COVER STORY

June Cover Story: Deep Tech

The hottest Southeast Asian startups in AI, Biotech, Blockchain and NewSpace. And why they make everyone else look boring.

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BY Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh - 19 Jun 2018

Web Biotech

Philip Wong, Cardiologist & Co-founder of Web Biotech PHOTO CREDIT: Joel Lim

Soon we might all have doctors in our pockets. “The smartphone is going to be the cornerstone of healthcare in the future,” says Dr. Philip Wong, a cardiologist and co-founder of Web Biotech, which has created what it calls the world’s first cloud-based, tether-free continuous electrocardiogram (ECG) monitoring machine.

The smartphone, Wong says, helps solve three traditional healthcare challenges: accessibility, particularly for patients living miles from the nearest doctor; data transfer, for instance, moving X-ray data securely; and consolidation of data for clinical decision-making.

In 2017 Asia’s health tech space saw $2.6 billion of funding for 230 deals, up from $2.2 billion for 116 deals in 2016, according to Galen Growth Asia, a health tech research house and “connector”. Leading sub-categories are health services search, medical data and analytics, genomics, online marketplaces, mobile fitness/health apps, and IoT health and wellness.

Take an old-fashioned ECG machine. Many heart patients still rely on a traditional Holter monitor, a portable device that uses patches and ungainly wires to record the ECG over a standard 24-hour period. The patient picks up the machine from a doctor, wears it, and then returns it. Clinicians download the machine’s data manually with the subsequent heart report possibly taking a week.

By contrast, users of Web Biotech’s “Spyder” device, which weighs just 48g with batteries, regularly use it for 2 weeks at a time, during which time it captures about a million heartbeats. This prolonged use, says Wong, allows the “cardiologist reviewing the data to pick up very infrequent and/or short arrhythmias [irregular heartbeats] lasting only a few seconds.”

Moreover, since this continuous ECG data is transferred wirelessly to the cloud, it can be rapidly analyzed both by algorithms and doctors remotely, drastically reducing diagnosis and decision-making time.

Wong grew up in Singapore and completed his medical degree in 1989 at the National University of Singapore. After national military service and medical specialization training, in 1995 he joined Singapore’s National Heart Centre, where he currently holds a senior consultant position.

His entrepreneurial journey began in 2006 when he founded Innoheart, a pre-clinical contract research organization. “That experience taught me how to run a business, and run it lean and efficiently, and to understand the roadmap to bring an idea to a fully commercialized product” he says.

In 2009 he co-founded Web Biotech along with an unnamed engineer. They bootstrapped the firm, relying on grants from SPRING Singapore, an enterprise development agency. In early 2018 Web Biotech announced it had received pre-series A convertible loan funding from SGInnovate.

Web Biotech’s over 5,000 current users are in markets as diverse as Brazil, Iraq and Russia. It primarily uses a B2B2C distribution model, selling the devices to clinics or hospitals, which then lease it out to patients. (A B2C “Spyder personal” unit is also available.) It hopes to be profitable by the end of 2018, and to have over one million units in use by 2020.

Yet Web Biotech’s ambitions are not just geographic. The firm calls itself “a digital health company making complete P to P (patient to physician) solutions for cost-effective monitoring and health care.” Additional data on, say, diabetes and high blood pressure, two other diseases associated with heart disease, would improve Web Biotech’s predictive powers.

Though Wong shies away from discussing future products, it seems likely that the systems and technologies being developed to monitor hearts can later be translated to the body’s other vital organs.

In other words, before long unobtrusive sensors and remote machines might be monitoring all your vital statistics around the clock. Hopefully they won’t stop you from eating that next pineapple tart.

 

AyoxxA

Andreas Schmidt, Co-founder of AyoxxA Biosystems Photo Credit: Company Courtesy

Having trouble reading this? Age-related macular degeneration typically starts affecting people in their 60s (older than Inc. Southeast Asia’s average reader), and is the result of chronic inflammation leading to abnormal vascularization or atrophy of the retinal layers in affected eyes.

 

Gilmour Space Technologies

Adam Gilmour, Founder & CEO of Gilmour Space Technologies Photo Credit: Joel Lim

For bankers keen to beat those mid-career blues, consider becoming a rocketeer. “I went from spreadsheets filled with derivative calculations to spreadsheets filled with rocket calculations and it was an easy transition,” says Adam Gilmour, founder and CEO of Gilmour Space Technologies (Gilmour Space henceforth).

 

AgriDigital

Emma Weston, CEO & Co-founder of AgriDigital Photo Credit: Courtesy Company

Forget cryptocurrencies. Look at supply chains to understand blockchain’s magic. In December 2016 an Australian farmer sold 23 tonnes of wheat to a wholesaler and received payment in an hour—in what is believed to be the world’s first live settlement for a physical agricultural commodity using blockchain.

 

nuTonomy

Doug Parker, COO at nuTonomy Photo Credit: Joel Lim

Driving can be deadly. In 2017 the automotive sector saw 1.4 million deaths globally; while the commercial aviation sector saw zero. Part of the reason for the relative safety of the skies, according to evangelists of autonomous vehicles (AVs), is that people travel on planes operated by companies obliged to keep them safe. The operators try to ensure, among other things, that their vehicles are serviced and their pilots competent. Contrast that with automobiles: some 95% of road accidents are due to human error.

 

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