Meet the Startup: Kintell’s take on Alexa Skills

New IoT device by Kintell focuses on prolonging independence for the broader aging population.

While there are many technologies out there designed to help older people who need full-time care, there are a growing number of companies focused on prolonging their independence before intervention is necessary. British start-up Kintell is one of them. The company has created an IoT device to enable older people to live independently in their own homes for longer. The company was founded by entrepreneurs Aaron Johnston, Zoe Morgan and Paul Hewitt, with the aim of reducing older people’s need for support, while improving their confidence and happiness.

Co-founder and CEO of Kintell, Aaron Johnston, shifted his market focus from young to old when he left tech toy company, Tech Will Save Us to start Kintell. We recently spoke to Aaron to find out more.

Aaron Johnson CEO of Kintell
Aaron Johnson, CEO of Kintell

Longevity.Technology: What Longevity challenge is Kintell addressing?
Aaron Johnston: When you think about dementia, or reduced mobility, or needing regular care visits, there are already all kinds of fantastic products and services in that space, but most products designed for the elderly are for when the condition has occurred and are issue-specific.

Kintell is designed for healthy, active independent elderly people who want to live longer in their homes, and to help families support their parents in that objective. Our product is focused on the more general issue of staying healthy active and independent and being there for when things change, and more specifically to help families know when things are changing.

Take dementia as an example. At the age of 85, somewhere between 25% and 35% of the population has some form of dementia. And it’s a terrible condition, and it affects families in really terrible ways. But that’s not the problem we’re solving – it’s  the 75% of elderly people who live independently but who finding it harder getting to the bus stop on time, or who have just lost their drivers licence or are wanting to get out in the garden but can’t do as much as they used to. People whose lives are changing – we want to help those families.

Longevity.Technology: How did you get started?
Aaron Johnston: Two and a half years ago, I and two others, Paul Hewitt and Zoe Morgan, cofounded the company – after I responded to a post they put out on LinkedIn. Zoe and Paul are serial investors and had made a successful exit from live-in care company, The Good Care Group, which helps people in the late stages of dementia. After leaving they felt that there had to be something they could do to help families earlier than this late stage. I had been working the kids tech toys – creating STEM and STEAM toys that were sold in science shops, retailers and online.

So I took what I had learned at Tech Will Save Us which is a real user centric approach to product development. And we spent two years developing different forms, different services, and different sorts of propositions, to see how we can help this group of people.

Longevity.Technology: And what have you designed?
Aaron Johnston: We’ve designed a small, simple device with a screen on it. It is an IoT connected device – in the home they work together as a system and connect over Wi-Fi. Much of the thinking happens in the cloud, but a lot of the behaviour is executed on the device locally. It has a big button on the front, everything is based on voice interaction, so you speak to it, and it speaks back to you so it’s all very easy – there’s no app to install. It has a temperature sensor and a motion sensor. It’s a medication reminder. It’s a nightlight. It’s an alarm clock. It’s a scheduler and a calendar.

Our ambition is to use the product as a platform to help elderly people change behaviour – to move from being reactive to proactive. Medication reminders is a good first example, but also things like stretching, exercise, even just movement and engaging with your community. These are all things that are really important to support, and we can help with that.

Longevity.Technology: What is your commercialisation model?
Aaron Johnston: Our product today is not yet manufactured, and we have a 12 month cycle for manufacturing. So what we’re planning to do is to create a subset of our service as an Alexa Skill to really validate and build out some of the core functions to then introduce our own device that uses that same back end. Over the next year, there’s a lot of problems that we can help people solve.

After we bring our device to market, we will then be looking to partner with other organisations who be able to take the units and use them in multi-install environments. So that might be care homes or community centres or as part of a recovery package to someone has been sent home from a hospital.

Longevity.Technology: It’s an interesting decision to create an Alexa Skill first. So why develop your own hardware at all?
Aaron Johnston: The thing that I’m most interested in that we’re able to do with our own hardware is to take the voice clip itself, and assess it. There are increasing numbers of data sets, or algorithms, that can be applied to voice to send biomarkers to determine things about someone’s physiological condition, from their voice. For example, we can determine cognitive impairment, which is part of the research that we’ve been doing over the last six months.

But to do that, you have to have the actual voice clip – and you don’t get that that from Alexa. You need a device that isn’t an app – one that is protected, and that the data use is extremely explicit so you know it’s not being used for any other purpose than the one that you agreed to. And that’s why I think a device is part of our future.

Longevity.Technology: How are you funded and what are your plans for further fundraising?
Aaron Johnston: We have friends, family, ourselves, and a small group of investors, who participated in Paul and Zoe’s other ventures. We’ve had extraordinary support from our investors and shareholders but we are all really aware that this isn’t a go unless there’s revenue and so our focus at this point is demonstrating that we can get to revenue.

Longevity.Technology: What are the main business challenges that Kintell faces?
Aaron Johnston: With cutbacks in social care in local councils and cutbacks within the NHS, a lot of the business models for products in this space, if they’re used in care environments, they are assessed on a cost reduction business case. For example – we can help you reduce the number of visits that your nurses make, or help you be more efficient in this or that area.  So, by saving you this operational cost, that should fund the installation and usage of my product. In the United States it’s even more acute in that many of the start-ups that are selling products into that ecosystem are having to finance the saving themselves. So customers are saying “You’re going to save me a million? Great – I’ll pay you out of the savings that I make!”

So, it’s a very difficult market to break into. But we want to stay true to the customer and stay true to the family. If we can win there, with a delightful experience that people want to use that’s integrated into people’s lives, then it makes addressing these other markets a bit easier.

Longevity.Technology: If you could change one thing about the world to impact on Longevity, what would that be?
Aaron Johnston: If I could wave a magic wand, I would reduce whatever the issue is between wanting to be proactive and actually being proactive. We all want to do well. But it seems to be so hard to be proactive about our own health. For example, you know if you get 15 or 20 minutes of exercise at the start of the day, it has huge benefits. If nothing else, how you feel about yourself and the rest of your day. But if you have a bad start to the day then maybe you don’t leave the house. And those things are much more acute for an aging population. The desire is there, but it’s very difficult, especially post retirement. I think people do want to be proactive about their health and they mean to be, but I just wish it could be a little bit easier to do it.

Our Meet the Start-up articles profile emerging companies in the Longevity sector, with a focus on their funding plans, commercialisation strategies, partnerships and routes-to-market. If you know of a startup that we should be talking to, let us know!