Winning the hearts of investors
Heartstrings has captured the imagination of investors and the hopes of many in the healthcare industry.
In 2017, the brothers were winners of the European Investment Bank Institute’s Social Innovation Tournament contest. They were also selected by Forbes magazine as one of the top 30 most influential social entrepreneurs and featured on the prestigious “Forbes 30 under 30 list.” They also won a contest for startups sponsored by the Swedish communications firm Tele2. In tough competition with 4,300 other startups, they won SEK 1 million (or about EUR 100,000) in prize money and the keys to a state-of-the-art office in Södermalm, a trendy Stockholm neighbourhood, complete with full-spectrum lighting, workout equipment and deliberately uncomfortable chairs designed to make it hard to sit still for more than 15 minutes (to encourage standing and moving around).
Before the awards and recognition, Allen and Max faced a long uphill battle to get anyone else to believe in their idea.
Max said that most people find out they have a heart problem only when they go to see the doctor after having symptoms such as chest pain or shortness of breath. But these symptoms may also be related to many other diseases; so thousands of clinical hours are wasted evaluating people who may not even have a heart problem, while as many as one billion people are developing the disease but don’t even realise it.
An engineering approach
“At first and for some time we didn’t have the idea to turn this into a business, we just wanted to find a solution,” Max said.
They approached the issue not like doctors, but as engineers.
“The foundation of our company is built on an engineering mindset,” Max said. Allen continued: “Engineers look at systems and their components. If one component doesn’t work properly, the whole system’s performance will be affected. The human body is also a system and each organ is a component. So we thought by looking at related parameters, we could see if heart disease could be detected at an earlier phase.”
Using a set of different data points— from personal and demographic details to geography and the patient’s medical data collected by nurses and doctors — the brothers created an algorithm using artificial intelligence that could reasonably indicate whether that all-important component (the heart) in the system (the body) was at risk.
At this point, they realised they had an idea that could have a huge social impact — saving lives, saving doctors’ valuable time, saving money as well as making more free beds available, reducing costs for payers (patients, insurance companies, local governments) — while being a sustainable business.
As they encountered barriers, they found a way over or around.
Having refined their approach, they needed a clinical trial in order to prove their technology, fine-tune their program and address any flaws. But they didn’t have the money to conduct one themselves.
“We spent six months being told no by hospital managers who were saying a clinical trial was too expensive,” Allen said. “But after six months, we met a cardiologist who had a similar problem with her father and she believed in us and our vision.”