Category Archives: Startup

The iMedevac startup part II : making a prototype

In part I we explained that the idea for iMedevac came from my previous entrepreneurial experience.

The pain points experienced by many assistance companies and medical providers was the time spent quoting for medical transports. Some online solutions existed already but they were more focused on air ambulance.

Air ambulance solutions involve only 5% of the transports per year at best.
They were targeted because of the importance of the sales turnover.

We believed that instead of providing a solution centred on air ambulance, it would be better to provide solutions for the whole market.

For the uninitiated, there are many different ways to transport a patient from one point to another. Resources include

  • Commercial flight transfers
  • Shuttle medical flight transfers
  • Ground ambulance transports
  • The Lufthansa Patient Transfer Cabin.
  • Air ambulance transports

A mission will often involve one to several transport resources.
A standard transport would go like this : patient will be bought to the airport with an ambulance, will fly to his/her destination and be picked up by another ambulance.

Patients can be transported with or without an escort, who can be a nurse, physician or paramedic, sometimes furnished by one of the providers or sometimes completely independent.

Patients can also travel in varying positions, ie on a stretcher or with their leg stretched out in front or beside them (extra seat)

As you can see this is all very complex. In order to have a truly reliable algorithm  we would require extensive research.
Our hypothesis had to be confirmed and we came up with a very short todo list :
Build a prototype.

We also had two other items that had to be done in rapid sequence after that.
Discuss wanted features with potential customers
Find an early adopter to test the application.

This had been an ongoing dynamic process with Francois, my brother. We were in July 2009 and wanted to move fast. The reason was that the International Travel & Insurance Congress was to be held in November in Athens, Greece. We felt that it was the ideal place to network and show our application to get feedback.

The list of features for our prototype was short:

  • Show flights
  • Show Ambulance transports
  • Geolocalize

Searching for flights and prices was made easy & accessible by Paul English from Kayak who gave us access to their API. Ambulance transports were calculated by using the Via Michelin API with a developer account (Google Premium is very expensive). We decided to use google maps basic for geolocalization.

We started analyzing different platforms that we could use. We started by looking at Open ERP, a Belgium based open source startup. Because it was an ERP and also a framework it had potential. Another candidate was Compiere. Drupal, joomla, python, code igniter were also several of the other frameworks we were looking at.

Programming & database skills was not a problem, but we wanted a team to speed up the dev process. A first look in Belgium showed that we had limited talent and that it would be very expensive. We were very lucky to find a group of talented developers in Canada while I was on a trip back then. We finally opted to using the Zend Application Framework for performance, enterprise class support and a solid MVC framework with tons of easy to use components.

And there you have it! We developed the prototype in a little more than a month. It cost me a little less than a small car and a lot of my time as well as some grey hair. Francois and I went to Athens to talk to interesting people, and in part III, I’ll talk to you about the results that we got.

Welcome & How iMedevac came to exist

Why did we create a startup? The idea may surprise because entrepreneurship has it’s inherent risks. Financially, it’s difficult to start up a company.  Finding an idea that will generate revenue isn’t easy. It’s also incredibly long hours, lots of contacts and phone calls and a huge amount of stress (especially when doing demos) . Most startups are great ideas pushed ahead by passionate people.  Remember, if you don’t have an element passion for your idea its vowed to failure. Return on investment is often only years away. Finally, our startup involves a niche market incredibly complex with significant responsibilities.

The idea for iMedevac was a logical next step to my experience in the medical assistance market.My first company, International MEDEVAC Services provided physicians and nurses for medical escort. As we grew we provided more resources such as air ambulances, ground ambulances, medical clearance capacities etc….

The major pain point was the time it would take to provide a quote. It was easy providing a quote for an air ambulance flight. All you had to do was calculate your fuel burn, hours of flight and crew costs. Every once and a while some one threw you a curve ball like overflights etc
It was however much more difficult to provide a quote for an ambulance transfer or a  commercial flight transfer. Simple cases took almost an hour to complete, from request to quote and involved a lot of waiting and follow up. On busy days one person would be doing 8 to 9 quotes with different options per day. The takeaway was that one person was involved almost exclusively for quoting.

When I left IMS in 2008 it was amid disagreement with the shareholders on the direction to follow. Unexpected as it was, I kept faith and was convinced that I would start up something new. Watching a company grow is really awesome, and the positive energy I got out of it was almost vital. There were many reasons for this, the human relationships, the constant quest for quality, the idea that we were providing unparalleled patient care were one of several . On the other hand the conditions in which I left the company pushed me to take a breather and rest…

So I spent my time reading, going to class and talking to ex clients and providers. What I learned was that the pain that I had been feeling while I was CEO at IMS was the same for everyone.

There had already been several attempts to provide online solutions for the medical transport Market. Most of these involved air ambulances, and some of them were highly successful (but most weren’t). But up until now none of these involved anything else. It’s as if 95% of medical transport missions were being ignored because it was too complex or there was no business model.

IMedevac had already been sprouting in my brain back in 2006 when we tried to automate processes to save time and money. Unfortunately the technology was still too unreliable to be used in a production setting. However in 2009 it was mature. Armed with this technology and intimate knowledge of how the Market worked I set out to create a prototype.

More to come  of which I’ll talk to you about in part II.