Patients with diabetes experience fluctuating levels of glucose throughout the day. Prolonged high levels lead to long-term complications such as heart disease, whilst low levels of glucose lead to short-term complications such as reduced brain functioning and coma. Therefore, it is essential for patients to monitor and maintain their glucose levels within a tight, optimal range 24/7.
Current methods involve pin-picking a finger up to ten times a day to obtain glucose readings. Not only is this unpleasant but patients often forget and fail to pick up on abnormally high or low glucose levels.
Our solution is TOMMY: a wearable device that applies a machine learning algorithm to monitor glucose levels continuously and to help predict levels in advance of them reaching a point of concern. The algorithm is based on evidence-based clinical parameters and the device makes glucose monitoring effortless and pain-free for the user.
Existing Continuous Glucose Monitoring (CGM) devices require frequent maintenance and are expensive. Despite their proven benefits, they are not yet fully available on the NHS. TOMMY has a one-off cost, guaranteeing that the user can monitor their glucose effectively and continuously for the foreseeable future.
In conclusion, TOMMY aims to provide a fully non-invasive and affordable solution to glucose monitoring for diabetics.
Although we have studied medicine together for four years, we didn’t work together until our ‘year-out’ studying management at the Imperial Business School. In this environment we would often brainstorm ideas in our free time. Naturally we wanted to develop these concepts and decided to apply to some incubator programmes. We got on to the WE Innovate programme, which was exactly what we needed and helped us narrow down our ideas to focus on TOMMY.
As medical students, we constantly see diabetic patients which means we have a good clinical understanding of the disease, and the issues it presents to its sufferers. We also both have a family history of diabetes, providing us with first-hand experience of the difficulties in managing the disease.
However, the idea for TOMMY originated from conversations with patients and experts in the field. We soon realised that one of the biggest issues was the process of checking glucose levels and the inadequacy of available techniques.
After lots of research and brainstorming, we came across research in another medical field, which applied machine learning algorithms. We wondered where else this approach could be used and, after more research, we landed on our final idea which was TOMMY, a non-invasive and affordable continuous glucose monitor.
We are now at the stage of producing our machine learning prototype using data we have collected ourselves. We hope our first small-scale prototype will be finished by July/August. We then intend to run a medium-scale (n= 50-100) trial involving real patients, during which we will collect as much data as possible to further develop and refine our model. After this we will be ready to test our model on a larger cohort of patients to examine its accuracy.
Besides prototyping, we are planning to expand our team with more like-minded and energetic individuals, to speed up development of the company. Currently, we are looking for talented AI engineers to help with the prototyping process.
Experts and advisors
We have been privileged to have access to many different experts. Our diabetes support advisors (Liz and Carol) are heavily involved with local diabetes support groups. We interviewed them as part of our resaerch at the beginning of our journey. They are incredibly keen to help and often provide us with new ideas from a customer-point of view.
Professor Kieran Arasaratnam has been a friend and continues to advise us on data science and overall business strategy.
WE Innovate introduced us to Janet Murray, our business coach. She has been with us from the very inception of our idea, and her advice and wealth of experience have shaped our enterprise into what it is today.
WE Innovate programme
In Phase 1 of the programme our vision was simple: we wanted to help patients manage their long-standing conditions more effectively. But, with a vision so vast, we weren’t sure where to start. Our clinical experience as medical students had given us an idea of what we wanted to achieve and, as intercalating students at the Business school, our professors gave us immense support. However, the ultimate inspiration was deadline for the WE Innovate programme! We surprised ourselves with how efficiently we were able to make decisions and act on them within a tight time frame to come up with a workable idea.
Phase 1 helped us collect our thoughts about our different ideas and possibilities. The business coaches provided by the Enterprise Lab were phenomenal in helping us put our thoughts onto paper. One of the coaches, David Turi, emphasised the importance of having a ‘product-market’ fit through gathering feedback from our users and customers. It was this that ultimately led to our final idea. For us the highlight of this phase was definitely the coaching sessions, which were instrumental in pivoting our idea and making TOMMY what it is today.
Phase 2 of the programme was all about developing our idea and producing a business case for our product. Janet Murray, our other business coach, was invaluable in this process. Whenever we met with her we would start with lots of questions of what to do next, and would finish with a clear plan ahead. Phase 2 also allowed us to gauge interest in the potential market and, following the investor’s breakfast, we felt energised by the amount of interest in our project.
Enterprise Lab Support
The Enterprise Lab has been incredibly supportive and the staff are always friendly and helpful. The Lab itself also makes for a great collaborative space to work in. We have previously taken part in the Innovation Pitch and Pitch ‘n’ Mix events organised by the Enterprise Lab, and we found them extremely useful environments in which to network with like-minded students and to find potential partners.
Successes and setbacks
One of our major successes was being selected as finalists for the WE Innovate programme and winning the Lauren Dennis prize (Audience vote). Alongside this, receiving support from the diabetes community in Hammersmith has been a huge highlight and achieving a large number of sign-ups for our data collection. Lastly we see our personal development over the last few months as the biggest success: both of us have improved in pitching and communicating effectively with potential investors. This has increased our confidence in seeking external opportiunities, for example we were invited to pitch in the semi-finals of the Mayor’s Entrepreneurship Competition.
Luckily so far we haven’t had any major setbacks, but an area we want to improve is getting our idea more ‘out there’ by networking with a wider audience. We always find ourselves intrigued when speaking to people outside of our arena, and people who aren’t familiar with diabetes so we are planning to attend a wider range of events to accelerate the maturity of our business.
Advice to aspiring entrepreneurs
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes! Rarely does someone get it right the first-time. We ended up spending a lot of time thinking through different ideas and possibilities only to end up being told our ideas were uninventive by advisors and mentors. It’s important not to take any of the feedback personally, but rather take on as much criticism as possible to fuel your next idea.