On Friday, ACCESS Health International and its Singapore based partners at NUS Enterprise awarded roughly $85,000 US dollars to three teams of entrepreneurs who are creating innovative solutions for an aging population. The Modern Aging Singapore program is a business accelerator that educates and inspires entrepreneurs to create businesses that serve the needs of the elderly and their caregivers. The program helps businesses from ideation to international expansion, working closely with teams of entrepreneurs throughout their journey.
For the past two years, Modern Aging Singapore, with support from the Singapore Ministry of Health, has held a public event where entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to a team of judges and are awarded seed funding based on their idea’s potential to impact lives and improve wellbeing. This year the three winning teams – FlexoSense, Kinexcs, and Oxyvel – were focused on medical devices and monitoring technology. You can read more about the work in the official press release.
To mark the occasion, we decided to catch up one of the winners from last year’s event to see how their idea was progressing and better understand how the Modern Aging Singapore program has helped. Tan Yeow Kee is a scientist at Institute for Infocomm Research, a Singapore based research institute focused on information and communications technologies. He led one of the three winning teams at the Modern Aging Singapore 2015 event and Modern Aging continues to support his work.
Dr. Tan and his partners are working on SoundEye, a monitoring device that can be set up in a home and allow family members or other caregivers to monitor their loved ones from afar. If a loved one faints, falls, or needs help they can simply call out for assistance and the monitor alerts family members or other caregivers via a mobile device, no matter where the caregiver is at the time. The monitoring system is as useful for people caring for elderly individuals as it is for new parents who want to ensure their young children are safe.
Here’s an excerpt of our discussion with Dr. Tan about SoundEye and how it is progressing, one year on.
How did you come up with the idea for SoundEye?
We came up with the original idea for SoundEye in 2013. I met a woman while I was working on another project about robotics. She shared a story about how she had once fallen in her home, when no one else was around. I had a eureka moment when I heard her tell that story. I wondered why it wasn’t possible to use a person’s screams to activate an alert, instead of a person having to push a button or trigger an alarm themselves. A voice activated trigger would be so much easier for individuals compared to a panic button or emergency pull cord. Once we had the idea, after that it was all execution. We validated the ideas through a lean startup method, we worked on hardware development, conducted a pilot study, conceptualized the business model and now here we are.
Why did you decide to apply to be a part of the Modern Aging Singapore program?
When we applied, Modern Aging was the only program that targeted this particular domain. And of course the possibility of winning the prize money was important, I needed it to kickstart my grand plans for SoundEye. Learning to commercialize a product or service takes a lot of planning in terms of the operation and the revenue model. Making sure the product is in line with the revenue model is imperative. Regardless whether you are a tech startup or a social enterprise, a revenue model that can sustain the startup is still the key here. Being part of the Modern Aging program was a big help.
What was your reaction when you found out you won third place?
I had mixed emotions. I was happy that we won but still a bit sad that we didn’t do better. But things happen for a reason. Perhaps God didn’t want me to win first and second place because he wanted me to work harder and achieve success the hard way. And through this process, I hopefully learn even more and that leads SoundEye to even greater success. The cup is half full and not half empty.
Where is SoundEye in its development now?
Things are going extremely well. We’ve launched a series of paid pilot studies in healthcare institutes around Singapore. We’ve started a collaboration with a large security firm in Asia to provide monitoring services that will bring value to seniors, caregivers, and welfare organizations. Beyond elderly care, there are also request from commercial properties to use SoundEye for emergency monitoring purpose. This success is beyond our initial expectations and I know it will get even more exciting in the months to come.
What advice do you have for other businesses who may be considering being part of the Modern Aging program?
Get out of the building and start pitching your ideas and deploy them if at all possible. Get feedback, then validate, validate, and validate. Find good mentors in the field, take their advice to heart and leverage their networks. Don’t just stay working at your desk. You have to get out and network. It’s through networking that I managed to get a few deals. Last of all, don’t worry too much! Start with action. Thinking too much without action is not going to help. I guess, overall, my main message is to have courage and just do it. Whatever happens, you will learn from it. Because the absolute worst thing to happen is that you don’t do anything.