Charles-Eric Winandy: It is a course project. Our MBA course at the Vlerick Business School included an entrepreneurship course for which we had to propose a group-based business idea. Our first approach was very different from what we are doing today, although we are still using the same technology, namely an activity tracker bracelet.
We first conducted many preliminary tests using these bracelets and free applications that had been installed on tablets purchased from local businesses. We had a small budget and started by defining our target, without taking too many risks. After unsuccessfully testing home-bound elderly people, who had health problems or were at risk of falling, and then seniors of 65 years and over, who were still healthy and wanted to stay in shape, we were introduced to the patients of an orthopaedic surgeon specializing in hip and knee prostheses. He was certain that they would be convinced by this opportunity to optimize their revalidation.
The results were so positive that users did not want to return the tool at the end of the trial period! Four of us then decided to adopt a more professional approach and created a company at the end of 2015.
C-E.W. : All four of us had no experience in the paramedical field. It is something we have experienced somewhat by chance. We were fascinated by the process of creating a company. In fact, we could easily have focused on another sector. One of us even came up with the idea of shampoo capsules for festival-goers. But we particularly wanted to be entrepreneurial and create something.
C-E.W. : We completed our MBA in the summer of 2016. In September 2016, one of us, Ward, left his job to devote himself full-time to MoveUP, and I joined him at the beginning of 2017. We started by raising funds. After using our own money to set up the company, we managed to obtain a subsidy.
Since October 2016, we have also been part of twenty-four projects selected by the cabinet of Maggie De Block, Federal Minister of Health, as part of a tender for mobile health applications. The INAMI (National Institute for Health and Disability Insurance) will assess the effectiveness of all the applications within the field of healthcare. This was a major boost for us. The tests are financed by INAMI and being part of this project has helped to improve our credibility towards the various hospitals with which we collaborate, such as the Saint-Jean Clinic in Brussels, the AZ Delta Hospital in Roulers, and the Maria Middelares Hospital in Ghent. This tender has allowed us to create a very specific structure for our project.
We developed the first version of the integrated application between August and December 2016. The study protocol was approved by the various ethics committees in May, and meant we could get started in earnest. We met ten to fifteen patients every week, who had to be registered and followed during the three months of treatment. This was accompanied by quite a heavy workload. By mid-June, around forty patients were already using our solution and, in the long-term, we will be able to follow up to two hundred patients during their revalidation. We are doing everything to show INAMI that patients revalidate effectively when they use our solution and that, all things considered, this approach will be cheaper than the conventional method.
Our goal is to be reimbursed by INAMI and to convince involved hospitals. The ones we currently work with already realise the usefulness of our solution. We thus hope to continue collaborating with them and add others to the list. But we must wait for reimbursement status before development can really get started. Belgians are not accustomed to paying for their health care. However, INAMI´s approval process is quite long; around a year and a half. But we must be able to continue working during this period. For the time being, all our activities will be financed within the pilot project. Therefore, until approved for reimbursement, costs must be charged to the patient. As a result, we must offer a product that offers as many benefits as possible.
C-E.W. : The Vlerick Business School has helped us a lot; with the support of our professors, we have been able to devote all our courses and graduation projects to our company and the various aspects of its launch (finance, business plan, marketing, innovation, etc.).
The subsidy we received was decisive because it allowed the company to survive during the product’s development period, which lasted several months.
We are also a member of lifetech.brussels, the Brussels Health Cluster that organises very interesting accelerator training programs for entrepreneurs who, like us, are not up-speed-to with all specifications, regulations, medical devices, privacy and data protection issues, etc. These seminars have also helped us to establish contacts with human resources like lawyers and consultants. When we entered this accelerator program, none of us was working full time on our project. This has allowed us to develop a clearer idea of what we can expect.
In March 2016, we also participated in a hackathon which had been organised in Brussels for insurance experts and representatives from INAMI. The goal of participants was to advance their projects as much as possible within a single weekend. Our whole website, as it stands today, was created during that event. We also studied our branding, communication, pricing, etc.
However, the biggest boost from the accelerator program, especially in terms of visibility and credibility, was the invitation to tender from the De Block cabinet, for which we are greatly indebted. We fully committed ourselves to this undertaking since March, and will continue to do so for the coming four months.
C-E.W. : First of all, I would urge them to be part of a good team, and be surrounded by good people. Our team functions well. After meeting, we were all motivated by the same objective: to create something.
I would also caution against doggedly sticking to an initial idea without really listening to feedback received from the target audience. After analysing people’s reactions, we were able to adapt our product in function of our potential clients. Many people make the mistake of always thinking they have the best idea. But you must be able to question yourself if the results are disappointing. It is also better to start with a simple concept, test it, and advance gradually to avoid spending too much time and money on projects that will not be successful.