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Waiting for the world to catch up: why being first to market isn’t always the dream



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Kathryn Reilly talks to the co-founder of hugely successful French medical connectivity company, eDevice, about why perseverance is as important as getting there first.

Medical connectivity

To say that eDevice was an early pioneer in the brave new world of digital health would be an understatement. In 1999, when the company launched, others were predicting disaster in the form of the much-feared Year 2k bug, and Google, Bing and Ask Jeeves were slogging it out for market share. They are ‘old hands’ and have been supporting some of the biggest names in the industry for the past 17 years, meaning the secure transmission of private health data for more than 600,000 patients. They describe their business as providing ‘innovative connectivity solutions to medical device manufacturers’, the result being that more than three million products already run on eDevice’s technology. 

In the last millennium, eDevice created the first wired modem with embedded TCP/IP stack. By 2003, they had developed the first interactive vocal server of a single chip (hello Alexa?). In 2007, they facilitated the conversion between analogue and wireless systems; the following year they launched worldwide cellular services for eHealth and M2M projects. In 2012 came HealthGO – a radical telehealth platform for remote patient monitoring, and just last year the company was recognised by Manageo for its continuous growth over the last decade. And there’s the surprising fact. This isn’t a Silicon Valley venture but a French enterprise – Bordeaux based rather than Parisian – with global vision. eDevice generates 99.8 per cent of its turnover in exports, two thirds of which are in the United States. ‘Although eDevice is based in Bordeaux, our solutions are present in 120 countries,’ says founder Marc Berrebi. 

And the list of partnerships holds some impressive names. Medtronic uses two of eDevice’s technologies to allow cardiac patients without a landline to benefit from all advantages of remote monitoring by providing them with cellular or internet connectivity. Philips uses eDevice’s WireX to add cellular connectivity to its Telestation® communication and data sharing platform. Honeywell’s HomMed automates and secures transfer of medical and vital signs data by using eDevice technology too. Even the EU is using eDevice’s expertise to develop technologies that monitor the health of the elderly. Bringing us up to date, eDevice was recently named the winner of the Digital Health Award, as part of Tech Tour’s Healthtech Awards 2017, which recognizes the most innovative healthtech companies in Europe. 

See you later, innovator? 

All looks rosy right now but it wasn’t always thus. It turns out that being so ahead of the curve wasn’t so great. ‘It was a bad thing because people had no understanding of connected care. We had an idea way too early but we survived it,’ Marc begins. ‘At the time there were just four other companies in the same space and they all disappeared. Our investors pulled the plug because they thought the internet of things market would never exist.’ Hard to imagine now, with the benefit of hindsight. And it would have been impossible to predict the level of success that eDevice would achieve. 

Medical connectivity

Marc Berrebi (right)

The weekly news magazine, Le Point, has said that the company’s ascension to the top tier of connected health globally is ‘one of the great French achievements of recent years’. That’s no small feat. ‘We’re very proud for several reasons. eDevice is a story of entrepreneurship – we had an idea too early but survived it to create something that is not only successful but we’ve had 150 per cent growth for the last two years and increased our revenue seven-fold in that time too. But also, we serve a purpose – we develop technology that helps patients live a better life. We’re doing well by doing good.’ 

So well, in fact, that the company was snapped up in September 2016. Big players iHealth acquired eDevice for €93.88 million euros (about $106 million). That might have signalled a change in culture or direction but it isn’t so. ‘Part of the agreement was ‘that we would remain autonomous and manage the business as we have from the beginning,’ and the deal has created chances to work side by side with complimentary technologies – especially in iHealth. ‘It also allows greater access to the very promising Asian market. Their healthcare system isn’t as complete as ours – it’s still developing – and they might even leapfrog some stages and go directly to remote patient monitoring.’  

Future forecast 

According to Marc there will be three main strands to the technology going forward. Firstly, remote consultations will become mainstream, especially for simple pathologies. Secondly, we’ll rely more and more on wearables – in a couple of years we will use them for continuous monitoring. ‘We will see more pre-emptive medicine with algorithms and big data creating preventive medicine – especially for disease such as Congestive Heart Failure and diabetes,’ he believes. This will lower costs and improve patient health. Then there’s another avenue. We get more and more pharma companies coming to us because they’ve developed a drug but they don’t know – don’t know how or if it’s used, which creates a problem for the payer. Are they paying for something that isn’t used? Also, patients can’t assess efficacy of drugs. After the well-framed clinical trials, there is suddenly no monitoring – the patient can do whatever they want. So they need to make sure that the patient is compliant and the drug is efficient – our technology can help to serve the payer, the pharma and the patient.’ 

But it won’t all be plain sailing. ‘In a number of markets we’ve recently seen that the “winner takes all” – billions of people are using spreadsheets yet there’s only one brand, billions are using browsers but only one is used. This is a new thing. We’re moving towards markets that are dominated by a single player. My fear is that it might be the same in connected care. In the future, will we have the situation where a company “owns” our DNA? I don’t see it happening in very short space of time, I’m thinking more 2030 onwards. We may end up with one Über, one Amazon – really powerful companies with huge control.’ 

Finally, what advice would the man who lost it all and simply wouldn’t give up share with other potential entrepreneurs? ‘Cross the seas – go all over the world. We live in a global village – if it’s good in Paris, it should be good in Boston and Shanghai. Don’t just sell to your own village. And, of course, we lost everything but still made it, so I’d say listen to everyone but decide alone.’ In short, believe in yourself.

About the author

Journalist and editor Kathryn Reilly has worked in consumer, contract and medical writing for more than 20 years.

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