tests showed that Bluetooth communication was limited by distance and reliability. The Owlet team needed to urgently switch the whole wireless connection function to a new solution based on Wi-Fi. The delivery date which they had committed to early supporters was approaching, and it looked like they might be unable to deliver the goods.
Fortunately, Owlet had stayed in touch with Avnet since the onset of development. When the development team was scrambling to find suitable Wi-Fi chipsets, Avnet solved their problem by recommending a startup company for wireless modules.
Throughout the product development process, Avnet gave Owlet continuous professional support by generously sharing its expertise and technological knowledge. Hence Kurt called Avnet their “Sherpa.” As you may know, sherpas are guides for people who climb Mount Everest – they help carry loads, and point out the correct path at critical moments with a friendly “It’s this way!” If like Kurt you aim high and and are not afraid to venture outside of your comfort zone, perhaps you need a sherpa too?
Case 4: Full life-cycle support from concept to mass production
Like newborns, chronic cardiovascular disease patients, such as those with high blood pressure, require close monitoring of their vital signs. There are over a billion such patients alive today. Entrusting their daily physical monitoring to healthcare facilities is obviously both inconvenient and costly, and not feasible in the case of wide-ranging populations spread over large distances.
Noting this huge market demand, the company Vital decided to design a portable vital signs monitor that just about anyone can use and afford. Through a finger case, the device would collect four vital parameters for human health: body temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, and blood oxygen. It acts like a smartphone accessory that connects to the Internet over Bluetooth/Wi-Fi wireless technologies, and measurements can be managed and analyzed through an app.
In order to test the idea’s feasibility and win over investors and business partners, the Vital team quickly built a prototype. The pitch was hugely successful, and investors excitedly urged Vital to introduce the product at the upcoming Mobile World Congress (MWC).
However, the Vital team knew in their hearts that the prototype was too crude to be presented in its current state, with , with exposed components and wires. Only three months remained before its scheduled debut at the MWC. They needed help, and fast.
Having been previously spurned by contract manufacturers who showed little interest in startups, Vital went in search of a partner with combined software and hardware designing abilities. Someone recommended Avnet. The Vital team walked through Avnet’s doors with an unrefined prototype and a long wish-list of ideal final product specifications.
Over the next three months, Avnet formed an expert team based on Vital’s design needs, including electronic engineering and mechanical structure design, and delivered a nearly commercialized prototype to the client within the specified time. The work involved circuit system design, key component selection and procurement, electronic system R&D, including PCB fabrication and assembly, and structural design and optimization, as well as development of a mobile app. The efficiency was near incredible.
Figure 2 Portable vital signs monitor developed by Vital (Source: Avnet)
But what came next is even more amazing. Vital’s portable vital signs monitor was a hit at MWC, and distribution agreements were signed with Lenovo and Motorola. This meant that Vital had the “happy problem’ of suddenly being faced with the challenges of product mass production. Here’s where it gets even more unbelievable but true. While one Avnet team designed Vital’s product prototype, another Avnet team had concurrently started planning the product’s subsequent mass production. So when Vital was faced with the sudden challenge of mass production, Avnet had the supply chain ready. When the first customer order came in, a complete supply chain management system was already in place to deliver a timely response.
Since Avnet’s service and solutions cover the full production life cycle, from product and solution design to supply chain services, Vital was able to fully focus on listening to users’ needs and rapidly respond by recomputing and updating product functionality. Everything else was taken care of by Avnet.
We hope you enjoyed these four success stories from our partners. They are connected by two common threads. Firstly, each “hero” found a market opportunity through keen observation. And secondly, each “hero” had a key “supporter” in Avnet. Whether you are looking for a key material or the most up-to-date technology, or you are a maker who revels in adventure and discovery, or perhaps you need a solution to manage a full product-cycle, Avnet can give you the key support at the key moment.
The outcome of our future battles against diseases will be decided by innovative healthcare technology – like Braster S.A.’s portable breast screening devices, Clarius’s hand-held ultrasonic scanners, Owlet’s infant heart rate monitors and Vital’s portable vital signs monitors. And who knows what more will come. If you have a great idea, but are struggling to find the right technology to bring it to life, remember that Avnet is here for you.
Be the “hero” of your own success story, with a little help at the critical moment, from Avnet.
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Avnet smart healthcare webinarDate: July 22, 2020 Location: Webinar