Wartime: Health-tech Startups are Stepping Up

The Menomadin Team
November 26, 2023

The attack on Israel on October 7th, 2023, led to a surge of activity among health-tech startups. Those companies, established to provide solutions for physical and mental harm that may lead to illness and death, where every line of code is written with a commitment to generate a significant and measurable impact on the health and lives of people, have a great contribution to national resilience. Start-ups from the diversified portfolio of Menomadin Foundation’s impact investments share how they step up to combat darkness and prove that tough times present the opportunity to do good in the world.

Connecting with the Injured and Ventilated

In the initial days of the conflict, as intensive care units started receiving hundreds of wounded individuals who, in a sharp and brutal twist, found themselves oscillating between life and death, the start-up company EyeControl, which develops a platform enabling complex patients to communicate through intuitive eye movements, stepped in to bridge the communication barriers for the injured and those on ventilators.

EyeControl’s wearable wireless system, currently operational in various intensive care units across the country as part of pilots and clinical trials, comprises a head unit with an earpiece positioned outside the ear and a small camera beneath the eye, detecting every eye movement. The system transmits information directly from the patient to a remote unit located at the nurses’ station. Equally important, it enables family and friends to send messages to their loved ones in the hospital bed. The system can identify when the patient is opening their eyes as they begin to wake up from anesthesia. Depending on the settings, much like a personal assistant, it informs the patient of their whereabouts, the date, and time of day. It also reports to the nurses’ station about changes such as eye-opening and waking up.

“The idea is to offer support to patients in a traumatic environment, especially for those who have experienced events such as October 7th,” says Or Ratzkin, EyeControl’s CEO. “The system provides a sense of orientation, reinforcement, and comfort, ensuring that the patient is never alone each time they wake up. The patient’s ability to express their needs through eye movements in response to questions enables staff to provide the necessary treatment, ensure patient comfort, and monitor their mental and cognitive state.

A platform enabling complex patients to communicate through intuitive eye movements. Photo by: EyeControl

A platform enabling complex patients to communicate through intuitive eye movements.
Photo by: EyeControl

Of course, the ability to communicate with family and friends also contributes to the well-being of patients. We tested this in a pilot at Sheba Hospital with a critically wounded patient who suffered severe burns all over his body. Hospitalized in isolation in the burn ward, we sent him hundreds of messages from family, friends, and acquaintances, and it had a profoundly beneficial effect on his recovery,” says Or.

“Since October 7, we have been in contact with the intensive care units in the hospitals we operate, receiving requests to transition from clinical trials to operational work. Concurrently, with the expansion in the number of stations, in one hospital, at the onset of the emergency, the intensive care unit relocated to a secure area. This required a physical change to the communication network, a task significant even in normal times, and more so when almost half of the company is called to reserve duty.” This includes Or himself and his co-founder, Itai Kornberg.

In anticipation of a potential increase in demand, EyeControl is getting ready and adapting on the fly, exploring additional hospital wards where the system can offer crucial support. “We are gearing up to assist as many patients as possible, making every effort to address individual requests that come our way. In times like these, there is growth in activity—both in the number of wards dedicated to enhancing patient interaction and in the number of patients, adding to the challenge for our small team. Beyond team members recruited to reserves, some reside in the south of the country, while others must provide crucial support at home when their spouse is drafted. The remaining team works around the clock, showcasing incredible commitment. Our goal is to contribute as much as possible and make a significant impact at all levels of society.”

EyeControl is adept and well-prepared for the special requirements of emergencies. During the COVID-19 pandemic, leveraging its home system, it developed the system currently installed in hospitals, earning the Genesis Prize. “We are capable and dedicated to adapting with hospitals in response to developments and the anticipated growing need, providing appropriate support. Our aim is to support the patient beyond the intensive care stage, extending to rehabilitation wards, and if necessary, offering additional environments,” concludes Or.

Remote Medical and Emotional Monitoring

The startup company Biobeat is also on high alert. The company is developing a watch with sensors for remotely monitoring vital medical indicators, including blood pressure, pulse, oxygen saturation, breathing, fever, and more. “Most of Biobeat’s work is with hospitals and clinics in the US and Europe, with only a few in Israel,” says Arik Ben-Yishai, the company’s CEO and founder, currently engaged in reserve operations in Gaza. “During the Corona pandemic, the Israeli Ministry of Health instructed hospitals to equip themselves with our system, recognizing the need for remote monitoring of quarantined COVID-19 patients and also allow ongoing monitoring of patients outside hospitals.” For this contribution, Biobeat was also honored with the Genesis Prize.

“On Saturday, October 7, chaos unfolded in the hospitals, particularly in the reception and treatment of trauma patients. However, after a few days, the situation calmed down. While we all hope that the need won’t increase, we remain prepared for any development. Our system includes a mental health feature, already implemented in psychiatric hospitals and in the treatment of severe clinical traumas. We’ve got inventory and a logistics transportation and distribution network, and we’ve sent out the message to the hospitals, Health Ministry, and IDF,” says Arik. Biobeat’s product is wireless and portable, facilitating remote medical and emotional monitoring. Even if patients are residents of the south who were evacuated from their homes due to the situation, the attending physician can view their data in real-time as if they were right next to him.

A watch with sensors for remotely monitoring vital medical indicators. Photo by: Biobeat

A watch with sensors for remotely monitoring vital medical indicators.
Photo by: Biobeat

Out of the company’s approximately 30 employees, more than 10 officers and combat fighters have been called up to the reserves and are currently deployed in Gaza and the north. Those who weren’t drafted work around the clock, filling in positions usually outside their realm of responsibility. Employees on reserve duty make an effort in their off hours and limited free time to contribute to ongoing work. “The person in charge of shipping and logistics was actually called up to the reserves. She goes above and beyond, showing up every few days, in uniform, to ensure that all shipments reach our customers worldwide,” he says.

Emotional Support in a Click of a Button

Beyond the physical injuries, the war led to a significant increase in rates of anxiety and stress. Israeli startup ifeel, which runs a platform for emotional therapy via chat or video with qualified clinical psychologists, is witnessing an increase in inquiries and a substantial demand for advice and support. “In the companies we collaborate with in Israel, the percentage of inquiries has surged by more than 40% since the war began,” says Hila Hoter-Yishai, the company’s director of operations in Israel.

A platform for emotional therapy via chat or video with qualified clinical psychologists.<br /> Photo by: ifeel

A platform for emotional therapy via chat or video with qualified clinical psychologists.
Photo by: ifeel

ifeel’s platform operates through organizations and companies, granting their employees access to treatment under therapist-patient confidentiality. “We are actively recruiting therapists and doing everything in our power to reach the largest employers in Israel, enabling them to offer immediate support to their employees,” says Hila. “Our clinical management trains traditional therapists to operate on a digital platform, allowing us to provide care to thousands of people simultaneously. If necessary, we can meet the needs of hundreds of thousands of patients.”

ifeel, similar to EyeControl and Biobeat, faced the challenge of proving its impact during the COVID-19 crisis, particularly when expanding its operations to Israel. “While in other countries, our service is an integral part of an employee’s day-to-day life, in Israel, without a doubt, such a service should be mandatory,” Hila says. “Companies now recognize that employees receiving treatment are more resilient, collaborative, and that what is good for the employee is good for the employer.”

When the war started, ifeel’s CEO, Amir Kaplan, expressed his wish to return to Israel and join his army unit in the north. However, Hila asked him to undertake an equally important mission. “I told him, ‘I’m going to do everything to help people in Israel, and we need you so that we can expand our capabilities and provide this response. This is our responsibility now.’”

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