Helping vulnerable groups to use tech

Singtel drive aims to help solve social challenges by empowering social enterprises, entrepreneurs


DEVELOPING wearables for seniors to track their vital signs and providing early alert for emergencies; and creating micro jobs for the silver generation in a gamified way: these were some winning-concepts at this year's Singtel Future Makers programme.

Wanting to scale their solutions to achieve greater social and business impact, five selected startups - out of over 150 applicants - participated in a workshop on Tuesday with vice-president for Group Sustainability at Singtel, Andrew Buay, to get tips on on how to identify synergies and collaborative opportunities with cross sector partners to scale their products.

Mr Buay said: "We believe in addressing social, community and environmental causes in the markets where we operate. One way in which we do this is to drive social innovation through Singtel Future Makers, our accelerator programme that aims to help solve social challenges by empowering social enterprises and entrepreneurs which use technology to tackle these problems.

"Since no person or organisation can go it alone in sustainability efforts, we hope to spur startups which share our vision by providing support for them through capacity building and mentorship workshops and connecting them with our ecosystem of partners."

He added that the focus this year was on two themes: Digital enablement and technologies that empower the vulnerable population such as seniors or persons with disabilities to thrive, and digital solutions that can improve the access and quality of care and can enhance health and well-being.

The five selected startups were TicTag, SenzeHub, GenConnects, Fairmarch and Wiz.Ai. All five are participating in a series of workshops under the Singtel Future Makers programme. They will receive support from a cash pool of up to S$150,000.

TicTag is a company that makes data cleansing/data preparation into a game and then crowdsources it.

Keeve Quah, chief business development officer, TicTag, said: " A staggering amount of labelled data is needed to train AI algorithms, and this data has to be manually labelled by humans. TicTag crowd sources this manual process of labelling hundreds of thousands of units of data (for example images) to members of the community who need a supplementary source of income the most. "

However, there were numerous challenges during the project implementation due to the current pandemic.

Mr Quah said: "Our target beneficiaries are the silver generation, which is the most at-risk. Many local senior care centres and social service agencies have scaled down their outreach and are looking for smaller projects to engage in internally, so we've had to manage the scope and ambition of our POC (proof of concept)."

Mr Buay said: "Due to the Covid-19 outbreak, we also issued a call for startups working on solutions that address the social and community challenges posed by the pandemic."

These shortlisted startups - SenzeHub, AEvice Health and Solve Education Foundation - received a Special Pandemic Support Grant.

SenzeHub was set up in 2019 and develops vital signs wearables that flag early warning of condition deterioration, and provides early alert for emergencies.

Andrew Schill, chief marketing officer, SenzeHub, said the journey started after the founder's dad was hospitalised, and nurses had to take vital signs once every four hours.

Mr Schill said: "Seeing this, the founder thought of developing a solution that could take readings more frequently without waking or disturbing patients, and still provide effective nursing care".

It was then determined that wearables with biosensors could achieve this. SenzeHub went further by monitoring multi-users in real time without needing to pair with a mobile phone/device.

However, among the challenges posed when coming up with the wearables was preparing the machines and various in-house developed applications to integrate with gateways in an easy-to-deploy bundle for the enterprise customers.

Mr Schill said: "We must build solutions that are sustainable and can support even into a centenarian age. That said, the more immediate challenge for us would be how to build out that ecosystem here in Singapore with relevant partners and other startups that are looking to achieve the same."

He said Singapore's elderly healthcare cost is expected to rise to S$66 billion by 2030. Despite this, and with the average mortality rate at 83 years in Singapore, the elderly market is quite fragmented and not as monolithic as one would assume.

Hence, "our wearable is just the start. There are many other problems that we feel could benefit from a platform like ours".

"When you think about remote healthcare more broadly beyond urgent or primary care in the hospital or nursing home, then it opens up a much more interesting discussion around digital health and creating more end-to-end solutions built around people: patients, families, elderly, rather than the hospital/healthcare system itself," said Mr Schill.

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