51: Touch a Billion People with Sathya Elumalai

Sathya Elumalai is the President and CEO of Aidar Health, a healthcare technology and digital therapeutics company reimagining today’s chronic care management and health monitoring. We talk about the impact of digital health technologies on medicine, Mouth Lab’s quest to reinvent rapid health assessment, and the importance of technological synergy in medicine. 

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Touch a Billion People with Sathya Elumalai 

Our guest is Sathya Elumalai, the President and CEO of Aidar Health, a healthcare technology and digital therapeutics company that has recently received FDA approval for MouseLab, a revolutionary medical device for comprehensive health assessment. So welcome to the show, Sathya.

Thank you so much, Steve, for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here.

It’s great to have you. I’m very excited to have you and to learn about what you do. Your new product is very exciting. But let’s start first with your journey. So tell me a little bit of your entrepreneurial journey and, you know, what’s been your trials or tribulations so to say and how did you get here?

I think definitely from I mean every entrepreneur starts very early right I mean we don’t even know if we are an entrepreneur until several years of experience in real world. For me it started off as a kid and I used to do a lot of work with my dad trying to build new gadgets. My dad was an electrical engineer and he had a workshop and I used to go and build a lot of different technologies with him and later on my focus was always to become a doctor and help patients and help with patient care.

But throughout the journey I came to a point where I realized, okay, what if I could start working on technologies. As a doctor, you might touch maybe even a million people in your life, but I was looking into can I actually influence in a positive way and can I touch a billion people and what would really help us to do that? And that’s where I thought building a technology.

Today, the phone is actually used by billions of people. So I want to build a technology that is simple to use, that is part of every single person’s daily lives. So that’s where my focus was, and building a medical device or technology is actually a need for everyone. So that’s what led me to start working. But before starting my company, I worked at Johns Hopkins for over 10 years on patient safety, satisfaction, infection control.

And from there, I moved to a data analytics company where I worked on technologies that could help health insurers and pharmaceutical companies. Throughout this journey, I found that there is a need, both personally as well as professionally, to actually simplify healthcare, which is what led me to start my own company. I wanted to take the matters on my own hands. And today I’m grateful that I did that.

Wow. I’m always amazed. I mean, my parents are doctors, so I kind of have a little bit of my upbringing, the, you know, the resonance with doctors. And I’m always amazed when I hear that a doctor becomes an entrepreneur, because it sounds like you have, you have a great profession, highly respected, well-paid, and very rewarding working with patients. And I’m just wondering, why would someone take the risk of entrepreneurship when you have such a great profession, which is such a safe, secure, rewarding, high-paid profession, to go and become an entrepreneur with all the risks that carries and the financial, you know, until you become successful, lots of many lean years for many of us. So tell me a little bit about that. How did that work out for you?

I think working with an organization, you always tend to work for somebody or somebody’s vision. And as an entrepreneur, you always have your own vision about how the world should look like, or any aspect of it in your field of interest. For me, it has always been healthcare, so healthcare is my field of interest. And when I looked into it, there’s a lot of different amazing institutions around the world trying to help patients, but it needs like more than, like, it’s not a globe, it’s not like one size fits all, right? I think every individual is different.

So we need to build technologies that can actually satisfy every individual’s needs. So at that point of time, when I started the company, or even before that, I was going through this challenge of why there is no solution that is applicable to a lot of different patient population or user groups, and why there is always one size fits all kind of an approach to healthcare, which is what led me to think about a technology. But it’s also that, I mean, my principle in life is I don’t want it to die simple.

What I mean by that is I really wanted to influence in some way in healthcare. So working for an organization like Hopkins or others, you might be able to do a lot of great things, but if you wanted to do out of the box thinking and provide solutions, you need to always start something. So when I started, I thought it was maybe for one or two years, I was being too optimistic about the world and hardware, medical technology. So my decision was not so tough, and I had like great family who was supporting me and my friends were, okay, just do it.

I mean, if it’s two years, just go ahead and do it. But later on, I realized now it’s like almost six, seven years now I’m in this, I haven’t even taken a pay in the past six, seven years. So I only give paychecks, but I have not received one. So it’s really hard at times, but I think it’s rewarding. At the end of the day, it’s your product and you are making an impact in this world. It’s far more exciting and interesting than working for an organization only for a paycheck.

I mean, I couldn’t agree with you more. And if you are a creative, innovative person, then, you know, being part of a big machine in that everything is governed by protocols, can be a very constricting environment. So I totally get that. So we’ll talk about your product, which I think is amazing. But before we go there, I want to ask you this question. As you built your company, have you come across with any management blueprints, such as scaling up or E-Myth or great game of business or four-dicipline execution, or traction U.S. that you have used, leveraged to build a business, or are there any business concept or frameworks that you have come across and which you use in building your business?

Absolutely, I think there’s tons of business frameworks and blueprints that are there, and different organization use different things. For me, it’s about the people. I really wanted to start with people. What can we do to the people involved in the company and how we can use them as a tool to actually build an organization. So I believe in this unboss culture or unboss organization which involves everybody instead of few. It’s more or less like a functional mechanism instead of a structure and it’s built on purpose instead of mostly profit.

An unbossed culture involves everybody instead of few, turning leaders into facilitators, empowering the team, and removing obstacles. Click To Tweet

Of course, it’s a for-profit company, but I cannot say instead of profit, but what really an unbossed culture would do is like it empowers and supports others and removes the obstacles associated with all the different processes. It means like we’re creating a new kind of culture which actually where leaders serve the people from the bottom up by setting clear goals, removing obstacles, and improving or empowering the team rather than sticking to a hierarchy or like a top-down structure. At the heart of it, this is what we try to do within our organization.

We associate all the executors and everybody to work together and then be a facilitator, then actually a manager. So I follow a lot of people and for example, Vas Narasimha is part of Novartis CEO. He tried to create that culture in such a big organization like Novartis, but for us, what I thought was it’s a smaller organization, it’s easier to start now. So as a leader, I believe it’s important to provide the space and align aspirations, which is what has been the clear management principle or tool that we are trying to implement. And I’m really hoping that every single member within the company currently and also in the future applies such principles to better manage our team.

Leaders should provide space and align aspirations, creating a culture where every team member applies such principles to better manage the team. Click To Tweet

So, you call it on-boss culture. Is there like a book or someone, an author that people can refer to to check it out?

Yeah, absolutely. I can send across something you can put it into the podcast. 

Into the show notes.


Definitely would like to do that. Okay, very good. So switching gears here, I’d like to learn about your mouse lab product, which I was really impressed when I first saw it. And I thought I definitely have to get Sathya on this podcast to talk about this. It’s like an iPhone for health care kind of thing, right? It’s a very simple device, and you can put in your mouse and you get different health measurements. So tell us a little bit about this device and how it works and who is it for?

Absolutely, so basically the inspiration really stemmed from helping my mom. So for me, it was very personal when, as I said, I worked in different settings, but really what motivated me was a personal need, right? That’s what is also inspiring. My mom has at least four chronic conditions and oftentimes when she gets to the hospital she asks me, could you do something to prevent me from going back to the hospital? And this is 10 years ago and I’m still having the same problem of trying to understand what’s happening because oftentimes the healthcare is focused on managing one condition at a time. And they don’t look at the downstream effects.

Some do, but for me, it was, we didn’t know any of those information. We were just focusing on helping my mom and her one condition, but all the other organ system have been, started to deteriorate. And now she has four conditions. So, and she used to use five or six different devices every single day, and it significantly lacked compliance. And also she felt sick when she had to do so many things in a day that is associated with her health in terms of doing exercise, to going to the hospital, taking medication and measuring all these different parameters and reporting all this information.

So that’s where I really wanted to build something that is very simple to use, something that easily integrates into her life flow. And the closest thing that I was able to see that she used every day without me pushing her to do was a toothbrush. So she literally picks up an electric toothbrush, pushes the button and then brush. And once she’s done, she washes it and then she’s done for the day. And she does, I mean, sometimes she brushes at night, but it’s a once a day ritual and she does it religiously. So which is what we wanted to do. Can we pair one habit with another habit?

So we thought about that and then looked into the form factor which can be similar to that so that it doesn’t look like a medical device. And then we started looking into where we can collect a whole lot of health information because I don’t want her to do the same mistake of picking one or two parameters which might not be directly relevant to our condition, but at the same time, it’s not also conducive to measure continuously. So what we really wanted to look at is where we can collect all this information.

That’s where we found mouth is a great place to collect key vital information because of the access to breath and saliva, which is what led us to build our device, Mouselab. So this is our device. It’s a small handle device. The user holds the device and place it in the mouth and breathes through normally for 30 seconds. Within those 30 seconds, we measure the user’s temperature, blood pressure, ECG, oxygen saturation, pulse rate, respiratory rate, respiratory flow, morphology, heart rate, heart rate variability.

And at the end of 30 seconds, we prompt the user to perform lung function tests, or basically deep inhale and exhale. Once they exhale, we also measure the user’s lung functions, like FEV1, FEC, PEF. All these different parameters are relevant to looking at somebody with a chronic condition, and these parameters give a holistic view of somebody’s health. Although the inspiration came from my mom and through the toothbrush, but it also, like similar to the science frictional device, right, like the tricorder, which is part of the Star Trek, where McCoy uses a tricorder to scan somebody, a patient, to get all their vitals and diagnose the problem within minutes, which is what we are trying to achieve, and we are grateful that we were able to achieve this today.

So the device is currently for use for patients with chronic conditions, and we got an FDA clearance as a prescription device that doctors can prescribe to patients so that they can use it every single day. And what it does is within like two weeks, we measure the user’s baseline. From there, we actually can start tracking the changes within their health, because every individual is different. So this baseline act as a unique bio signature associated with that individual.

From there onwards, any deviation from their health due to a medication, due to an activity, or due to deterioration in their health can be readily determined, predicted. And if that’s outside a set threshold, then it can inform the physicians, the caregivers, or the patient themselves to take appropriate action. Right now, our focus is to provide the technology, provide the insights, so that the physician can take appropriate action, but ultimately we would like to provide some kind of feedback to the users so that they can take better care of their self every single day.

So this is amazing. And when I first saw this, I thought, I want one of these things just to have around the house so we can just test everyone in the family. And then I learned that it’s only for people who have the conditions because there are very few of these devices available as of this time. So that leads to my second question. First of all, how many devices are there? I mean, how many have you guys manufactured so far? And what if this thing catches fire? How is it going to change your company and how are you going to handle this demand now that you’ve got the FDA approval?

No, absolutely. For us, as soon as we got the FDA clearance, we started working towards setting up our manufacturing setup. Right now, everything is manufactured within the US. All our suppliers, all our manufacturers and designers, everybody is based in the US. We previously have built like close to 150 devices, which are currently being used in clinical trials. But right now we have the setup ready and we are building the first batch of almost a thousand devices, which will be used in several clinical trials focused on heart failure, COPD, and COVID related studies. But the setup is already ready.

So we can build at least like 10,000 devices this year and hundreds of thousands of devices next year. So for us, we need to be cognizant about the huge shortage and chip shortage and other component shortage that is globally happening right now. So we have laid down the foundation so that we can build thousands of devices. So, although it’s like prescription only, we are working with the FDA to actually get this cleared under, over the counter as well. So, by hopefully early next year, it could be in the shelves of Walgreens and CVS and other places where anybody could be able to pick it up. And also would be available on our website where anybody could buy it from there.

How are you financing the company? I mean, are you, you know, taking on investors who fund the growth or is it all family and friends funded?

So I think for almost four years in the company, it was primarily self-funded. It was all my savings up to a point where I have to start asking my friends and family. So we got some money from friends and family, but we also started, we raised a little over 2.5 million from angel investors who really believed in the product, even before an FDA clearance, even before there was any clinical trial data existed. They just believed in the product, believed in the vision and also the team. So we did that, but right now for commercialization, we are looking to raise our series A fundraising of $10 million, which we are hoping to close by September of this year.

Yeah, well, good luck for this. My sense is that you won’t have too much trouble doing that given what this product can achieve. So thinking like bigger picture, you said that you want to touch a billion people. This is like very audacious plan, but I love this plan. So what do you think, what is the impact this could ultimately have if this thing becomes ubiquitous and everyone can buy this thing and we can all measure our health and monitor it and have our baseline? What is it going to allow us to do and how is it gonna change the healthcare system here?

So I think the biggest problem with the healthcare system is sporadic care, right? I think people get care as and when they need it. And people oftentimes don’t monitor themselves. Staying healthy means maybe working out and then just wearing a Fitbit or an Apple Watch and getting one or two parameters and basically living their life, but oftentimes I’ve had so many people who look good. They’ve been perfect no history of any health conditions But sometimes stress anxiety and other things actually cause issues within patients or people.

The biggest problem with the healthcare system is sporadic care, right? I think people get care as and when they need it. Click To Tweet

And for me, let’s say for my case, both my parents are diabetic, both my parents have heart conditions. I spent almost maybe four or five years, I didn’t even go to a doctor to do a regular checkup because my life was so busy and I thought like, okay, I’m feeling healthy and I didn’t even take any effort. But like after four years when I went and visited the doctor, the doctor said, I mean, you look good, but then you are in the pre-diabetic range right now.

Your HbA1c values are really high and your cholesterol levels are high and you are, it’s a lot of things that, I don’t know, I took it for granted. I just realized that I didn’t have all this information in my hand, which is similar to a lot of people. Even with my mom, she knows a lot of things and oftentimes does not communicate. And when she gets hospitalized, that’s when she tells me, yeah, I just found something three, four days ago. I thought it was because of this condition and not because of this.

So that’s where a device like this that you use every single day, from a user standpoint, we’re not asking them to wear something on their body. We’re not asking them to put a patch, or we’re not telling them to keep using their phones to get the data or any of those things, because the device is super user-friendly. The device also has speakers and communication capabilities within the device. So it can act as a daily doctor or daily checkup companion, right? Once you use the device, the speakers can actually tell you, hey, Sathya, you’re doing great today.

Or if there is any issue, it just tells you, I’ve sent your information to your doctor, maybe he or she would contact you. Or if somebody’s been monitored by a caregiver at home or a professional caregiver, they would probably get notification so that they can better assist the condition. So what it does is now physicians will have more time to take care of people who need the care versus somebody who comes into a hospital due to a false positive alarm that comes through one of these wearable devices.

For us, what we really believe in is measuring things at a very early stage. And right now we are a monitoring tool, but we wanted to start getting into a diagnostic tool next year or two, so that we can predict a lot of complex conditions at a very early stage. So imagine all you do is like simple, as simple as brushing your teeth in the morning, but at the same time, I mean, my co-founder calls it, it has like a check engine like for humans, which is what we are hoping to achieve through the device and our solution.

Check engine for humans, I like that a lot. So, you know, the way I understand this, you’ve got this device, it can measure seven to 10 different vitals, essentially it replaces or maybe preempts a number of diagnostic tests that get performed in the hospital. I go to the hospital, I go to, you know, my house doctor and they go to perform a variety of different diagnoses which kind of cost me probably thousands of dollars or it will cost the insurance company.

And then they may or may not find out what’s going on. So many of these diagnoses are wasted. So I imagine if someone has this device, they will be much more in control of their own health, which means they will need to spend less time in hospitals. They will get less diagnosis. So I wonder if there are forces who would actually oppose such a device, because it kind of streamlines the whole process for many people. Isn’t that the case?

No, I mean, I wish that’s not the case and I hope that’s not the case. So I think from our standpoint, we are not getting into anybody’s space, but more or less bringing in a new kind of personalized experience for patients with chronic conditions, right? So for us, there are people who are having, let’s say, hypertension, people with hypertension or diabetes, they’re just focusing on one solution, right? And oftentimes, it’s going to be challenging. There are manufacturers who just make glucometers or blood pressure cuffs.

But the whole point is they are catering to a particular population which are just having one issue, but they don’t really look into what other conditions that they might encounter in their lives. What we are trying to do is to give proactive care by looking into, does the impact of this condition have anything else on the other organ system? So for us, we are presenting with a more holistic approach to health monitoring than all the other companies that are there. In fact, there are very limited device manufacturers these days than service providers because all the companies are moving from device only to providing services.

So even with Arkeas, it started as a medical device company. Now we are a digital medicine company. So how we really look at it is we’re looking to work with several of our competitors so that we can get faster to the patients because at the end of the day, it’s about the algorithms, it’s about the services that we are offering to patient versus the devices themselves because device can only present to you what’s happening but you need to have the people, the technology to actually prescribe the kind of things that needs to be done. So that’s where I feel there’s more synergies with competitors versus I would say any kind of cannibalism.

Probably if more people know that something is going on, actually it creates more awareness that they need a doctor. So they will probably go to doctor more, right, and get treatment and they get it in time rather than too late. So yes, so maybe that’s we can look at it in a completely different light. Maybe it will create more demand for the right kind of health care services than actually there exists. So that’s really cool. So looking ahead as a business owner. And Aidar Health, I assume, is facing a rapid growth trajectory going forward. So if you look five years ahead, where do you see your company, Aidar Health, to be in five years? What’s your vision of where it’s gonna evolve to in a few years?

As you can see, there’s a lot of application, or you know, a device like this would be integrated into a lot of setting from chronic disease management to managing decentralized or hybrid clinical trials to be used by quantified self people for monitoring their health, or used by athletes for improving their performance, or used in a lot of other setting from like army, navy, and other areas or direct to consumers where can be used in aging in place and other activities.

But we started with the focus of addressing some of the key unmet needs in the COPD and heart failure patient population. But our vision is always about collecting enormous amount of health information rapidly from an individual so that we can present a multi-dimensional view of their own health every single day. And we know that we have the tools that we developed today would be applicable across many chronic conditions and that our members or clients would want a seamless, easy to use experience for this device.

We have a single unified platform that provides smarter cellular connected devices, not just our device, but also other devices. And we also wanted to provide informed coaching, data science enabled insights, so that we can facilitate people to live better. But then the current ability of our device to measure all the 10 vital health parameters are only the beginning. Because as I said earlier, the device actually goes in the mouth. It has access to breath and saliva, which in turn gives access to many, many more biological indicators of health.

So we are continuously working on our efforts to do biochemistry of breath and saliva, which would actually make this device indispensable and can be customized to a lot of different conditions. So imagine five years from today, you could get maybe 100 tests that you would have to go to a doctor’s office today or to a lab to collect those information. Similarly, a lot of blood tests can be converted into saliva tests that we do it in your mouth every single day versus sending a sample to a lab where they do the performance of this test and send the report after a few days, right?

Our mission is to improve the quality of life of our members with chronic condition, so that, and also improve positive outcomes, so that we can create a new paradigm for personal health, which is what is our focus. And we are hoping five years down the line, we have, we’re working towards at least, at least a million people will have it in their home every single day, but definitely wanted to get to the billion very soon.

Our mission is to improve the quality of life of our members with chronic condition, so that, and also improve positive outcomes, so that we can create a new paradigm for personal health, which is what is our focus. Click To Tweet

I think you can easily do that. Well, not easily. It’s never easy to get the billion, but there’s a good chance that you can do it, I think. And what do I know? So that’s awesome. Very exciting. So if the listeners, if my listeners would like to learn more and maybe get in touch with you and maybe they want to invest in your company. Where do they go? How can they reach you?

Easy, very easy. Just, you can find us in all our social media channels. It’s like Aidar Health or AidarHealth. You can also email me directly at CEO at A-I-D-A-R.com. And you can also find more information on our website. Definitely really looking forward to talking to like-minded people, people who are passionate about healthcare, people who can think they can contribute, either through an investment, which would be great, but oftentimes I have great contribution coming from people who just call in and say, hey Sathya, here is a value proposition. Here is what we think your device could be helpful, or here’s an area in which you can actually take your device and happy to make some introductions.

So we would love to hear from physicians, pharmaceutical companies, investors, and more importantly, from consumers or people who are interested to manage their health, especially the pandemic has taught us that we need to care for ourself more than just going to the doctor’s office once a year. So that’s where I think our device could be a companion to every single users and so that we can offer a superior experience to them. And definitely any kind of feedback or insights would be great because we need, if you have to touch a billion people, we need a billion of you guys to help us out. So please reach out and really looking forward to hearing from all your listeners, Steve.

Well, thank you for coming on the show. Sathya Elumalai, the President and CEO of Aidar Health. Definitely check him out on LinkedIn and on his website. And check the mouse lab device. If you Google mouse lab, you will see a wonderful device a little bit bigger than a toothbrush, but it’s a thousand times more powerful. And if you enjoyed the show and the other episodes, please don’t forget to rate and review us so that we can get out more listeners. So thank you for listening. Thank you, Sathya, for joining me and have a great day. Thank you, Sathya, for joining me and have a great day.

It’s my pleasure. Thank you, Steve. Have a good one, everyone.


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