The BizSpark startup of the day is Critical Health, based in Portugal. Below you will find an interview with João Diogo de Oliveira e Ramos, Vision Business Unit Manager at Critical Health. All the best to them and congratulations for being the startup of the day!
Tell us who you are and your role in the company:
My name is João Diogo Ramos. I am 33 years old, with a degree on Computer Science and a background of more than 10 years of experience dedicated to several roles within the IT field.
At Critical Health I am the Vision Business Unit Manager, where I oversee the development and commercialization of the Retmarker product family - an innovative tool for progression monitoring of Retinal Diseases, www.retmarker.com.
What did you do before creating your company?
I started working in an e-commerce shopping mall created by a major Portuguese Industrial Group called Salvador Caetano. It was a solution based on Microsoft Site Server Commerce Edition and later on Microsoft Commerce Server.
After that, I decided to move to the city were I had studied and joined Critical Software (www.criticalsoftware.com) , a successful Portuguese IT services company, with offices world-wide, certified CMMI level 5, providing business and mission critical systems. Critical Software is a company that is used to working for the most demanding customers in the world (eg. NASA and many other Space Agencies). At Critical Software I did a little bit of everything, from software development, project and product management, consulting, quality assurance and eventually I moved to the business development area.
I led the Healthcare market initiatives within the company from 2006 onwards. My main activities consisted of assessing new opportunities, establishing and maintaining partnerships and managing products (eg. Retmarker). These activities contributed to the launch of the new spin-off named Critical Health. The new company was created to improve the Quality of Life and reduce total Healthcare spending. Critical Health is a Medical Device manufacturer providing decision support solutions to prevent loss of vision in an aging population.
How do you feel being the most promising ‘Startup of the Day’ per Microsoft BizSpark?
In today’s competitive world, one must excel everyday and in everything that we do… We have received other recognitions in the past (in the field of IT and Innovation), but having a partner as important as Microsoft highlighting the work we have been doing, makes us very proud.
Honestly we feel we deserve this award as we were early adopters of technologies such as Windows Presentation Foundation for the development of our core product and that is precisely one of the areas where we were very innovative.
What is your company’s mission?
To provide critical Health Information to everyone through the marketing of innovative and accessible products that help prevent the loss of vision.
In 140 characters or less, tell us what your company does:
Critical Health is a Medical Device manufacturer providing decision support solutions to prevent loss of vision in an aging population.
How did you get the idea for your company?
At Critical Group, whenever a new technology has potential to become a product, it is part of our strategy to launch spin-off companies to focus on each opportunity, so it was the natural step to take.
The Retmarker product comes up from a strategic partnership with an Internationally renowned Institute in the field of Ophthalmology: AIBILI (www.aibili.pt). AIBILI is a Research Technology Organization dedicated to aid in the development of new products for health imaging, pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. AIBILI had developed some algorithms which allowed for the automatic overlap of eye exams taken in different moments in time. These co-registration algorithms allow for the extraction of additional information from such exams, information that can be very relevant for the early detection and monitoring of the progression of eye pathologies such as Diabetic Retinopathy (DR) and Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD).
The most common eye diseases in the group of Age-related eye diseases are: AMD, Glaucoma, DR and Cataract and they affect more than 35 million Americans age 40 and older1! AMD is just the leading cause of irreversible vision loss in people over 652 and DR is the most frequent cause of new blindness in individuals ages 20 to 743.
One of our solutions, RetmarkerDR, focuses on Diabetic Retinopathy and is a biomarker for the progression of the pathology in the early stages. Basically, it allows to predict which patients are in risk of progression into a sight threatening condition, thus requiring close monitoring.
1 – Eye Disease Prevalence Research Group 2004, Blindness
2 – National Eye Institute 2006, Progress in Eye and Vision Research
3 – Fong. Et al. 2003 Diabetic Retinopathy
Tell us about your funding history. Are you currently looking for funding? If so, how much?
The company started with the Management Team and the Critical Group. Then, the Portuguese VC fund Caixa Capital participated in a first round of funding of 1.5 M€. We are currently looking for further funding.
How many employees do you have? How many developers?
We are 16, being half of them directly involved in the development of the products.
Are you hiring? If yes, what are you hiring for and where?
We are always looking for talented people with an exceptional ability and a track record of accomplishment and truth. We are mostly interested in innate qualities that make a lasting difference. Critical has significant opportunities, global scope and a unique culture to provide challenging careers.
Which platform are you building on? Why?
We are using .NET technologies, more specifically C# and Windows Presentation Foundation. For database purposes we are using Microsoft SQL Server. The decision to go for these technologies was actually quite an easy one to make. One of our main focuses is the User Experience, so being able to provide the user with a powerful, but yet easy-to-use and “easy-to-look-at” GUI (Graphical User Interface) was mandatory. After designing several proofs of concepts using different platforms/technologies, it was easy to realize which ones would allow us to provide the user with what we aimed for in terms of Usability, Security and ease of integration with the typical Operating Systems and software of our target customer base.
Where do you see opportunities today in the Software/Internet area?
Internet and technology have completely changed the world we live in! Just look at the impact of social networks in our daily activities…
But analyzing it in the scope of the work we do in the healthcare area, and specifically for Internet, I believe most of the opportunities lie in providing the best care conditions independently of where the patients are located. Internet is thus a channel to reduce the gap between the quality of care and the places where we are based.
Regarding Software and also in the scope of healthcare, one of the key issues in the agenda is integration and interoperability of information between different systems. Additionally, I believe that solutions like our Retmarker, Clinical Decision Support Solutions, providing additional information from current technological means, allow us to go one step further on the quality of care provided.
What do you think about the BizSpark Program?
It is an excellent support when companies need it most – in their early years. It is an incentive for companies to address software licensing issues right from the very beginning. Naturally it is also a very smart move by that creates a natural good will to continue using Microsoft products after its end.
I would like to suggest that the program should have a length of 5 years, as some companies need to invest a lot of years to validate if they will get the desired results (naturally it varies a lot according to the business).
Do you have any advice for young Software entrepreneurs?
Always move forward - never give up! More important than the outcome, is the experience of doing it. Sometimes Europeans have some difficulty in understanding this concept, but things have been changing and I truly believe this. We learn even more by our mistakes than by our successes.
Who’s your role model?
I don’t have a single role model at this stage of my life that I can nominate.
I try to learn the best from everyone that I admire (in all aspects of life: professional, social, etc.) and then I think and decide for and by myself. I try to exceed in everything that I get involved in and I always move forward (I never regret well thought decisions from the past even if they revealed not to be the best because I now have additional data).
What’s the ONE THING you would like readers to take away from this interview?
The world is completely different from what we were used to, but we have to be very optimistic. Globalization brings challenges, and with each lies an opportunity to create/transform some technology that may change (for better) the way we are used to go about our daily activities – this is how progress happens.
In our case, at Critical Health, we hope to contribute to a dramatic change in eye care provisioning, allowing populations to be reached, that are completely left apart and suffer of eye conditions that could be prevented or treated. Did you know that every 7 minutes someone in the US becomes blind or visually impaired?4
It is a small step, but one that makes us feel that we can give our tiny contribution to make this world a better place! sources:
4 – American Foundation for the Blind, Blindness Statistics