Why This Couple Founded a Medtech Startup That Automates the Fight Against Heart Disease
The Ready For Launch series asks questions of entrepreneurs to get the inside story behind a new startup or product launch.
It was around three years ago when Gen.T honouree Carolyn Lam and her husband James Hare landed on the idea to use machine learning to automate the analysis of echocardiograms, or ultrasound images of the heart. The idea was sparked when Hare went for a routine checkup on his heart and ended up receiving two opposing prognoses—one good, the other not so good.
Thankfully, the final result concluded that his heart was healthy, but it opened his eyes to an efficiency gap. The entrepreneur and investor in tech startups saw a business opportunity in making the diagnosis of heart conditions easier and more accessible to all doctors—not just sonographers and cardiologists—using AI.
Armed with this idea, he approached Lam, who is a renowned cardiologist at the National Heart Centre of Singapore, and two others: Yoran Hummel, a cardiovascular researcher specialising in echocardiography, diastology and cardio-mechanics, and Paul Seekings, who was CTO at IoT solutions company Embodied Sensing. In August 2017, they established Eko.ai and started developing an AI diagnostic software.
This past January, the startup secured seed funding from Sequoia India and Singapore-based EDBI. Its software is still in the regulatory approval process, but Lam says they expect to obtain the first green light in early 2021. More recently, in September, the startup was rebranded as Us2.ai. Here, we find out more from Lam and Hare about their vision for the startup.
Can you introduce Us2.ai in one sentence?
Carolyn Lam (CL) Us2.ai is on a mission to automate the fight against heart disease by using AI to fully automate the ultrasound screening procedure of the heart, which is the safest and most commonly used tool to image the heart. We’re taking a process that usually takes 30 minutes, 250 manual clicks and has less than 20 per cent variability and reducing it to two minutes and one click, with zero variability.
Who is the target consumer?
CL The medical community to start off. In other words, doctors like myself, to make us more efficient and accurate. Eventually, we want to bring our software to everyone as a way of putting heart health into one’s own hands—similar to the way AI has democratised electrography from a specialist’s tool to a feature on one’s watch!
What is your value proposition?
CL We offer users higher productivity and greater accuracy and are enabling AI-based ultrasound technology for people like us too.
What is the size of the potential market?
James Hare (JH) Our products address cardiovascular diagnostics, research and predictive analytics, which together target multi-billion-dollar markets.
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Who are your investors, and how closely did you work with them through the product development stage?
CL Our lead investors are Sequoia India and EDBI. They have deep experience creating world-class companies and have worked very closely with us as we built both our product and business.
How long did it take you to get from idea to launch?
JH It took us less than three years to go from an idea on a napkin to landing our first big pharma customers for our research products.
Tell us about the iterations you went through to get to the final product.
JH The wonderful thing about software companies is that iterations can happen extremely rapidly and at scale. We are constantly testing our products with end-users and rapidly adjusting to find product-market fit. It is a rare week that we have not tested and validated multiple new versions of our product.
What is the biggest obstacle you faced in getting Us2.ai’s solutions to the regulatory approval stage, and how did you overcome it?
CL We are currently in the process of obtaining regulatory approval for our first clinical product. The biggest obstacle has been the length of time it takes to obtain the human readings on which we will validate our product. It takes months to generate by hand the data that our software will produce in a few hours. This, of course, is precisely why we have built this software—there are enormous efficiency gains possible with AI.
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Is there a timeline as to when Us2.ai’s solutions will be available to the commercial market?
CL We expect our clinical tools to be available in early 2021.
How did you arrive at the final branding for Us2.ai?
CL Us2.ai is a combination of the very common acronym for ultrasound, “US”, and our mission to expand access to AI-enabled ultrasound to people like us too.
What is the story behind Us2.ai’s name and logo?
JH The waves in the logo represent the sound waves used in echocardiography and the red dot is a grateful acknowledgement of our founding in Singapore and the strong support we’ve received from [the country].
What are your goals for the brand for the next 12 months?
CL Strong recognition from the cardiovascular community in Europe, China and the US.
See more honourees from the Healthcare & Sciences category of the Gen.T List.