LanshaConnected technology has long driven advancements in social networking and entertainment, but its potential as a force for progress in the medical field is beginning to blossom. Manchester-based start-up KMS Solutions is making great strides in the growing discipline of health tech and Move Commercial has caught up with its managing director John Hearns to find out more about the company’s journey so far.

Fitbits, Apple Watches and other smart wearables are relatively commonplace today, but it was before these devices rose to prominence that social care professional Chris Etchells devised the concept of a connected wristband to help vulnerable adults travel independently.

Etchells founded KMS to make this innovation a reality and Hearns, who has a solid business background with experience in sales, marketing, operations management and general management at senior level, joined the company in late 2013 to handle the product’s execution.

The fruit of the firm’s early labour was KIT (Keep in Touch Wristband), a wearable device which works in conjunction with a geolocation platform called b.con to help carers keep tabs on service users who are out in the community.

“The original concept was essentially a one-button phone because existing phones didn’t really suit the type of client Chris was looking after,” Hearns tells Move Commercial.

“At the time there wasn’t an interest in the market for that, but when technology moved on and it became possible to do more, he developed the idea of a wearable device for vulnerable adults which would allow two-way communication and provide peace of mind for the carers by allowing them to track the location of the people they’re supporting.”

Although technological advancement had made KIT a reality, KMS encountered problems sourcing an antenna small enough for the device, but a solution wasn’t far from their doorstep.

The company is based on Oxford Street in a part of the city centre referred to as Corridor Manchester, an area it shares with neighbours including the University of Manchester and Manchester Science Partnerships. Being situated in this innovation district has helped KMS forge partnerships with academic institutes, and it was researchers at the university who solved the antenna-shaped problem.

“We contacted the University of Manchester to handle the R&D on the product and set about building a device that was based on 3G technology,” says Hearns. “We hit some technical difficulties because creating an antenna for a device this small is challenging, but people at the university built a unique flexible antenna for us which is housed in the strap.”

With the componentry issue solved, KMS showcased a prototype version of KIT and b.con at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in 2014 and the buzz these products generated soon led to commercial opportunities.

Newcastle City Council brought the company in to develop a mobile app called MyTrav – software which leverages b.con to help children with additional needs travel independently.

“Local authorities have a duty of care and they spend a lot of money taxiing youngsters of various disabilities to and from school, but some of these kids are capable of independent travel and Newcastle felt the use of technology could help them become more self-sufficient,” Hearns explains.

“When you have all of this data and make it available to the relevant healthcare professionals, they will be able to make advancements in treating all kinds of conditions.”

“Our geolocation platform lets carers see where the children are at any time. We designed the app to sit on top of b.con and then created an extensive range of alerts to go with that.”

Like KIT before it, MyTrav has earned critical acclaim, winning Public Sector Project of the Year at the Dynamite 15 Awards last year, while b.con has been hailed by KMS’ clients for the flexibility it offers as an open platform, as well as its security and privacy-first ethos.

This has put KMS in good stead for the next phase of its development – commercialisation. With beta testing done and dusted, MyTrav is currently being marketed to other local authorities while KIT and b.con continue to generate strong interest.

“We’re just starting to commercialise now with the app, the platform and the wristband,” Hearns says. “Start-ups always take longer to get off the ground than you think. There are always challenges and for us it was the antenna, but with that issue solved we’re looking forward to commercialising at the end of this year to early next year and that will be a new phase for the business.

“We’ve been generating some small revenues in the last 12 months, but we’re now looking forward to generating a sustainable and expanding revenue stream.”

Although commercial opportunities appear to be presenting themselves, KMS has been reliant on funding to get where it is today and Hearns believes securing this capital is the “biggest challenge” for any start-up in the health tech business.

“We’ve primarily been funded by private equity,” he says. “We’ve done two rounds with the same group of investors. We also won a grant from Creative England under their Digital Healthcare Innovation Fund – we were very grateful to receive that funding from them.”

So what does the future hold for KMS? In addition to its ongoing commercialisation efforts, the company is deeply involved in medical research and is taking part in a nine-month study with Manchester Metropolitan University and an NHS trust into the effectiveness of connected technologies for supporting dementia sufferers.

KMS is hoping this study will produce “solid research” which healthcare professionals can put to effective use when devising care strategies for dementia patients.

Looking further ahead, Hearns believes platforms like b.com and new wearable technology will encourage people to take a greater interest in their own wellbeing and share their data with doctors and researchers working across the medical spectrum.

“I think they will be increasingly interested in the ability to share that information with healthcare professionals and solutions and ideas like ours will assist that,” he says. “Platforms like b.con will bring in more data as people will have the opportunity to take part in research anonymously.

“When you have all of this data and make it available to the relevant healthcare professionals, they will be able to make advancements in treating all kinds of conditions.”