Only one-third of epilepsy patients are on the right medication. Thanks to Byteflies’ medical wearable, doctors have access to data that they can use to adjust medication. But how do you market this kind of device? That was the question that Vlerick students Bob and Arno tackled for their in-company project (ICP). The impact was greater than anyone expected…
As we set up a conference call for this interview with Hans, Bob and Arno, we’re in the midst of the corona crisis. In China, where the COVID-19 pandemic started, the virus is now under control, partly because the government was able to use data to accurately map the sources of infection and take action where necessary – data that came, for example, from medical wearables, such as those made by Byteflies. “Our wearables can really play a vital role in a health crisis such as coronavirus,” confirms Hans Danneels, co-founder of Byteflies.
Byteflies was founded in 2015, with offices in both the US and Belgium. “We manufacture and sell medical wearables,” explains Hans. “In collaboration with our consortium partner UCB, we’ve developed a device that measures epileptic seizures. Patients are fitted with a device in their neck and behind their ear, and any seizures are monitored for one or two weeks. The data obtained is both accurate and actionable for the patients’ doctor, which makes Byteflies a real forerunner when it comes to this type of device. When Bob and Arno joined us, the device had already been through clinical trials and research and was therefore market-ready.”
Arno and I had done the start-up accelerator together, which is a module in our Masters in Innovation & Entrepreneurship (MIE),” says Bob Verbruggen. “We’re both interested in healthcare and were keen to do our in-company project with a start-up business, so we googled start-ups in healthcare. We approached several companies, but we knew Byteflies was the perfect fit straightaway.” “That’s right,” continues Arno Bossaert. “Both Hans Danneels and Hans Declercq, the two founders, were at our presentation. That immediately indicated how important our ICP would be to Byteflies. They challenged us, posed dilemmas. Their passion was obvious!”
Hans nods: “We pressed them so hard precisely because of the strategic impact their ICP could have for Byteflies. We wanted a plan to market our epilepsy device. But we also needed to be sure that the two of them were fully committed to their project, that they really wanted to have an impact. Despite the uncertainties associated with working in a start-up environment. Our message was: assume it’s your own start-up.”
Bob and Arno immediately got the chance to demonstrate their entrepreneurial spirit. To find out where the information was and how they could structure it, they searched through computer files and conducted more than 100 interviews with every conceivable stakeholder of Byteflies, both in Belgium and abroad: the company's own employees, neurologists, patients and their families, hospital buyers, epilepsy organisations, insurance companies and financial experts, clinical research organisations, competitors, etc. Based on this input, they mapped out a customer journey, wrote a business plan and developed a go-to-market strategy. Four marketing options were cut down to one concrete step-by-step plan.
The ICP also resulted in Byteflies gaining two new employees. “It was incredible working with Bob and Arno. We just couldn’t let two such talented guys with excellent personal skills and a can-do attitude slip through our fingers.”
And what about the students? Bob is responsible for business development and sales at Byteflies but has also supervised UX projects: “Byteflies is like a group of friends. If you get good results, everyone’s happy. After I got my Masters in physiotherapy, I decided to do a Masters in Innovation & Entrepreneurship (MIE) because I saw a lot of gaps in the medical system and wanted to do something about that. This specific Masters programme helped me to define those gaps and, more importantly, to find out how to fill them by providing me with the right tools and strategies. And thanks to our ICP, I now know that a start-up is my professional habitat.”
Arno “explores the dots” at Byteflies: he investigates new avenues for the technology, for example whether the device for epilepsy can also be used for other neurological disorders, such as multiple sclerosis (MS). “I’m fascinated by innovation. While I was doing my MSc in Architecture and Construction Engineering, I was part of a group of engineering students that were into innovation and thinking out-of-the-box. I wanted to learn and explore this more in a professional context, which is why I started my Masters at Vlerick. I also wanted to learn more about economics, innovation and entrepreneurship. Here at Byteflies, I'm constantly looking for new opportunities to have a positive impact.”
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