Customer story

HeartLab: Getting a jump start to help fight heart disease

This article was published on Apr 21, 2021, 2:03 PM

Reading time: 4 minutes

Heart disease is one of the world’s most preventable causes of death. Healthtech startup HeartLab is on a mission to help the doctors diagnosing it, using AI to give them better, and quicker, information from echocardiograms.

What's in this article

    At a glance

    • Healthtech startup HeartLab is using artificial intelligence (AI) to help in the fight against heart disease, helping doctors with the time-consuming and manual process of reviewing echocardiograms.
    • HeartLab has tapped into New Zealand’s healthtech ecosystem, including accessing Callaghan Innovation support, to help it with everything from company incubation, to funding, to market validation.
    • After initial testing in the New Zealand market, HeartLab has launched in clinics in both Australia and the US.

    Callaghan Innovation’s grants to help take on interns are hugely valuable, particularly for small, early-stage companies like ours. They’ve let us add to our headcount, while also offering opportunities to students they otherwise wouldn’t have.

    - Will Hewitt, CEO & Co-founder, HeartLab

    Saving time, saving lives

    Around 100,000 echocardiograms are performed each year by New Zealand doctors. Head to the US and that figure is around 38 million. And whilst the scans are great at highlighting heart issues, each scan takes around 20 minutes of a doctor's time as they take manual measurements from it. 

    HeartLab is changing that. Founded by Will Hewitt at just 18 years old, the healthtech startup is developing artificial intelligence (AI) tools to help doctors better gain information from echocardiograms, and reduce the time-consuming task of manually reviewing the scans.

    One of the biggest problems for CEO and Co-founder Will Hewitt and the HeartLab team however, is that HeartLab’s technology is classified as a medical device. This means the business faces a complex and highly regulated commercialisation path. 

    HeartLab team

    Tapping into the healthtech ecosystem

    To help on the journey, Hewitt has built impressive connections throughout New Zealand’s healthtech ecosystem, including with Callaghan Innovation. 

    Through Callaghan Innovation, HeartLab has received loan and grant support. The R&D focused loan Hewitt says was critical in supporting the firm before its $1.1 million capital raise in late 2020. Both R&D Experience Grants and Career Grants too, have meant HeartLab could take on more skilled employees, their longest-serving employee for example starting with the company on a Callaghan Innovation-funded student internship.  

    “Callaghan Innovation’s grants to help take on interns are hugely valuable, particularly for small, early-stage companies like ours. They’ve let us add to our headcount, while also offering opportunities to students they otherwise wouldn’t have,” says Hewitt.

    HeartLab has also tapped into Callaghan Innovation’s HealthTech Activator (HTA). Through the HTA, members of HeartLab’s team were involved in an in-depth programme focused on market validation, an area that Hewitt viewed as important for the company as it continued at pace on its innovation journey. The programme involved a series of workshops and access to global experts for HeartLab to interview, supporting their planning for entering the US market. 

    Keeping their fingers on the pulse

    It’s been a busy time for Hewitt since co-founding HeartLab. The business has gone on to raise another $3.5 million through Founders Fund and the team has grown into double figures. 

    What's more, after launching in the New Zealand market, HeartLab is helping doctors treat cardiovascular disease elsewhere also with clinics in Australia and the US using the tools. It is in the US especially - where heart disease is the leading cause of death - that HeartLab could set itself up for large-scale success.

    “There’s a great quote that says ‘AI won’t replace doctors, but doctors who use AI will replace doctors who don’t’,” Hewitt says.

    “That’s been fundamental in terms of how we view AI in medicine and the products we build: how do we use AI alongside humans to make the best use of both? To do that you need to understand your market, how you provide value to that market, and then test your theories about that. 

    “When you apply that to what you do every day, it becomes a very powerful thing.”

    HeartLab Case Study

    [Will Hewitt]

    Heart disease is the leading cause of preventable death worldwide. Doctors diagnose heart disease using a scan called an echocardiogram which uses sound waves to visualise the heart. New Zealand doctors do around a hundred thousand of these scans each year and they have to manually review every single one. So I was 18 when I founded HeartLab, when I was studying Applied Mathematics at the University of Auckland, and I was fascinated by the way that AI could assist medical professionals. HeartLab AI technology automates aspects of the echocardiography reporting workflow, which saves
    cardiologists valuable time. So rather than cardiologists having to do these measurements by hand, the measurements have already been formed by the time they load the scan so they can review and approve the AI results.

    [Andrew Paterson]

    Three years ago, Will came and saw me about his company HeartLab, and in that time we've been able to support him with advice on innovation, Student Grants, and he's currently applied for a Project Grant. HeartLab is currently working with the HealthTech Activator, an initiative run by Callaghan Innovation to provide skills to early-stage health companies, including capital planning, market validation, regulatory and clinical trials. HeartLab is a medical device company and the commercialisation pathway for medical devices is very complicated and this is where the HealthTech Activator services and expertise comes in and makes a really big impact.

    [Will Hewitt]

    We've received several Student Grants from Callaghan Innovation, which has allowed us to scale up our R&D program, as well as giving students invaluable tech sector experience. Callaghan Innovation gave us an R&D loan, this was invaluable and supported us before our 1.1 million dollar capital raise, which was led by our Icehouse Venture and backed by Founders Fund. We're set to trial our prototype product in a number of clinics around New Zealand in July 2021. This time last year we were a three-man team, we've now grown to a staff of 12. Set to launch our first product into the New Zealand market and then later into the US market. And a lot of these things really wouldn't have been possible without the support that Callaghan Innovation has given us.

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