Making ‘SM-Heart’ the “Swiss Watch of Medical Devices”

July 5, 2017 | by: Heather Boyd-Kinnie

PDC ChangeMaker and MTME entrepreneur heads to MassChallenge Switzerland. 

Written by Tiziana Zevallos

Fourteen years ago, Thomas Bird’s grandfather died of heart failure. Today, Bird is developing technology that could save the lives of millions by detecting the early symptoms of a failing heart.

Thomas Bird, student at the University of New Brunswick, founded SM-Heart in January and has recently been selected as one of four startups in Canada to participate in the MassChallenge Accelerator program in Switzerland.

 

Thomas Bird receiving 1st place price at the YES Atlantic 2017 National Bank Pitch Competition.

 

Since Bird was born, his favourite playmate was his grandfather. They lived a couple streets away from each other, and whenever Bird visited, his grandfather would let him into the basement to play with antiques.

Pretending they were swords, he would spend days on end as a kid, running from the basement to the garage, shadowing his grandfather. And when it was downtime, they would break open the checkers board, and play a game together.

“We had the same interests. He was always building stuff in his garage and he loved sports. He was the rough and tough kinda guy.” His sudden passing to heart failure shook the whole family, especially Bird.

***

As a student for the Technology Management and Entrepreneurship Master’s program at the University of New Brunswick (MTME), Bird was encouraged to find a passion and develop a business around it.

While researching cardiovascular failure, Bird found patients with heart failure often get a condition called edema. When the heart weakens and pumps blood less effectively, it can cause fluid to slowly build up in the body, creating swelling.

Bird quickly realized that, while leg edema is extremely common in patients with heart disease, there isn’t a quantifiable way to measure the swelling.

“You could have a critical amount of swelling and not know. If the swelling persists unnoticed it means that the heart has stopped working normally, and if untreated, it can be fatal.”

The current method of measuring this swelling is by weighing the patient every five days or using a measuring tape to wrap around the limb.

“It’s redundant and archaic. We want to take something that’s from the naked eye approach and put a scientific number behind it,” Bird said.

SM-Heart aims to empower the patient with information.

The wearable technology SM-Heart produces is in the form of an anklet, which works “like a fitbit for your heart.” It monitors the increase of swelling in the leg. The collected data is sent via bluetooth to a mobile application and can be accessed by the patient, their doctor and family through a cloud server.

”I think it’s unique because it’s so simple. It’s not trying to cure heart failure, it’s trying to give someone a heads up – taking the element of surprise and and putting it in their hands,” he said.

“SM-Heart gives you a handle on [the swelling], to know when to call the doctor before it is an ambulance.”

***

Globally, there are 26 million heart failure patients, of which 1 million are hospitalized each year because of swelling.

Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer in the world, affecting 1 to 2 per cent of Canadians every year.  In countries like Japan and Singapore, numbers of those affected reach 6 per cent of the total population.

Each year, swelling patients specifically cost the global healthcare system over 20 billion dollars. “It is a multi-billion dollar problem,” said Bird.

“If you can’t cure the disease, there is definitely ways you can help the people who have it, and that’s our mission.” Bird said he might not be a surgeon, but he can apply his skills and training in ways that help people get back on their feet.

“Yes, my grandfather did pass and it was awful, but there are so many grandfathers, grandparents and parents, who are still alive who can benefit from the technology. Even if they’re not related to me, they’re related to someone.”

***

Bird began working on SM-Heart seven months ago and is now heading to MassChallenge in Switzerland, a global non-profit four-month startup accelerator program with a focus on high-impact, early-stage entrepreneurs, which gives out over $2 million in equity-free cash prizes every year.

The program is led by experts from several organizations including Harvard Medical School, Microsoft, L’Oreal, Dell, American Airlines and Honda.

“It’s been going quick,” he said. “It’s very new, all of it, but a lot of things have clicked together.”

He first pitched SM-Heart at the YES Atlantic Pitch Competition (PDC Event) in Fredericton in March, 2017 where he won first place and was awarded $3,000 in funding made possible from National Bank. There he connected with the Manager of the Pond-Deshpande Centre’s ChangeMaker Funding Program, Heather Boyd-Kinnie, and subsequently received support through this program.

Fast forward two months, he was in Israel attending the Tel Aviv University Innovation Conference. There he was notified he had been selected among the 10% of applicants who make it into the second round of judging to enter MassChallenge.

Sitting in a small hostel room in Jerusalem, with 35 degree weather, praying nobody would walk in, he was interviewed by four Swiss surgeons through Skype.

“They asked me the toughest questions I’ve ever been asked in life and as soon as I hung up, I was like ‘wow, that went so bad, there is absolutely no way I got in,’” he said.

Back in Fredericton, while walking on a trail, he got an email that read “Mass Challenge Acceptance Notification.” At the time, he didn’t think SM-Heart was at a stage where he would be accepted into the program, but says it was a source of validation that they see value in SM-Heart.

“I like to think that by [participating in MassChallenge Switzerland], it will make SM-Heart the Swiss Watch of Medical devices.”

***

Bird is now figuring out how the technology could be applied to address other medical conditions. Looking forward to the program, he is hoping to have a medical trial by the end of the accelerator, develop great sales and market strategies and expand his channels to figure how to best reach heart failure patients.  

Looking back at what sparked his motivation, the image of his grandfather playing checkers in the basement comes to mind.

“He loved tinkering around with stuff, so if he were still around, he would love to work on [SM-Heart] as well. I carry that with me.”

 

 

 

 

 

About Our Blog

Check out the latest programs, articles and news items about or authored by the Pond-Deshpande Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. It’s our goal to keep you up to date on the latest ideas and conversations in the global entrepreneurial ecosystem. If you have an idea for a blogpost, don’t hesitate to contact us at innovate@unb.ca.


Recent News

  • Sep, 0618

    Joanna Nickerson Launches ‘GTFO Adventure Club’

    Joanna Nickerson, PDC’s B4C Social Innovation Manager, launches ‘GTFO Adventure Club’ for women in New Brunswick. Written by Tiziana Zevallos Joanna Nickerson grew up in […]

    Read more…

  • Jul, 2118

    More than meets the EhEye: James Stewart

      EhEye’s Founder and CEO, James Stewart, began his startup journey 11 months ago. Last week, he won the Grandmothers’ Choice Award at StartupFest Montreal. This […]

    Read more…