”One to Watch”

Last month, our Head of Business Development, Abhi, met up one of the IoTUK Boost winners; Konnektis. A few weeks passed and we’re delighted to have Mark fill us in with recent happenings. If you hadn’t heard of Konnektis before, we’ve asked the questions for you – here’s Marks story.

1)     In a nutshell, what is Konnektis and what is your role?

Mark Howells, co-founder of Konnektis

Mark Howells

Hello, I am co-Founder of Konnektis, which enables integrated, personalised care for older people living in their own homes.

The home care sector still relies on handwritten notes, which present meaningful barriers to effective communication between carers and prevents delivery of the best person-centred care possible.

We are developing a platform that runs on a dedicated 3G tablet that stays in the older person’s home and is used by all of the care network, whether they are professional carers, family members or informal carers.

Konnektis Tablet

2)     How was Konnektis born? We love founder stories!

Our story starts with my Grandad and my family’s experiences caring for him.  As he got older, Grandad suffered from a range of chronic conditions, including dementia, and he increasingly relied on a network of care support to enable him to remain independent.

Mark Howells and this father - founders of Konnektis

My father, who is in the picture above with my Grandad, brother and me, is the co-Founder of Konnektis and he was involved in the care sector for most of his career, running a large charity that provided a range of support services, including care for older people.  Our family knew all about the challenges of co-ordinating care using paper communication but even with this knowledge, we were powerless to navigate around the paper notes and things would go wrong frequently as a result of poor communication.

In addition to the stresses that this placed on my family, it also affected Grandad’s health and wellbeing and it became clear to us that technology could play a role in enabling far better care.

Konnektis is essentially the system that we wish had existed for my Grandad and my family when we were looking after him.

3)     What was the BGV accelerator process like?

The BGV programme was great – it gave us a really solid foundation to build upon.  We entered the accelerator with some fairly fixed assumptions about what would and wouldn’t work and a prototype that we wanted to test with carers and family members from two home care providers in Kent.

As we progressed through the programme, we realised that a lot of our assumptions were flawed.  Although important to refer back to our personal experiences, the main initial user group for the hub day-to-day were professional carers and we just hadn’t spent enough time with them to understand their roles and the barriers to their doing a more effective job.  We had made the classic start-up mistake of guessing core user needs rather than getting out of the office and speaking to as many people as possible experiencing the problem.

We learnt lots of great stuff on BGV and the ability to meet other entrepreneurs and access to mentoring was very valuable.  For me though, the most important lesson that we learnt was a need to truly put the user at the centre of our business since, without them, we won’t have one.

4)     Tell us a bit about your team

Dad and I have built a great team and all of them have come through BGV connections in one way or another, which shows the importance of networks!

One alumni start-up was comprised entirely of service designers and they seemed to be doing a lot right while we were struggling with a prototype that professional carers found difficult to use.  They introduced us to Holly May Mahoney, an RCA service design graduate with a background in graphic design, who has helped us to co-create Konnektis with users so that it meets their core needs and supports adoption.

As you can see from the picture, Holly’s co-design process tends to focus mainly on paper prototypes and lots of tea and biscuits!

Co-design process at Konnektis

One of the big gaps was a dedicated CTO and I spent a long time searching for the right person by seeking intros, going to meet-ups and alike but I just couldn’t find someone that I felt I could trust completely, which is very important.  Through BGV, I got to know David Bower, the Founder of an EdTech start-up and a very experienced full-stack developer.  What started out as ad hoc support has grown into something more permanent so David now leads the hardware and software development.

Through BGV, we were introduced to some students at London Business School that were interviewing social tech start-ups to take forward in this year’s MBA Impact Investing Network and Training competition, a global pitching competition amongst the world’s leading business schools.  One of the LBS team, was very keen on what we are doing and has joined us as an intern, where she is very hands on helping with financial modelling and business plan input.

We are also supported by an excellent Advisory Board, which has a range of skills in business development and scaling, deep relationships in the home care sector, technology implementation and academic experience in Public Health.

Finally, although our initial prototype needed a lot of development, it enabled us to form a relationship with a large Age UK branch providing home care and introduced us to a ‘super-users’.  Clive and Judith, a family in Kent have been using the platform for more than six months as they care for their mother and have become real evangelists for what we are building.

5)     Where is your office? Do you find many networking opportunities nearby?

We tend to split our time between London, Cambridge, our development partner in Kent and also some time in Leeds/Bradford following our IoT UK Boost win.  As a result, the problem isn’t really finding networking opportunities but doing so in a way that doesn’t take valuable focus away from our most important goal, which is building a product that meets core user needs and that can be scaled.

6)     Have you got some exciting case studies or ventures you can share with us?

One thing that we’re very excited about is being selected to receive the support of Nominet Trust as part of their Social Tech Seed competition, which provides funding and support to eight start-ups over the coming twelve months.  We’re very honored to have won against over 250 other start-ups.

Nominet Trust support gives us a runway to roll out our pilots further so that we can demonstrate the impact on improved care outcomes for older people and validate the business case for care providers so that we can scale up.

I think that there is a growing recognition among start-ups of the benefits of building relationships with larger, pro-active companies that have specialist knowledge and who can amplify our message and provide practical support to enable reliable scaling.

For example, we want Konnektis to be best-in-class for end-to-end security and data connectivity so, through CW (Cambridge Wireless) and Digital Catapult, we were introduced to Arkessa, a leading M2M connectivity service provider. Building a relationship with Arkessa – which partners with companies such as Philips, Siemens and Fujitsu – is an enormous step forward for us and supports more rapid development and scaling of our offer in the months to come.

7)     You’ve been coined as ‘one to watch’ by Idris Jahn at the recent #IoT16 conference – what can we expect from you guys in the future?

It was a real privilege to pitch as One to Watch at IoT16 with such a number of great start-ups and for anyone that hasn’t been to a BLN (Business Leaders Network) event, I would recommend it.

We think that provision of care to older people will, and must, change significantly over the years to come.  Of course, an ageing population, more older people living with multiple chronic conditions and living in their own homes rather than residential care are big factors but we believe that expectations will change over time as well.  In the UK alone, there are almost 2.5 million older people receiving support at home and there are many millions more providing care.  These numbers will only grow in the years to come as the Baby Boomers get older.

My Dad’s generation were brought up on a conveyer belt of progress.  They already own a significant piece of the economic pie and will increasingly be contributing more to pay for their care, so will demand more choice and higher standards of care.  We think that the response upon needing home care will be “if we sent a man to the moon almost fifty years ago, I’m not going to put up with archaic paper systems to support my healthcare”.

Infographic - connected care provided by Konnektis

The graphic above illustrates that, beyond encouraging better collaboration between carers, there is significant scope for growth and integration in the space:

  • Inter-connected devices and data analytics/AI have a role to play but can be far more effective when combined with the observations of carers, and of older people themselves.
  • Products and services are coming on stream that can support independent living and reduce social isolation of older people in our communities.
  • Changes to the way that professional care is organised and delivered, with more focus on groups of carers taking more responsibility for delivery of care locally and being paid more to do so.
  • Collaboration between social and healthcare professionals will become the norm if we are to deliver seamlessly integrated, person-centred care.

Konnektis can play a role in all of these if we can get the basics right, so watch this space.

8)     Can you offer any advice for entrepreneurs looking to set up a company?

For anyone thinking about setting up a company, I would encourage them to take the leap and try.  Although there are challenges along the way, you will learn a lot, have a lot of fun and will tend to meet all sorts of interesting people that show up with the right skills just when you needed them.  Most of all, keep your users at the centre of everything that you do by speaking to as many as you possibly can.

9)     As a founder – do you manage to strike the work/life balance right?

As a team, we tend to run in monthly sprints of activity, which we find a good way to maintain momentum on the most high impact issue relevant at any particular time.

A couple of weeks ago, we participated in the Google Ventures Sprint Week with hundreds of other start-ups around the world, where we focused on testing our assumptions about the needs of home care management teams, which is very important for adoption of Konnektis.

Putting a prototype in front of users on Friday after a week of intense focus from the team, we found out that some key assumptions were flawed and would need to be reconsidered.  It highlights that we always need to keep the users at the centre of our process and that we have never really ‘cracked it’.

On weeks like that, it can be difficult to keep a proper work/life balance but on the whole, I do a pretty good job.  I’m very fortunate to have a very supportive and patient wife and we have a toddler who has no interest in start-ups, technology or service design at all.  All he wants to do is play with his toys or read a book, so that keeps me grounded on the really important things!

11)  Have you been to any CW networking events before?

We have spent a good amount of time with the CW team members but have not made it to an event yet unfortunately.

We are fully paid-up members of CW though and really want to get involved in the Special Interest Groups wherever possible, which we hear from other start-ups are hugely valuable.  

We’re pretty open about what we are doing and are eager to collaborate and share knowledge with other people in the space.  If anyone would like to get in touch with me, please email me at mark@konnektis.com or follow us on @konnektis.

Konnektis Logo

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