How does it feel to do digital health in 2016
I am working on my second independent health project. I do not call it a second startup or a second venture yet. I call it a project: a pilot or an exploratory project. I’m not humble. I am cautious.
In 2013 I was in my 13th year of working in academia, and I got growingly disillusioned with it. It was mostly because all of the research that so many good labs produce is not translated fast enough into the immediate help and betterment of all human lives. Academics put in a lot of hours, dedication, work extremely hard and are by far as a group one of the smartest collection of people I have ever had a pleasure to work and interact with. I belonged to this world long before I engaged in my own PhD quest. My father, researcher and a part of academia, infected me with this bug of love for science and research. The very first book I got was about atoms, I don’t think my life could have followed a much different trajectory. Still, something was very off.
It was hard to leave academia, it is what I was groomed for and knew all my life, but at the same time, I was ready to do so.
2014 was in many ways a horrible year, it started with a death of a friend of mine, and was followed by my determination not to allow my friend’s fate to happen to the other people. I partnered with a very smart person, and we started cracking on this problem. And I left the academia. And moved back to Berlin.
What was existing in 2014?
For starting a light-health or a fitness startup 2014 was a great year. I already had my FitBit, and trackers were on a rise. Fitness startups were popping up and/or growing like crazy, I do not even remember their names. The USPs were sometimes ridiculous, but catchy: find a best friend through exercise, book a professional athlete to train with you, track how many steps you made, how many kilometres (or miles) you have run, share it on FB so everyone can see how cool and sporty you are (and wont judge you for taking a second helping of an apple pie later that afternoon).
Calorie counters, weight managing apps, the rise of good diabetes apps and good period trackers was all a hallmark of 2014.
True health was not yet that big in tech, not that omnipresent. Not the health I am thinking of.
The mainstream of 2014 public mindset was skeptical and perhaps a bit naive; there was a lot of work left to be done by the true tech pioneers to pave the way for themselves and for the rest of us.
These pioneers did an amazing and a tremendously hard job: convincing people their smart phone is an intimate confidante, and creating a bunch of delightful applications to make lives easier.
What did I do in the meantime?
I joined a health startup, for two reasons, one is to learn how to avoid my previous mistakes. I learned and grew as the company grew. And as always, I observed a life surrounding me. I also experimented and pushed some amazing projects forward.
How is 2016 different?
When I started in 2014 health tech visions were not fully recognised and accepted by the end users (the public). So called experts (they truly were not, because nobody can be an expert in a new and emerging field) were driven by scepticism and looking for a faster horse instead of an understanding that we need to build a spaceship.
In 2016 digital health is a mainstream word, early disease detection can be found in 90% of the health app pitches and mission statements, when we started we were one of the first (obviously not convincing enough). Apple and Google announced their intentions to conquer the sphere, which is great and could not be done in my lifetime without them. I am not claiming the novelty of the idea. The idea grew in me, as well as in anyone else that was a part of and believing in this big shifting field. Our surroundings shape our ideas.
This year is different, because there are companies budding everywhere taking on a piece of the health sphere, governments and regulatory bodies are getting increasingly concerned, and I can only hope that the legislations being prepared will allow all the innovation to go faster, and not to restrict it. It is an exciting time, as individuals are being given an increasing number of tools to manage their lives post diagnosis. Individuals are also given a lot of options to further expand on their self quantifications: blood works, microbiome, metabolome, proteome, genome (ok, that one was there for a longer time).
2016 is also a year when some of the giants (Theranos) failed.
People are growing more cautious, but at the same time becoming more curious and more health aware. There are seemingly the same discussions and concerns about data privacy as there were two years ago. With major breaches in the security on national levels nobody is truly protected. My understanding is different: we have our bodies to use and enjoy for about 100 years, after that we are gone. We are so transient, but our data is not. All of the collected data can survive, and should survive, and be used for the present and the future improvements in our collective health. Perhaps we should not worry only about the evil that can happen with our data, but focus on the good we can accomplish with it.
What am I doing today?
I have been struggling with Hashimoto’s (autoimmune thyroid disorder) for years, and it has not gotten better or easier to manage. Instead it has grown in its complexity. Changing countries and doctors has proven to be challenging too.
I started dreaming-what if…there would be a solution for keeping my condition in check?
And then one day, less than a month ago, we started building it: www.boosthealthapp.com
How does it feel today? It feels exciting and new and meaningful.