Avery’s tech start-up Vigil gets extra $5 million injection from global health industry giant Bupa

Sir Ray Avery-founded company Vigil, which connects medical device wearers to their “carers” through health alerts sent to their smart devices, has received $5 million in funding from global healthcare group Bupa in exchange for a 25% stake in the company. The funding injection follows Spark Ventures’ $5 million investment in 2013.

Scientist, inventor and social entrepreneur Sir Ray Avery founded Vigil in 2012.

It creates software, cloud platforms and biometric monitoring hardware that continuously monitors patients and sends alerts to carers – either family or health professionals.

While conducting research on carers, Vigil CEO Alan Brannigan says it became obvious that guilt was big problem, as people felt they should be spending more time focusing on their family member’s health, but didn’t have time.

The Vigil technology allows them to connect remotely with sick or elderly relatives through a wearable pendant with an emergency help button. The system works using “the gateway”, a home-based unit that connects to carers, a call centre and has wireless access.

The gateway

The unit is also constantly transmitting data to a cloud-based system, where the received information is analyzed and stored. If something is wrong, the system sends an alert to nominated carers, including healthcare professionals.

Vigil also has a demo app in the works that gives people a virtual experience of how the technology works by simulating what happens when there is power outage, as well as how to make an emergency call.

The additional $5 million invested by Bupa will accelerate Vigil’s expansion internationally, with an initial focus in Australia.

Bupa is a UK-based global health insurance and aged care services company, with 22 million customers in over 190 countries.

Grainne Moss, the managing director of Bupa Care Services NZ, says Bupa was drawn to Vigil “because of its ability to think innovatively and challenge many of the assumptions on how to best serve the changing face of health care.”

 Grainne Moss and Keith Oliver​​ sign the agreement between the two companies

Brannigan says he thinks Bupa invested in the culture of Vigil as much as the product, due to Vigil disrupting the traditional approach of the health industry and being innovative.

Aside from the technology, another aspect of the company Bupa was interested in was Vigil’s customer validation models, which Brannigan says provide a “user-experienced focus” by getting out and interviewing the people the product is aimed at.

“We’re a start up and we can be a little more agile in our thinking with our creativity and innovation than perhaps a corporate.”

Chairman Keith Oliver says technology is key in addressing worsening macro health trends, with one of them being the aging population.

Statistics New Zealand predicts the number of Kiwis aged 65 and over will grow to over 1.18 million by 2051.

An example of the way the product works with age care is an elderly woman can wear a pendant and has a Vigil Gateway unit in her home.

Her professional carer can receive alerts and notifications on how she is doing and is able to communicate by videoconferencing, while at the same time, her daughter in a different city can also receive alerts on how her mother is doing.

This includes updates from the built-in accelerometer, which tracks how active the wearer is and can alert the carer when they have a fall. 

Brannigan says this is why Vigil technology will help health systems cope with an aging population.

“With the baby boomers, we’re having more and more people entering the elderly health care system. It’s about how do you keep people at home for longer. The wearer is able to delay the decision to go to a rest home and live at home as long as possible.”

Sir Ray Avery was the founder of Vigil and is a current board member. He is a scientist and inventor, well known for his contributions to the health industry.

He recently launched a drive to raise $2 million to manufacture a high-tech, low-cost incubator that helps reduce bacterial infections for infants in the developing world.

He also invented low-cost intraocular lenses for cataracts sufferers, which won him Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year in 2010.

Avery says the Vigil technology will revolutionise the care of an aging population.

“It allows them to live independently in the community with Vigil mHealth watching over their wellbeing.”

Brannigan says coming up with a solution involved more than just technology.

“We found a lot of [the problem with aged care] was socially-based rather than health or medical based, as it’s very emotive decisions people have to make [about caring for their families].” 

Vigil's products and services are being tested and certified at the moment and will be available to consumers by mid 2015.