Startup Spotlight is an ongoing series which profiles Canadian wireless and mobile technology startups.
This month, we spoke with Shanil Gunasekara, the Co-Founder and CEO of eTreatMD. The company’s mission is to give people who struggle with arthritis and other chronic conditions the tools to measure, monitor and manage their own health and wellness. Created by biomedical engineers and experts in arthritis and skin imaging, eTreatMD is a mobile software that empowers individuals to take proactive control of their health.
What’s the inspiration behind e-treat? What led you to work in the e-health space?
Each founding member has their own unique starting point, but mine was when I was still in university. I was focused on mobile technology that was disruptive, and had a real interest in health care.
At the time (around 2008) things were just getting started in mobile and the healthcare system was not really active in this space. The focus was on big machines. While you could get great medical imaging from them, no one was focusing on the patient. I noticed there was a big gap in terms of actually engaging with the people who were affected by health issues.
After graduating, I ended up working with Nick Mackinnon, who later also became a co-founder. One day in working on a project together involving a large, optical imaging machine, we found ourselves asking the question – why couldn’t we do something similar with mobile? Since Nick has hand arthritis, I started to experiment by taking photos of his hand. I effectively became eTreat’s first researcher, and engineer!
Once we realized we could measure the hand, it was evident there was a product to be had. Everything came together in 2014 when two other co-founders came on board, and it became clear that there were partners and investors who were interested in what we were trying to create.
Can you explain the essence of your product and what benefits it provides?
Essentially we’ve built a tool where anyone can take a picture of their hand on a smartphone, and an algorithm will look for and identify key features of the hand affected by arthritis. For example, it will look for and measure whether your joints look swollen, or if a finger is curved. The software puts all those variables together with your self-reported lifestyle factors and produces a simple report for you to review. All you need is a phone with a camera and flash, and the tool will work on pretty much on any Android or iOS phone.
The goal is to make it possible for anyone to capture a snapshot of their condition so that by the time they meet with a specialist, they will have relevant information about how their condition may have changed over time. It’s really a self-management tool but the app is meant to facilitate conversations with health care practitioners, not replace them.
What role has Wavefront played in your journey to date?
We initially ended up at Wavefront because we were looking for office space. We’ve found that it’s an awesome place to be in because you can learn from the many other entrepreneurs working on their startups as well. When you work on your own project, you can often have blinders on without realizing it. So learning from others is something we’ve really enjoyed. And being in downtown Vancouver is great too!
In conversations with people here, we also found out about the different programs offered. We realized that we had skipped going through a few key steps when starting out, such as doing a full assessment of market validation, and decided to enrol.
We are currently participating in the Venture Acceleration Program which has given us some great structure and helped us to look at the bigger picture in building a business. There is still so much to learn! We plan to participate in the next program, RevUP, when the time is right.
From where you stand now, what developments do you see in the next 5-10 years?
There is quite a big range with what you can do with this type of tool. However, one of the biggest challenges startups have is to stay focused on a core strength so for now, we are focused primarily on arthritis as a starting point for the tool.
If we think about the future and look at the ‘market,’ rosacea, acne, and other skin conditions are very common. Since we have a team with deep expertise in skin-related ailments, we definitely have our sights set on expanding on the types of conditions we can serve as we continue to develop, and could even branch out further into areas like orthopaedics and chronic wounds. Ultimately, the goal is for the company to be a platform for chronic disease-management. I don’t want people with chronic diseases to be overlooked any longer. A lot of the time what people hear is ‘go live with it,’ but I’d like to be able to give people the tools to ‘live with it’ more effectively and proactively.
With a universal demand for healthcare and a self-managing medical device in-hand, are you planning to tap into the healthcare eco-system internationally as well?
Each market has its own system, problems and focus. So while our goal is to operate in many countries, we will only go where they are ready and willing to leverage this new technology. Currently, Sri Lanka is a focus because in being my home country, we are connected to investors and partners who have a strong interest in the tool and we understand the huge demand that exists there.
On another note, we are also looking for a way to help build a better system for healthcare providers across the globe. If you saw the interfaces many of the doctors are using, a lot of them look and feel like they are from the 1990’s. And once you look outside of North America, you’ll find that many don’t even have a software, and just rely on paper records. The idea of facilitating communication with a patient prior to even having a consultation has excited a lot of doctors in countries that lack a basic patient management system.
From your time leading the company, is there any advice you would share in the face of challenge?
We’ve been lucky because Nick has done eight startups and he provides a lot of guidance, and there are so many challenges that come along with running a startup. I’ve learned that sometimes it’s necessary to be fearless and to just try things out. If you sit back and don’t try out new solutions, then you’re never going to know what can work.
Another piece of advice I would give to anyone leading a startup is to learn how to let go and delegate to your team. Learn to develop trust by giving everyone an opportunity to contribute and succeed. It takes time to build a great team, and is a very rewarding process when you find the right people who are aligned with your vision and want to stick around to make it work.
Shanil and his team have partnered with The Arthritis Society to build more awareness about the condition and will fully launch the LiveWith Arthritis app in late September. Stay tuned for updates on the tool and its launch by visiting eTreat’s website.