A smart stethoscope that allows patients to measure the first signs of respiratory infection or heart problems at home. This idea enabled the Stethup team to win the START competition at the University of Lausanne in April 2017.
‘You should have come to see me sooner.’ We have all heard our doctor say this. It’s just that when the cough started, we first of all went to the chemist’s. Then we waited a while, but the pain at the back of our throat that just would not go away made us contact our GP. Then we waited some more until our initial appointment. Or, feeling desperate, we headed for A&E.
In the hope of speeding up the diagnostic process and reducing both periods of sickness and (indirectly) the cost of health care, Jeton Ibrahimi, a master’s student at the Faculty of Business and Economics of UNIL and Pierre Starkov, who has a degree in Medicine and IT from the University of Geneva, imagined connecting a stethoscope to a mobile app which would allow patients to perform an initial self-diagnosis at home. ‘The tool will guide the users so they position the stethoscope correctly at several points around the body,’ explains Jeton Ibrahimi. The device itself will be a disc some 5 cm in diameter, fitted with a sensor to absorb the sounds coming from the heart and lungs. There will also be a microprocessor capable of analysing them.
The system will indicate the probability that the person has developed bronchitis or pneumonia, for example. ‘The principle will be similar to a thermometer. The tool will provide the raw data,’ continues the student. ‘How the results will actually be communicated has yet to be specified,’ concludes Pierre Starkov. ‘It is not a case of leaving the patients to their own devices.’
During the first phase of the project, the device will mainly serve to calm any anxiety on the part of the user, who will need to consult a doctor to confirm the diagnosis. In the second phase, the two start-up specialists hope the sounds picked up can be transmitted to a doctor in encrypted form, who could listen to them and feed back their conclusions to the patient via the application.
Developing the product
As well as taking part in the START competition (see below), Stethup also took advantage of the UNIL entrepreneurship accelerator in terms of both training and coaching. ‘We are refining our product to be sure we can meet a genuine need,’ explains Jeton Ibrahimi. The person responsible for the ‘business’ side is currently meeting with doctors to ascertain if they would use the tool and under what conditions.
The project has already won over the Swiss Center for Electronics and Microtechnology, which has offered Pierre Starkov the opportunity to develop the product in collaboration with the paediatric emergency department at Geneva University Hospital and benefit from its clinical expertise. Around ten prototypes of the stethoscope, the mobile app, and the IT at the heart of the system should be available in the very near future. The tool could be on sale in pharmacies by summer 2018.
Promoting entrepreneurship on campus
The START competition is aimed at helping students transform their ideas into start-ups. The teams – some 31 for the 2017 competition – have to come through various elimination phases over a period of six months: a brief summary of their project (elevator pitch) lasting two minutes, followed by presentations of a business model and finally a business plan. Training sessions and round-table discussions are offered at each stage to guide the participants through the processes involved in creating a business.
The competition is open to students at both UNIL and the Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL). External parties can also enter, providing they completed their degree less than three years ago. ‘We encourage collaboration between people from different backgrounds and, for the first time this year, organised a “draft” evening for teams to recruit new members,’ explains Marielle Kugler, a student at the UNIL Faculty of Business and Economcis who is responsible for the competition.
The six teams who had made it through the selection process took part in the final held at UNIL on 26 April. Stethup emerged victorious that evening and picked up the prize money (CHF 30,000) with its concept for a connected stethoscope.