Ottawa firm Welbi hopes patient monitoring app finds healthy market fit

Technology uses wearable devices to track individuals’ vital signs, daily habits while caregivers are away
Elizabeth Audette-Bourdeau
Elizabeth Audette-Bourdeau is the founder of Ottawa startup Welbi. (Photo by Mark Holleron)

An early stage Ottawa startup is preparing to launch a remote patient monitoring app it says will help individuals in need of home care while relieving some of the mental, physical and financial stress on their loved ones.

An estimated eight million people in Canada and more than 43 million in the United States provide unpaid care to a friend or family member living with chronic health conditions and disabilities while also trying to maintain the balance of their daily lives. A Statistics Canada report notes that with longer life expectancies and an aging baby-boomer generation, the role of caregivers will become increasingly important as more and more people require care and assistance as they grow older.

Elizabeth Audette-Bourdeau, 24, wanted to address that growing need. She launched Welbi, a new company that uses popular wearable devices such as Fitbit, Garmin and Apple Watch products to help people keep an eye on their loved ones when they’re not around.

The firm’s app uses the data collected by these and other devices to build a specialized profile of each individual’s vital signs, day-to-day routine and habits – including heart rate, sleep quality, physical activity, weight, blood pressure and more – and to notify their caregivers of any changes. The company says it is planning a second version down the road that will be designed to not only detect abnormalities, but also propose solutions.

“One thing that I think is very lacking right now in our society is that we are reactive and not proactive,” says Ms. Audette-Bourdeau. “Most of the time it’s too late when we react. So that’s why we wanted Welbi to be on the preventative side. That way we can make sure actions are taken at the right time, so (a health issue) doesn’t get worse.”

She and co-founder Nick Petryna started the company a year and a half ago. They now have a team of eight working out of Invest Ottawa headquarters at Bayview Yards, and the company, now in its beta phase, is set to officially launch its monthly subscription-based app this fall.

Ms. Audette-Bourdeau has a deeply personal reason for wanting her startup to succeed. When her grandfather fell ill three years ago, he needed the help of a nurse every day, but her family could only afford one once a week, she says.

The rest of the time, they looked after him themselves, with her father shouldering most of the burden.

“I saw how much pain it was to take care of a loved one, but at the same time how it was affecting the family,” she explains.

Sadly, her grandfather died of a stroke a few months later.

“We felt responsible for it. We felt like we could have provided him with better care … That’s how the idea of Welbi came up.”

Crowded field

Home health-care and remote patient monitoring software is an increasingly crowded field. While there are a number of companies jockeying for market share – including others in Ottawa such as Aetonix and Mobile Wellbeing – Welbi counts eCare21 and Care|Mind as two particular competitors due to their shared focus on helping caregivers using existing wearable technology. The trick will be selling Welbi as a unique solution based on its ability to establish a baseline of normal metrics and then help a patient’s caregiver intervene proactively when something looks abnormal, says Ms. Audette-Bourdeau.

Welbi has been working with business mentors, health researchers and other experts around the world to consult on the development of the app. The company will also be partnering with more researchers such as data scientists to improve its algorithms.

Welbi phone image

So far, Welbi has raised more than $150,000 in grants and $50,000 from a family-and-friends financing round. Starting this month, the firm will be raising more funding from a seed round.

Over the next few months, the company will be working hard on forming partnerships with resellers in order to quickly broaden its user base in the hope of reaching its objective of $50,000 in monthly recurring revenues in 2018.

But first and foremost, Welbi just wants to hit the market.

“We want the application out there as soon as we can,” says Ms. Audette-Bourdeau. “The quicker we’re on the market, the better it will be because we can save more lives.”