(Updated March 22 to correct information about 19 Labs expanding.)
Imagine being able to call up a medical professional on a screen and have them assess your health while you are hooked up to what looks like a computer console.
That’s the product behind a new technology business partnership between two companies: one in Brentwood Bay and the other in California’s Silicon Valley.
On Tuesday, March 20, co-founders Ram Fish and Jerry Horel announced 19 Labs is expending. It’s a tech company based in a quiet office on the second floor of a commercial building in downtown Brentwood Bay. It’s also a cross-border partnership, combining advances in mobile and digital health technology and marketing from the U.S. side, with the engineering and software design capabilities of the Brentwood Bay-based business, Caffeinated Turtle.
Horel said his company has been around for around four years and the software engineers he’s worked with have been in the industry for nearly a decade. They’ve built a variety of devices, he said, and written code for some Fortune 500 companies.
“If you have a cell phone, you likely have code we’ve written,” he said.
19 Labs started about two years ago and have been in product development until this month. Now, they are ready to take their product to market.
What they have created is a series of diagnostic devices called GALE (an allusion to Florence Nightingale, credited as the founder of modern nursing).
They combine diagnostic technology, interactive guides driven by artificial intelligence, with video and voice communication. The devices are described as powerful, affordable tools that connect patients with a doctor and a diagnosis — no matter where the patient is located.
In a demonstration, Saanich North and the Islands MLA Adam Olsen sat at the main GALE console on display and connected with one of 19 Labs’ employees, finger connected to one of the unit’s diagnostic tools. Ram said he began to think about this technology while he was on a vacation with family.
His daughter sought treatment for an illness and he said what struck him was the availability of medical technology and how it could be used to interpret data from a patient who might be far away from actual medical services.
Diagnostics that include third party equipment that monitor heart rate, take blood and urine samples, measure temperature, pulse and more, are built into the equipment.
Having worked with Horel before, Fish said he approached the Brentwood Bay company about the idea. They’ve been working on technology ever since to connect digital health services with care access points in remote communities.
They tested their products in Saskatchewan, where northern areas have good cellular connectivity. Horel said people there were able to connect with doctors far away to receive a diagnosis and treatment suggestions.
Their products, they explained, are small enough to be included with first aid kits, or large enough to be included in dedicated medical spaces. They can allow people in work camps, on ferries, in seniors care facilities, or just about anywhere else, to connect with doctors who have agreed to provide service via the GALE products.
Ready to take their product out into the market, Horel said they are looking to grow the company by 50 per cent.
“We are expanding our B.C. team …” he said.
“We’re looking to bring more software, quality assurance and hardware engineering skills on board.”
Fish noted he wanted to work with the Brentwood Bay company because of their skill base, but also because the cost of doing business is significantly lower than doing so in Silicon Valley.
“There’s an incredible pool of bright, young minds,” he said. “We speak the same language. We are in the same time zone. We’re only a three-hour flight apart.”
Central Saanich Mayor Ryan Windsor, who was also at Tuesday’s product launch, sad there have been around 50 startups recently in Greater Victoria and is happy one is in his community. He called 19 Labs’ work “forward-thinking”.
Olsen added he would have liked to have seen B.C. as the testing ground, rather than Saskatchewan. The MLA noted, however, that B.C.’s own connectivity in remote places needs to improve.
“It’s a mentality in B.C. that needs to change … being open to technology and creating infrastructure to make it happen.”