It is amazing what 2 ingenious minds can conjure, especially when driven by passion and the desire to revolutionize ultrasound through machine learning. Fuelled by like-minded individuals with a shared mission, global collaboration with clinician-scientists, sonographers and deep learning experts enabled eko.ai to provide equal access to affordable and top-notch echo analysis.
This brilliant journey of eko.ai begins with 2 committed business partners who tied the knot as well. The dynamic couple complements each other greatly for they were able to merge their expertise to expand healthcare access using AI (Artificial Intelligence) tools to democratise echocardiography.
With Dr Carolyn being the Director of the Women’s Heart Health Clinic and a Professor and Researcher at Duke-NUS, her unparalleled knowledge on Cardiology coupled with James commercial shrewdness from previous experiences as a Founder of an E-commerce startup certainly gave eko.ai the opportunity to soar to greater heights.
Cardiovascular diseases have taken millions of lives yearly and are one of the most pressing health issues to be tackled. Interpreting an echocardiogram traditionally is a tedious process, as one inefficiently invests large amounts of time to ultimately deduce a variety of results, even amongst trained doctors.
eko.ai aims to streamline the process, allowing cardiologists to read and interpret an echocardiogram under two minutes, one click and zero variability. Automating the fight against cardiovascular disease is truly the path of inevitability as indicated by their recent partnership with AstraZeneca, a globally recognised pharmaceutical company.
The Journey of eko.ai
As a driven and focused individual, his successes in his previous E-commerce startup led to his early retirement by which he took the chance to tour across the globe. His adventures came to a sudden halt when given the opportunity to get an electrocardiogram (EKG) while vacationing at a resort.
When James’ EKG readings were alarmingly abnormal, his doctor suggested an echocardiogram, an ultrasound of the heart. The inaccuracy of the examination drew 2 differing results with one being abnormal while the other being perfectly fine. Coupled with the need to wait a month for his results, James came to the conclusion that this process should be automated.
As James’ commitment to solving this pain point grew, Dr Carolyn, his amazing wife who is also a cardiologist, took him behind the scenes to uncover the process of conducting and interpreting an echocardiogram.
On top of being a cardiologist, Dr Carolyn has devoted her time over the past decade on her research platform in Asia. Knowing that her collection of various ultrasound images of the heart can be used for AI training and the testing of algorithms, the husband and wife team grew eager to pitch their ideas, which eventually led to receiving technical support from A*STAR.
Since its founding year in 2017, eko.ai has evolved into a tight knitted team with 12 goal-oriented and focused individuals. The size of eko.ai is never a limiting factor for they have proven to be a complete game changer in the HealthTech ecosystem. By integrating each of their expertise, this knowledgeable team of experts is definitely a force to be reckoned with.
An Inside Look into James’ Personal Life
As running a digital health startup comes with its challenges, James finds his strength and inspiration with the one person he truly admires, his wife, Dr Carolyn. Mentioning that she’s the epitome of empathy, intelligence and beauty, his wife constantly inspires him to be the best version of himself.
As working from home was enforced earlier in the year, James mentioned bringing business home wasn’t ideal and that there were inevitable ups and downs. Nonetheless, the couple found ways to unwind with their son despite their tireless schedule. From practicing yoga to painting, these therapeutic activities dissipate pressure, enabling the pair to practice mindfulness.
Headstrong on revolutionising healthcare in ways that haven’t been done before, his best takeaway from a poem The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost, is to always use unique approaches to tackle problems.
One of the best pieces of advice etched in his mind is by Peter Thiel, an entrepreneur and venture capitalist, and that is to avoid competition. Though it sounds counterintuitive, Thiel believes that an ideal business model is one with zero competition and one should strive to be so differentiated that it has an effective monopoly.
Tiding through the COVID-19 Pandemic
With endless media reports on this dire situation, the imminent pandemic led to James strategically preparing for the worse. From ensuring that business can be conducted solely online to tactfully down-scaling, eko.ai had proven to venture capitalists that plans were already imposed to help the company tide through these challenging times.
Before embarking on his journey to build eko.ai, he read Principles by Ray Dalio and looked up to his methodologies of running a company. One of Dalio’s practices that is currently adopted in eko.ai is the writing of dailies enabling transparency among team members. This mini online diary has proved useful among teammates of different job scopes as cross learnings through sharing are made possible.
This pandemic has thrown many into uncharted waters, resulting in many lifestyle changes. Being homebound has effectively digitised eko.ai, and James’ plans to move forward with this momentum of working remotely.
Partnerships during COVID-19
The hard-pressed healthcare industry has been tough to get through pre-COVID. With the bulk of healthcare professionals focusing on COVID patients, researchers were able to delve into the possible adoption of HealthTech. This has greatly accelerated projects given more availability of time.
On the topic of partnerships, eko.ai has noticed increased engagement from pharmaceutical players, recently singing contracts with Bayer, Astrazeneca and Johnson & Johnson, with several more deals pending. These accomplishments in the thick of the pandemic is a clear indicator of eko.ai’s relevancy in healthcare systems, given that their products yield promising results.
Thoughts On Being a 2020 Galen Growth HealthTech Cohort Member
With the increased adoption of HealthTech, access to doctors at one’s fingertips truly revolutionised the provision of quality care. Post-COVID, James believes that HealthTech has fast-forwarded as is here to stay in the new normal. From having quicker access to lowering infrastructure costs, a win-win situation is created for patients and healthcare systems.
Building the HealthTech ecosystem as a new normal unfolds is of high significance as the industry has accelerated in ways one could never imagine. In the age where healthcare consumers are increasingly open to digitization, HealthTech startups are able to contribute meaningfully to this change.
“Technology startups are high risk, high reward ventures. As CEOs, our job is to reduce the risk of failure. Galen Growth promotes mentoring, information sharing and ecosystem nurturing which helps to increase the odds of success. This is a chance that every entrepreneur welcomes and I am so happy to be part of this 2020 Galen Growth Cohort”
About the Galen Growth HealthTech Cohort
eko.ai is part of the Galen Growth HealthTech Cohort, the only acceleration programme built to scale digital health startups to be the next generation powering healthcare innovation in the New Normal in Asia. In 2020, Galen Growth is working with 25 HealthTech startups which will benefit from Galen Growth’s long-established and unmatched curated community of investors, corporate leaders and innovation teams and other essential stakeholders through our proven multi-channel tools. For more information, visit Galen Growth’s HealthTech Cohort webpage or read this article on the launch of the Galen Growth HealthTech Cohort.
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