Internet of Life
Jonathan O’Halloran, Co-Founder and Group Chief Scientific Officer of QuantuMDx, discusses the lessons learned after eight years of business, the challenges of creating an IoT product for good and how mobile has opened up advancements in healthcare technology.
We started QuantuMDx in the UK eight and a half years ago and, like most wonderful tech startups do, it started in my garage. At that stage our aim was to create a fully integrated device that could do DNA testing for both pathogens and non-communicable Human genetic diseases.
After launching, we quickly won some funding from the South African government and moved our business to Cape Town. Our focus then shifted towards infectious diseases and a handheld DNA testing device after we saw a huge need to help the government tackle issues around drug resistance and infectious disease.
By using connected handheld devices we also saw an opportunity to create a network of data that could be stored in the cloud; allowing us to observe the evolution and movement of pathogens in real-time (for example, bird flu). That network was named, ‘the Internet of Life’, which certainly has its origins from the Internet of Things.
Internet of Life
It was the move towards mobile that triggered our use of handheld devices. Back then; we put a huge amount of faith into the proliferation of mobiles being connected to the internet. Now in 2016 we look at further advances for the roll out of mobile networks in rural areas and in terms of high altitude, long endurance drones, which all adds weight to this ability to offer internet access to the billions of people living in low to medium income countries.
By networking these devices while running and testing data samples, you are effectively creating this bioport into the pathogen world and looking at the diversity of pathogens within communities. This service is really powerful, especially when you think of it within the context of a epidemic and pandemic disease like Ebola, or Flu. If, during the Ebola crisis, we had been diagnosing patients in real-time as well as geo-tagging their test results, we could have contained the disease almost immediately.
With regards to who gets access to this data it is primarily targeting the nation’s health ministry, however who they decide to disseminate and pass this anonymised patient data onto is up to them.
Lessons learned after eight years
After eight years, I think I would have told myself to question the advice from so called ‘experts’ and to trust my own instinct and personal research into the field that has shaped the specifications for our device. Unfortunately, by listening to experts you tend to be taken off into multiple directions as they tend to think superficially and don’t often think too deeply about your specific business problem. Take the advice, but processes it in the context of your own thinking on your subject.
I would also have told myself to stay resolute in never accepting Venture Capital (VC) money. VCs are less interested in the greater good and are more about the bottom line, which is particularly challenging for a startup like myself that want to develop a product that has a positive impact.
Creating a product for the good of society is a completely different mindset and generally, Internet of Good (IoG) businesses take longer to see success because they will insist on having their vision intact rather than being pushed into the market quickly because a VC wants to exit.
Succeeding as an IoG is down to the leaders of the company and their passion. A leader, like myself, will need to truly believe in what they are doing because it will take longer to bring to market. The product will still need to be as polished as a VC backed company because the way the world works it puts us [IoG businesses] on an even playing field with those backed by VCs.
I don’t think it’s harder being an IoG because we are following what we believe is right and we do not answer to a VC. Yes, there won’t be big VC dollars behind you but you won’t be beholden to the demands of a VC either.
Have you stuck to your vision?
Even better than sticking to my vision, I have been willing to accept change for the good. As I have learned more throughout this process, I have not been afraid to alter the vision to better fit where I naïvely thought the product should previously have been. This adaptability means that we have developed a truly world-changing product that will be incredibly important to the future of healthcare.