Withings, a French start-up specializing in medical connected objects, announced on July 28 that it had raised 53 million euros. The fundraising round was led by the Gilde Healthcare fund, Idinvest Partners, Bpifrance, BNP Paribas Développement, Oddo BHF and Adélie Capital.
Exit the well-being market
“We want to develop a new generation of connected medical devices“, immediately announces Mathieu Letombe, contacted by The Digital Factory. The CEO of Withings refuses to say more about these future products, the release date of which is not yet known. Founded in 2008, the young startup specializes in the design of connected objects dedicated to health and well-being with a range ranging from connected bathroom scales to sensors for sleep apnea.
But Withings no longer wants to address the well-being market but only that of connected health. “Today, we are only developing medical features“, explains the general manager, who gives as an example the” electrocardiogram “function present on all connected watches. It allows to measure the electrical activity of the heart.
Manufacturing in France or in Europe is not a priority for Withings, says the CEO, who nevertheless specifies that a connected watch production chain has been installed in the premises of the young shoot as a test. “Manufacturing in China should not be understood only in financial terms, specifies Mathieu Letombe. There is also incredible expertise from excellent engineers in this country. “
Conquer the US healthcare data market
But the main objective for Withings is not the design of new products aimed at the B2C market. The connected health specialist now wants to conquer the American health data market “completely open“, according to Mathieu Letombe. This desire is part of the new direction taken following the sale and then the takeover of the company from the Finnish Nokia, which took place in May 2018.
The CEO recalls that in the United States, 150 million people are affected by a chronic disease (obesity, diabetes, digestive diseases, etc.). So many people who must be followed regularly to avoid complications related to their disease. “This country is faced with the limits of traditional medicine to treat these patients, says Mathieu Letombe. Consequently, there is an explosion of prevention and follow-up programs for the chronically ill.“And to work, these programs involve the exploitation of large amounts of medical data.
Is the data going to be sold?
“We emerged as an interesting actor because we have a big footprint in the consumer, continues the CEO. We have been contacted many times and we are starting to work with the companies that are developing these programs.“However, there is still a gap in the business model of this new activity: will medical data be resold to these programs? Information sharing is always preceded by the user’s consent, answers Mathieu Letombe simply.
And why not go to the French market? “It is still out of step with the United States, which is over-investing in this issue. We will be there in a year or two “, says Mathieu Letombe. This choice is absolutely not guided by legislation particularly protective of health data framed by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), he promises. According to the CEO, “on health data, the regulations are the same in the United States in Europe. “An assertion to be put into perspective.
US law less protective than the GDPR
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) has regulated health data at the federal level since 1996. Some states, including California, have adopted their own legislation on the subject. The HIPAA and the GDPR are quite similar: they are based on a common principle of prohibition with exceptions. But HIPAA allows more exemptions than GDPR. Large technology companies are also benefiting greatly.
At the end of October 2019, Wall Street Journal revealed that Google had collected several million American patient records from 21 states, without their consent, thanks to a collaboration with the Ascension health network. The goal was to create an online patient search engine. An investigation has been opened by the Civil Rights Office to ensure that this practice complies with HIPAA. The Mountain View firm claims to be in compliance because this law allows hospitals to share patient information, without obtaining their consent, with partners on the condition that it is for “help them perform their care function“.
For “increase its capacity to respond to this new market“, Withings is putting in place a plan to recruit 100 people by the end of the year. The objective is to create new sales teams in the United States and to hire engineers in France to”continue to develop a new generation of products“, says the CEO.
Don’t forget the DNA of Withings
Finally, Mathieu Letombe explains that these changes should not make people forget “Withings DNA” who is from “design products that people want to use with a perfect user experience“. A bet already successful, according to the general manager who notes that 50% of the connected bathroom scales sold 10 years ago are still used.”Our goal is to increase the depth of medical data and make it accessible to everyone. The players in the health sector will do the rest of the work“, he concludes.