What does your company do?
CogniHealth’s mission is to improve the quality of life of families affected by dementia. We have created a digital companion called CogniCare that provides tailored guidance for carers of people with dementia each step of the way.
What do you do there / what is your role?
I am the founder and CEO at CogniHealth. I focus on managing overall operations, the strategic direction for the company and driving the product development of CogniCare.
What is your background?
I have a background in Neuroscience – I completed an MSc in Integrative Neuroscience at the University of Edinburgh with a focus on Alzheimer’s disease. I have also worked as a professional carer, looking after people affected by dementia.
What was the aha moment that led to the company founding?
It was a man sharing his challenges of looking after his wife who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at a conference. It was the first time I faced the reality of how dementia impact families. That was the moment I knew I wanted to do something that could help carers like him.
Why did you launch the company?
Both for professional and personal reasons. It was an area that I have been interested in as a researcher and recently my grandfather was diagnosed with Vascular dementia.
Where did you get assistance when you started?
My father. He was supportive and encouraging to take the first step in starting CogniHealth and has been a tech advisor, guiding our engineering team in India.
Give us a brief history of the growth of the company
We started with just an idea/concept around Feb/March 2017. Since then we have incorporated the company, with 3 co-founders, an engineering team and advisory board. We have the product, CogniCare, in the market, which has won several awards and recognitions within the dementia and tech space. We have built strong partnerships with research institutes (Centre of Dementia Prevention at the University of Edinburgh, and the University of Highlands and Islands), charities (Alzheimer Scotland, Alliance Scotland) and local dementia friendly organisations (Edinburgh Festival, Edinburgh Leisure).
Have you taken any external funding? If so from who and when
We have been awarded funds through grants, competitions and accelerator programs we have been part of, including
- Next Big Innovation Award by Alzheimer Scotland – June 2018
- RSE Unlocking Ambition – July 2018
- Wayra AI + Blockchain Accelerator – Oct 2018
- Nesta Healthier Lives Data Fund – March 2019
So what does it look like now with regard to staff and turnover?
We are now 10 people at CogniHealth, including consultants, interns and part-time staff. We haven’t started trading yet.
What’s the difference between when you started and now in your marketplace?
The awareness and adoption of technology in dementia care has grown in the last 18 months.
What is your target market – Who is buying your product / service?
CogniCare has been created for carers of people with dementia.
What are your goals for your business?
Our goal is to reach as many families as possible across the world and improve their quality of life.
During the RSE Unlocking Ambition Enterprise Fellowship, what have been the biggest successes you have achieved and the biggest challenges you have faced?
Comparing where the company was when I began the Fellowship to where we are today, what we have achieved is massive! We have launched our solution on the App store and as a skill on Amazon Alexa. Our user base has grown by five times and we now have over 1,000 carers using CogniCare, all over the world. We have been accepted onto multiple programmes, including the RBS Accelerator, Wayra UK, the University of Edinburgh’s AI & Blockchain Accelerator and the Nesta Healthier Lives Data Fund.
Time management is a challenge! There are always a lot of things that we want to do, and the to-do lists keep getting longer. It’s a case of navigating the opportunities, effectively assessing them, and only taking forward the things that address our core objectives for the quarter. Another challenge is securing funding – the oxygen for any business – although I think it is a struggle for all founders, no matter how big the company gets; after raising a round, there’s always the next round to get through.
There is also quite a large resistance to change in the health and social care sector – although there are many initiatives and policies introducing and encouraging the use of technology, these are not yet implemented or accepted by many.
What has been the biggest challenge so far?
Getting the company up and running with traction, especially in a niche market where there is an apprehension to adopt new approaches to caring for someone with dementia. Our amazing partner organisations have definitely helped us overcome that and persevere through that initial phase.
What do you know now that you wished you had known earlier?
Things are always going to take more time and money than you think.
What’s the secret to good leadership?
Communication. It is really important to ensure that everyone is on the same page – whether its a specific task or an overall strategy/goal.
What are your ambitions for your company?
We believe that CogniCare can improve the lives of people affected by dementia by using digital technology to reduce the financial, physical and psychological burden of dementia. To achieve this, we are using machine learning to drive personalised support. Improving the lives of people affected by dementia has always been our vision from the very beginning. We now envision applying this model to other chronic illnesses where there is no cure and care is key.
Where do you see the company in five years?
Our vision is to take this model we are building for dementia care to other neurological conditions where there is no cure but care is key.
How can the Scottish startup/entrepreneur landscape be improved to help more businesses start up and grow?
The Scottish ecosystem is really supportive of each other and one of the reasons for that is it’s small enough to build those relationships. But it is also important to have collaborative support from other places outside Scotland, bringing in skills and a different perspective.
Can you give us some numbers?
We have 1500 users – a 40% increase from the beginning of the year. Our team has grown from just me to 10 strong now. We have won over £120k in grants and competition.
What difference has the RSE Unlocking Ambition Enterprise Fellowship made to you and your business?
A huge difference. The company wouldn’t have survived without the Fellowship –both the expertise and financial support – we would be lost without it! It helped grow the team; I used to be the only full-time person working on the company and now we have a team of three full-time employees. It helped me grow personally, as I now have the skills required to run a business. The whole team, including the Unlocking Ambition cohort, has been an amazing support to me.