Panagiota Kontou, Souheil Ben Smida, and Dimitris Anagnostou, Co-founders of VisionRF healthcare-tech startup, are faculty members of Heriot-Watt University. We spoke to them to discover how they started their business, how they came to be involved in the University of Edinburgh’s DDE Venture Builder Incubator programme and how it’s accelerated them on their entrepreneurial journey towards making a real-world impact.
Panagiota: I wanted to make a positive impact on society by addressing a real-world problem with my PhD. My PhD advisor, Dimitris, was a Marie-Curie fellow studying remote sensing of vital signs using radio-frequency technologies. I started working as a team on this with him and Souheil, who had complementary expertise on microwave systems, and it worked! We explored two methods successfully - one of them even giving results with unprecedented quality. This was when we decided to form VisionRF.
Panagiota: We want to transform the way healthcare is delivered by monitoring vital signs remotely, continuously and unobtrusively, meaning without any wires, wearable sensors or smart watches. This will maximise the mobility of patients while their health is being monitored.
Souheil: We all have personal experiences with people with dementia and Alzheimer’s. We want to benefit patients by monitoring their wellbeing and allowing them to live independently for longer, benefit health carers or caregivers by giving them peace of mind, and benefit the NHS by alleviating the burden in care homes and hospitals.
Souheil: Monitoring vital signs 24/7 produces a significant amount of health data. We are currently working with healthcare professionals to determine how this data can be best used to tackle health care problems, reduce hospitalisations, ease the burden on the NHS, and improve people’s quality of life.
Souheil: You always make an impact when you do research, but sometimes that impact comes 10, 20 years down the line. Here we have the unique opportunity to make a difference now.
Dimitris: As a faculty in a top university you try to conduct research and publish as much as you can. This research topic however makes a difference in people’s lives, and means something to me personally. It is exciting to do research that can benefit society so much.
Dimitris: Being accepted into the DDE programme will always be part of our startup success story. Collaborating with end-users, care homes and medical professionals has also given us valuable insight for improving the device. In terms of personal success, we want to do something that people will find useful - knowing that we helped save someone’s life would be the ultimate success.
Souheil: The idea of applying to the Venture Builder Incubator came from our University Enterprise team at Heriot-Watt. They pointed us to the Incubator as the place where we’d learn what building a business is about. Before we were just engineers, now we are entrepreneurs.
Panagiota: The next step is to undergo test trials with end-users, increase our technology readiness level, and hopefully spinout in the next six months - a goal significantly accelerated by the Incubator.
Dimitris: I think our next steps will also include further collaboration with cardiologists, care homes and end-users. This will shape the direction of the company and is an exciting part of the journey!