Clare company Allwayswithyou uses integrated care and AI in its health and wellness platform that promises to ease the strain on health services by allowing elderly people to stay healthy at home. One of its three founders, Ger O’Keeffe talks to ThinkBusiness about their journey to transform healthcare as we know it.
What led you set up Allwayswithyou?
My personal experience caring for my mum who passed a year ago. She lived on her own but took great comfort knowing the wider family were watching over and supporting her during lockdown, in her 89th year.
Coming from a tech background I could see the lack of use of technology in that setting.
“We’re not dependant on a specific piece of hardware and therefore easily scalable across multiple regions”
There was a huge opportunity to put tech to its best use in order to care for our loved ones.
What makes Allwayswithyou stand out?
We put the user needs first. We are not a point solution; we are not dependant on a specific piece of hardware and therefore easily scalable across multiple regions. We’re not hardware specific but we do integrate with multiple wearable families like Fitbit, Garmin, and Withings. We focus on proactive care. Our mission is to empower older adults to lead healthy and happier lives while remaining in their own homes.
What challenges did you meet and how did you overcome them?
The key challenge for us is to be able to engage with regional or national health services with a focus on delivering proactive care. We’re trying to influence health services but unfortunately they focus on reactive rather than proactive care.
Reactive is typically hospital or accute based services, which usually is the most expensive healthcare delivery. However, some health services like the NHS in the UK are slowly coming around to a new way of thinking and focusing on proactive care, which is where we come in.
“Some health services like the NHS in the UK are slowly coming around to a new way of thinking and focusing on proactive care, which is where we come in”
Another key challenge is that there’s always an element of fear or a lack of trust when it comes to adopting tech. That’s changing as generations evolve but it’s a challenge we deal with.
We are overcoming it by building trust. The service user knows their data stays on the system, that it’s used solely for the purpose of supporting the service user and their family or the care team around them. There are no other business models around advertising, it’s purely supporting the user at home.
Has your business been affected by the pandemic and how have you adapted?
There is no doubt that the pandemic acted as a catalyst for digital health or health mobile health.
“Many of the supports in Ireland are geared towards lower risk start-ups. More has to be done to encourage and support higher risk, higher impact ventures”
There is confidence now in virtual consultations, digital care plans, medication scheduling and aderence, continuous monitoring of biometrics and virtual assitants.
What is the support for entrepreneurs in Ireland like and how could it be improved?
There is significant opportunity to do much more in Ireland to support entrepreneurs. The high level of multinational companies in Ireland has resulted in Irish entrepreneurs having a global view, which is a key element of establishing and growing a commercial enterprise.
Many of the supports in Ireland are geared towards lower risk start-ups. More has to be done to encourage and support higher risk, higher impact ventures.
“Always consider your second or third parallel start-up. Plan on the first venture being more of a learning exercise”
We are starting to see signs of this but there has to be a mindset change in how entrepreneurs and startups are supported. There’s good support for start-ups out of the universities in Ireland, but not enough focus on non university based enterprises.
What lessons have you learnt and what would you pass on to other businesses?
To always consider your second or third parallel startup. Plan on the first venture being more of a learning exercise. If you’re coming from a multinational background, it’s important to prototype and test to verify the market interest. You have conceptualised, but you have to verify that in one way or another, and it’s only at that point you should start to build a product or write code.
Always try to understand both your market model and your business model. Keep them as dynamic as possible so that you’re always evolving both your market model and your business model assumptions. Plan on it being a difficult journey and on falling at many steps along the way.
What is your proudest moment?
Feedback we got from the Service Improvement Manager of a national Integrated Care Programme for Older Persons who said our platform was the first time they’d seen a product integrate across multiple domains, each of which play a key role in enabling older people to age well, in place and independently.
They could see the value in what we were bringing together. Having that message come from somebody independent and responsible for service delivery meant a lot and was validation for what we’ve been working on for the last number of years.
What are your plans for the future?
In Ireland, to continue our work with the HSE across the various regions and to accelerate our projects in Scotland. Ultimately to get established in North American markets where there’s significant potential for what we’re doing.
At a technology level, our plans would be to enhance and continue building our AI engine, which we use for building our personal health recommendation engine – the virtual assistants – so that we can interpret the data we’re collecting and provide feedback to our users and their care teams to help guide them and ensure they are able to live independently in their homes for as long as possible. That’s what this is all about.