Telus invests in healthcare technology startups

By Rosie Lombardi

dave-wattlingTelus has made headlines over the past two years with its acquisition of several established EMR vendors, and then merging their systems and technologies with its own. But the telecom giant is also nurturing innovative technology by investing in healthcare startups, not just buying it via acquisitions. Telus Ventures, the strategic venture investment arm of the company, has invested in healthcare startups such as Sprout, Sentrian and Zenedge, that offer unique technologies in addition to supporting Mars, TEC Edmonton and other business incubators.

Telus Ventures looks at opportunities to feed innovation technology into Telus Health. “We invest in startups, then we’ll look at how we can bring their technologies into our solution set, and then we’ll use our distribution channels to bring their technology into the field,” says Dave Wattling (pictured), VP and chief corporate development officer at TELUS Health Payment Solutions.

For example, Telus recently invested in Sprout, a health and wellness startup. The company has offices in Vancouver and Toronto, and uses tech-based tools to motivate employees to become active. The platform includes tools like physical activity tracking, nutrition, mental health and biometrics. It also allows employers to measure the impact of employee wellness on their business.

“We use Sprout internally at Telus, and we’re looking at making Sprout available through insurance carriers to major employers across Canada,” says Wattling.

Another example is Sentrian, a California-based company that has developed predictive analytic software for remote monitoring. “It’s a very cool company,” he says.

“They aspire to eliminate preventable hospitalization by leveraging the revolution in remote biosensors and machine learning to detect patient deterioration early, before it becomes acute. This early warning system allows care providers to intervene sooner, thereby not only reducing hospital admissions but increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of care teams. And what’s more, they have the data to support that claim.”

In recognition of the growing importance of security in healthcare, Telus recently invested in Zenedge, a California-based provider of cloud-based web application security and DDoS (distributed denial-of-service) mitigation solutions. Instead of its customers’ server requests going directly to their own servers, they must first connect to one of Zenedge’s cloud servers, which determine if server requests are malicious or not, and then only allow clean traffic to continue to flow through.

Telus’ investment will allow Zenedge to add a new DDoS mitigation centre in Toronto to expand its Canadian presence. This will ensure complete data sovereignty because all data is transmitted, processed and stored on Canadian soil. Data sovereignty is especially crucial for highly regulated industries like healthcare, that require data must remain in the country of origin.

Telus also works with business incubators and accelerators to nurture new technology companies, says Wattling. “We engage with several accelerators like Toronto’s MaRS and TEC Edmonton. We get involved because those become the funnel for companies that we might be interested in investing in. We like to spread the net wide.”

For example, Telus recently teamed up with non-profit business accelerator TEC Edmonton to launch the T-Squared Accelerator program, which will offer development opportunities to four early-stage technology companies annually.

T-Squared will be funded with $200,000 contributed annually by Telus, up to $100,000 of which will go directly to selected start-ups. These will be selected for their focus on platform development in several areas, including Internet of Things, big data analytics, health and wellness data integration and analytics.

Telus’ Chief Technology Office is located in Edmonton, which will offer participating companies direct access to product development insights and technical guidance.

Beyond technology, Telus is also participating in funding a novel social funding venture. Called the Community Hypertension Prevention Initiative (CHPI), the goal is to enroll 7,000 pre-hypertensive individuals in Ontario and British Columbia who are 60 years or older and to support them by giving them access to health coaches, online tracking tools, and referrals to community resources such as walking clubs and community cooking classes.

Says Wattling: “Telus Ventures is thrilled to be working with Health Canada and the Heart & Stroke Foundation in an innovative partnership aimed at preventing hypertension.  The first-of-a-kind initiative uses a Social Impact Bond to “pay for success.” Investors provide the upfront capital for the project and see their returns once predetermined outcomes are achieved.”

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