In late 2017, the founding quartet of Smart4Diagnostics started with a clear goal in mind: Molecular biologist Yannick Böge, physician Malte Dancker, computer scientist Julia Flötotto and economist Hans Maria Heyn wanted to develop a digital solution to ensure seamless quality control of blood samples from the moment it’s drawn up to its lab analysis. After all, more than 70 percent of all errors in the diagnostic cycle happen exactly during this period, in what is known as preanalytics. Their solution: the first fully digitized and automated ‘full chain of custody’ for human specimens in preanalytics.
The team quickly learned from their initial setbacks, which were soon followed by numerous awards, for example as the winners of the EIT Health WildCard and the Pioneer Award and as finalists at the WHO World Health Summit. Another milestone that changed many things was their participation in Startup Creasphere in 2018-2019.
We spoke with co-founder Hans Maria Heyn about how the accelerator program went, how that led to further collaboration with Roche and why the quality of blood samples is more important than ever in healthcare.
Munich Startup: How did you end up participating in Startup Creasphere?
Hans Maria Heyn: We’ve known and valued Roche, the co-founders of Startup Creasphere, as a company for quite some time. My initial contact goes back almost 20 years when I visited the campus in Penzberg with my advanced biology class. Another co-founder also had professional contact with Roche through clinical studies. Even before founding the company, Roche had given us valuable feedback on our idea as a sounding board. It was based on these contacts that we became part of batch 1 at Startup Creasphere.
Munich Startup: So what happens exactly when you’re in a batch?
Hans Maria Heyn: A batch lasts for three to four months. In contrast to other accelerator programs, Startup Creasphere is not just about mutual learning and inspiration. As a startup, you also work on a concrete pilot project with a team from Roche. That gave our approach a reality check and allowed us to establish contact with laboratory customers during the pilot project, which benefits us to this day. We learned a great deal about different healthcare systems and the needs of different markets.
Sampling blood live on stage
On Expo Day, which is when the startups present the results of their collaboration with Roche, we took a blood sample live on stage – it was a bit of a risk, but it worked extremely well and we were able to illustrate the potential of our solution.
Munich Startup: What happened after that?
Hans Maria Heyn: As it became clear after the batch that we needed our own office with a lab, which is not easy to find, Roche quickly and unbureaucratically offered us the necessary space on their campus in Penzberg. And although we didn’t need the office there for as long as anticipated, Roche continues to be a valuable advisor and sparring partner, whose feedback we very much appreciate. With their global network, Roche also gave us the opportunity to explore the market and get an even better understanding of customer needs.
Munich Startup: So where are you now with your solution?
Hans Maria Heyn: We don’t want to be a small player on the market with our solution, but instead want to significantly change preanalytics worldwide. A pilot project is currently up and running in Germany, and we’re planning some major scaling of our solution in 2021.
“We’re preparing our worldwide launch”
The demand is unbelievable. During corona in particular, we’ve seen more than ever before how essential diagnostic tests are now and will be for the future of our healthcare systems. If you just think about the fact that 70 percent of all errors in the diagnostic cycle occur between the test request and the sample arriving at a lab, the dramatically growing demand for a smart solution in preanalytics becomes evident. The insight we gained in batch 1 and the contacts we established were instrumental in getting us to the point of preparing our worldwide launch. As a result, I would highly recommend that other startups participate in the program.