CEO Talks with Ulrich Jerichow: A Leadership Brief on Revolutionizing the Healthcare Industry
A year ago, most of us wouldn’t have understood phrases like social distancing, human breath analysis, or the idea of wearing cloth masks. These days, pretty much everyone knows that the breath can flow at about at least 1.5 to 2 meters and plays a major role in our metabolism. Ironically, due to the pandemic and home isolation, the healthcare industry got its major boost, thanks to the technologies that define our health status just by a single breath.
Ulrich Jerichow, Founder & CEO of the German-based company VitaScale, joined me for a new edition of CEO Talks to examine this topic from business, technical, and medical perspectives. Ulrich holds a Ph.D. in Material Science, has more than 20 years of experience as a CTO in various industries, and is a top management consultant for R&D and Operations.
He founded VitaScale being inspired by his long-lasting successful triathlon career, during which he developed the idea to make high-end breath analysis available to every end-customer through revolutionary solutions.
In our conversation, Ulrich covered topics ranging from market leadership to breakthrough business ideas in Health Tech, and also:
Why innovation defines success in the healthcare industry
Why the remote medical diagnostics and treatments are closer than we think
What are the most promising technologies in the lifestyle and medical markets
Why breath analysis is the next big technology for the automotive industry
Why is it important to measure individual fitness performance
And why traditional fitness trackers fail
IK: You are an entrepreneur with a strong international background in various industries. Before founding VitaScale, you held top management positions at large and midsize companies for over twenty years. How did your journey in the healthcare tech industry begin?
UJ: I have been a professional triathlete for several years and got to know all the high-tech fitness technologies that define human individual health parameters like performance level, metabolism, and nutrition aspects. I was wondering why these technologies were so expensive, extremely hard to access, and can't be used at all times so you need to go to a special laboratory to perform tests.
So I was already looking for another available technology that is much easier and convenient for end-users.
Fitness, health, and technology have always been my passion, so to speak. That's why I used to study material science, became a technical director for a few companies, and based on this knowledge and my background in sports, I decided to establish my own company, focused on lifestyle and healthcare technologies.
I thought that in the medical and lifestyle sectors, and in general in the healthcare industry, there are a lot of missing technologies that enable end-users to check and feedback on their individual health parameters and benefit from the results.
IK: What does the leadership in your industry look like? What motivates you to run an innovative healthcare tech product company?
UJ: The leadership in the lifestyle and healthcare markets has always been about innovation. To be a true leader, you need to develop technologies and solutions that aren’t only disruptive, but also functional and customer-centric. These technologies should be digitized, connected to an ecosystem, and far ahead of all the rest on the market. This is the magic formula to be top-of-mind in the lifestyle and wearable applications, and in the medical markets.
So if you want to be successful in the health tech industry, you should be ahead of the rest of the crowd and you should constantly question the existing technologies.
In the breath analysis market, most of the devices come with a wearable face mask and a tube that you have to stick in your mouth.
This is a standard technology that is absolutely inconvenient in everyday life. That's the reason why we’re constantly questioning what might be done to make the breath analysis technology relevant to end-users. This is a very important step towards being ahead of others. The next step is to incorporate this technology in the new field of digital analysis, artificial intelligence, data mining, and prediction.
To be competitive, smart devices should be based on digital applications. Still, most of the products in the breath analysis market are not digitized. They're robust, heavy, bulky, and expensive. So the solution is to find a completely new approach to enable digital technology to be used for breath analysis.
IK: What markets will you target after the full-scale product launch? Who are your customers? What is the problem (customer pain point) behind the business idea of VitaScale?
UJ: We will be present on various markets: lifestyle, medical, and automotive.
To cover the lifestyle market, we have B2B and B2C solutions.
Our B2B customers are large gyms, professional fitness coaches, nutrition experts, sports equipment and nutrition manufacturers, retailers, and, last but not least, sports medicine physicians and professional athletes.
In the B2C market, the highest demand comes from people who suffer from being overweight, having metabolic disorders and diabetes, and those interested in a healthy lifestyle and topics like biohacking, self-improvement, self-optimization, and body shaping. All these people can greatly benefit from the use of our solutions.
The automotive market is an additional market. It's a very special marketplace because we do not offer products for it, we deliver a system. This system focused on the alcohol check of a driver and in-cabin health control of passengers. All of this is based on breath analysis and there is no need to use any kind of mask or tube. You just have to breathe as you normally do in the car. The system captures your breath and checks your health parameters or the degree of intoxication of a driver.
IK: Normally, we avoid using fitness devices that complicate our everyday life. How will your products facilitate peoples’ lives?
UJ: There are some products on the market (like heart rate monitors or fitness trackers) that claim to measure how much energy individuals burn on a daily basis. However, all of these technologies are quite imprecise; they aren’t about real measurement because they do not measure individual metabolism. Such devices ‘calculate’ metabolism based on the heart rate and deliver an error between 40 and 60% compared to the golden standard breath analysis (according to Stanford University).
If we want to build a solution that is a real game-changer, and a real assistant and coach for our customers, we have to generate very precise data with medical-grade devices that can deliver real-time feedback.
As a result, to perform a metabolism analysis, you just have to breathe in our system once and it automatically measures the state of your metabolism - whether you burn 1,600 or 2,000 calories per day. And it's quite easy to do; it's just a click and a plug-and-play system. You switch on your pre-installed app, breathe in the system (the headsets), and immediately see the energy you burn per day. In addition, this app gives you guidance on how to, first of all, improve metabolism and, secondly, how to adapt your nutrition in order to reduce your weight. Your data will be monitored over time, so you can see your progress and what needs to be done if it is not sufficient. Our technology makes the metabolism transparent for end-users.
Just to compare, to get the same kind of fitness (health) data in a traditional way, you have to go to a special laboratory and perform tests. One test could cost you up to 500 euros (at least in Germany). Then you will have only one snapshot of a single day without any history.
That's why we believe that our system is extremely easy to use, affordable, and delivers quite a bit of added value to a customer.
Everyone’s metabolism is individual; it depends on gender, age, and genetics. That's why by having these measurements in your hands, you can precisely optimize your weight, performance level, and body shape. The intelligence of a physician, assisting you normally in any kind of lab or hospital, is already built into our system.
IK: What are the differences (competitive advantages) between traditional fitness trackers and VitaScale devices?
UJ: First of all, we generate precise data and real-time feedback with guidance. Traditional fitness trackers deliver imprecise (average) data on your metabolism and performance level.
With VitaScale you just need to breathe as you normally do and, based on this respiratory process, the app will measure your metabolism.
The VitaScale app in action.
Although traditional trackers claim that there is such an indicator like energy consumption per day, it doesn’t reflect your metabolism.
We believe that breath analysis offers a completely new set of parameters, enabling us and our customers to be much more efficient and precise in terms of weight loss, training philosophies, and activity ranges.
So what we do is we take those parameters from your heart rate monitor (steps and heart rate indicator) as an additional input to our system and combine a few types of signals. This intelligent data enables us to give our customers a completely new picture of their individual health status.
With VitaScale there is no need to wear a headset 24 hours a day. By using it two or three times a week, you can get a realistic picture of how you're performing. Based on this data, the app gives guidance to the people on how to improve their behavior while using a heart rate monitor.
For example, we just closed the development agreement with Garmin in order to align and connect those systems. We strongly believe that only various parameters can precisely determine your individual health status.
IK: Why is it important to measure fitness performance?
UJ: The main problem is that typical fitness treadmills show you calories. But if you want to lose weight, you need to burn fat instead of carbohydrates.
Most people go to a gym without any understanding of their performance level. They think that the more they run, the more they lose weight, when, in fact, that’s not the case. Instead of fat, they burn carbohydrates. They workout for half an hour, leave the gym and eat a pizza or whatever later on. As a result, they eat more and gain weight instead of losing it.
Again, it’s not clear to the general public, they're not familiar with medical abbreviations like VO2 max that you normally see on monitors. They don't even want to know what they mean.
At VitaScale we do a performance test to find out if you want to burn fat, lose weight or improve your performance level. Then we guide users on how to train in the right individual training range.
So if you step up on a treadmill with a particular speed during the first 10 minutes, then you have to consider reducing the speed because your metabolism becomes affected by it.
This is basically what we do. Our app provides biofeedback from the system to adjust the resistance and speed according to the individual needs and requirements. That's why measuring performance is extremely important to achieve your goals.
If you aren’t aware of your fitness performance, it's like driving a car without any idea about your horsepower and fuel consumption. So, you push a gas pedal and drive at a random speed, and as a result, you just burn more fuel.
IK: The future of healthcare is shaping up in front of our very eyes with advances in digital healthcare technologies, such as artificial intelligence, VR/AR, 3D-printing, robotics, or nanotechnology. What are the most promising healthcare technological trends nowadays?
UJ: The most promising technologies are connected health and data mining based on digital technology. This will be the next big driver for product development, applications, and customer journeys.
The next huge driver is based on the biggest public health issues like being overweight, and diabetes. We need to find solutions to get over the increasing number of people being overweight and developing diabetes by creating systems, devices, therapies, and approaches for their prevention. In the lifestyle market, this prevention is based on digital technology and connected health that enable customers to understand more about their own health status. These days we know more about our cars than about ourselves.
There’s a lot of room for improvement of product, data analysis, and prediction technologies. In the very near future, there won’t be a need to visit doctors on a regular basis. We will be able to do diagnostics and treatment from the home space. It’s already happening and this movement is getting a big boost, not on purpose, but by accident due to COVID. Another question is data security and treatment. This is the only truly critical part of it and we need to make sure that the data are being treated in a very confidential way.
Breath analysis wasn’t well known a few years ago. Since then, pretty much everyone knows that the breath can flow at about at least 1.5 to 2 meters. I had a hard time explaining this a while ago and now it's easy. Everyone knows that lung function and breath have an impact on your health data. This fosters our product development.
I have a strong belief that the current pandemic is a big boost for the digitalization of some industries, especially the healthcare sector. What we've learned over the past 12 months could pay off for years to come.
I greatly appreciate hearing from readers. Please write at firstname.lastname@example.org and share your thoughts on addressing this topic.
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