Imagine Cup team nabs $5M in seed funding & Best Buy partnership


Imagine Cup Alumni, Hon Weng Chong and Andrew Lin, are the Co-founders of CliniCloud – a company developing modern home health technology.

Dr. Hon Weng Chong was doing his rounds as a pediatric resident when he stumbled across a surprising statistic. Something close to one-third of childhood deaths in developed Western countries are caused by pneumonia. Dr. Hon knew this shouldn’t be the case because “pneumonia is easy to prevent and detect, and the treatment for it is cheap and available!”

So why the high death rate? Dr. Hon spent months trying to figure this out. As he stood on the other side of the examination table, he began to deeply empathize with distraught parents and sick children. Dr. Hon concluded that parents have no tangible way of determining exactly when their child’s breathing qualifies as rapid or not (increased breathing is an early warning sign of fluid in the lungs).

It was the empathy Dr. Hon developed for parents that inspired him to bridge the gap between medicine and technology and make a diagnostic, use-at-home medical technology to help moms and dads know when to take their children to the doctor.

But the health care system is often overrun with old technologies. Dr. Hon confesses, “Throughout my medical education, I noted how broken the system was. The duplications! The tech! We still use beepers, like it’s the 1980s. I always wondered why medicine wasn’t moving forward technologically as quickly as other industries.”

On a mission to reconnect medicine and technology, Dr. Hon collaborated with his friend, Dr. Andrew Lin (a fellow medical student,) to build StethoCloud. StethoCloud is an app and a stethoscope embedded with a microphone that connects to a cell phone, allowing users to record breath sounds and upload them to a cloud service for remote diagnosis.

Andrew and Dr. Hon competed with StethoCloud at Imagine Cup 2012, held that year in their home country of Australia. They took second place in the Imagine Cup Grant challenge and won $75,000!

Mahsa Salehi, Hon Weng Chong, Andrew Lin, and Kim Ramchen celebrate winning the Imagine Cup 2012 Grant with their mobile medical app and stethoscope, StethoCloud

Hungry to create more technology to disrupt and improve health care, Dr. Hon and Andrew founded the company CliniCloud. Inspired by StethoCloud, CliniCloud’s first product is a connected medical kit containing a digital stethoscope, a noncontact thermometer and a mobile app. The kit allows users to record basic vital signs including temperature, heart and lung sounds, and then send the readings to their physician of choice or consult a network of on-demand medical professionals.

Having gone through Imagine Cup and the founding of a startup, Dr. Hon knows well the process of finding funding to get an idea off the ground. After initially visiting Silicon Valley close to Christmas last year, they decided that the timing wasn’t right (everyone was on holiday) and that it was actually better to focus solely on the launch of the first commercial product.

It was that campaign that attracted the attention of Best Buy, who will sell the product this holiday season. As it happened, two investors also noticed CliniCloud: The Silicon Valley arm of Chinese firm Tencent, and Ping An Ventures from Singapore. They just funded CliniCloud with $5 million in seed money to help CliniCloud’s mission to “bring healthcare home.”

Dr. Hon credits a large part of CliniCloud’s success to participating in Imagine Cup. “Because Imagine Cup doesn’t want to be just a cool science fair,” he says, “we learned to focus on the business viability of our project.” Pitching a fully developed business model to judges helped them think about StethoCloud in a new light, in the commercial sense.

We asked Dr. Hon if he had any advice for students on getting their idea to market. The answer may surprise you.

“It’s empathy!” he says, going on to explain that many engineers focus on creating cool tech, but not on creating tech that will actually meet a real human need.

The key to a successful technology is getting to know customers’ pain, learning both their daily frustrations and their larger life problems, he says, adding, “This is the main challenge for young engineers without a lot of life experience. But once you identify a group of people who would love to use your product, you’ve got your first users! Tech isn’t an invention until someone wants it!”

Without the compassion he gained from listening to the fears of parents of sick kids, Dr. Hon would never have been able to create a technology, much less create a product for which there is true market demand.

Backed by their Imagine Cup experience, CliniCloud also used Microsoft Azure to run the backend for all of their research pilots. “Azure has been a really powerful platform for us to get started on. I highly recommend it to students just starting out,” says Dr. Hon.

If you’d like to follow in Dr. Hon’s and Dr. Andrew’s footsteps, consider registering for this year’s Imagine Cup. And while you’re at it, give yourself a few practice rounds and enter our newest coding competitions. The Hello Cloud competition, the Big Ideas challenges and even Imagine Cup Earth (for younger coders) can really help sharpen the skills you’ll need to compete in Imagine Cup!

And don’t forget to sign up for Microsoft Azure (at no cost, no credit card required) and start coding for the cloud today, just like Dr. Hon!

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