Happitech: Developing state-of-the-art telemedicine technology

As founder and CEO of Happitech, it seems appropriate that Yosef Safi Harb seems like a happy guy – even as we speak to him at the height of the coronavirus lockdown. His mission is also a positive one: to create a healthier world by providing accessible medical-grade technology using only a smartphone.

With an engineering background in sensor design for the aerospace and automotive industries, Harb started working in the life sciences and health sector after being inspired by Quantified Self (QS), a movement founded by Wired magazine editors Gary Wolf and Kevin Kelly. QS focused on bringing together users and makers of self-tracking tools that collected personal health data.

Happitech app

“At that time, it was all about smartwatches,” recalls Harb. “So, some friends and I began wondering what we could do with mobile phones. We came across an old article that measured heart rate via a mobile phone. So, that got us thinking about how far mobile tech had come in that time.”

Medical-grade heart monitoring by phone

Now, Happitech offers a range of solutions for medical-grade heart monitoring through a smartphone camera. “We initially began with heartrates,” Harb explains, “but then a creative director we were working with mentioned us to a doctor who asked if we could also identify heart rhythm disorders. So, we connected with him and that led to our first collaborations with hospitals and learning how to navigate through the whole healthcare system.”

After being constantly improved, Happitech algorithms are now able to identify atrial fibrillation (AF) efficiently and cheaply. As the most common heart rhythm disorder, AF affects 1 in 11 people over the age of 65, of which a third are unaware they even have the condition. When left untreated, AF can increase the risk of stroke by 500% and double the risk of heart failure.

As the first heart rate and heart rhythm medical device available in software development kit (SDK) format, it can be easily integrated into existing health apps. The tech is now also medical CE-certified – meaning it conforms with European Medical Device Regulations.

This means health app providers using Happitech’s technology can avoid regulatory delays and have it installed within only a fortnight. For these pragmatic reasons, Happitech is receiving requests from potential clients around the world, including Sweden, Spain, Latin America and the UK.

“Healthcare is so complicated that only by bringing people together from all crucial areas – medical, patients, regulatory bodies, engineering, design, technology, and healthcare organisations – can we come up with a solution,” says Harb. “It’s a challenge. But it’s also all very integrated – and I find that very inspiring.”

Techleap: connecting the startup ecosystem

In a time of social distancing, remote tracking is experiencing a boom. In April 2020, Happitech was one of two Amsterdam startups selected for Techleap’s COVID-19 Program, which aimed to “empower a select group of entrepreneurs who present working solutions for the challenges posed by the current crisis.”

The program acts as an accelerator and gave Happitech access to the expansive Techleap network. “It was such a positive experience and a great connector with the rest of the Dutch ecosystem – corporations, founders, healthcare partners. I made nine important appointments – and five were for the next day,” says Harb.

Why Amsterdam is the perfect place to innovate

Harb has also found support in the city itself. “As a capital, Amsterdam – besides being a beautiful place to live – is a very strong ecosystem that’s willing to take risks and innovate. Our partners: the OLVG Hospital, medical app developers Luscii and the city’s Chief Technology Office, are all pioneers and have created opportunities for new innovations to take flight,” says Harb.

“As a startup we need strong partners – and the support we get gives us confidence and builds credibility. And, while the life sciences and health sector is usually a risk-averse industry by definition, in Amsterdam they are willing to take risks. People recognise this and that helps us stay competitive with the US and China.”

One recent example of the city’s collaborative spirit arose out of the challenges related to COVID-19. When lockdown occurred, as many as 60 to 70% of the heart patients were forced to stay away from the hospital due to space constraints. So, the OLVG and various partner hospitals across the Netherlands are now using Happitech’s technology as a module in a remote heart-monitoring app. After a successful trial involving 100 patients, the app’s use is now being scaled up.

Innovation rate increasing

Harb has witnessed an explosion of innovation across the life sciences and health sector throughout the first half of 2020. “Similar to what’s happening with education, healthcare is making a fast shift to online. I’ve talked to all these industry insiders who are saying they’re seeing acceleration over the last months that they haven’t seen in the last five years,” notes Harb.

“Certainly, many of the telehealth solutions already existed. But now there is an important reason, as grave as it is, to adopt it. And that’s the same reason why medical professionals and health tech are working more closely together than ever before.” In other words, it seems that there’s never been a better time for more happy tech.

Find out more about the latest life-science innovations in Amsterdam.