The Longevity

Entrepreneur of the Week: Ran Ma, Siren Care

Last month, ten caregiving health tech finalists competed in AARP’s Innovation@50+ LivePitch event in Mountain View, CA. (See our wrap of the event). The Longevity Network is delighted to be featuring one of these finalists per week in our Entrepreneur of the Week segment.

This week we hear from the winner of this year’s Audience Choice Award: Siren Care, a smart textile company whose first product is a smart sock for preventing diabetic foot ulcers.

We spoke with Ran Ma, founder and CEO, about the opportunities she sees in the 50+ market.

Longevity Network: What does Siren Care, the company, do?

Ran Ma: We have created the world’s first truly seamless smart textile technology by embedding electronics directly inside clothing; fast-forwarding society into a future where people do not have to wear additional wearables, just clothes – and our first product is a temperature sensing sock to help diabetics prevent foot ulcers.

LN: Can you tell us about your product and how it works?

RM: Diabetes currently affects 415m people (+50% by 2035). 40% are at risk of ulcers due to severe nerve damage. As they cannot feel pain, they don’t know when they injure themselves. Additionally, people with diabetes suffer from poor circulation so injuries don’t heal. A small injury can become an infection, ulcer, gangrene and an amputation. 12% of people with diabetes will lose a leg to foot ulcers in their life. After a lower leg amputation, 4 out of 5 diabetics will pass away within 5 years. Foot ulcers are the second leading cause of death (30%) for diabetics. In the US, the cost of diabetic foot ulcers and amputations is $17bn/year, more than the most expensive forms of cancer. Clinical studies show that temperature-measuring can reduce ulcers by up to 72%, but the current devices are difficult to use and have many false positives, because it’s manual monitoring without algorithms. Current wearables like Fitbit or Jawbone intrude on our lives. They are an extra “thing” we have to remember to wear. Our solution is to imbue the very clothes that we already wear with “smartness”. The main barrier that has prevented smart textiles from going mainstream is the imbalance between value-added and seamless design.

LN: What opportunity did you see that you wanted to address with the creation of your product?

RM: Diabetic foot ulcers (DFUs) are an invisible killer — the people who are affected most by DFUs can’t feel them. Up to 70% of those with diabetes will develop peripheral neuropathy, or lose sensation in their feet due to nerve damage, and will not notice early signs of foot injury until it is too late.

Every year millions of people with diabetes will develop a DFU that escalates into amputations after nerve damage results in loss of pain sensation. After one amputation, there is a 50% chance that a diabetic will lose the second leg. Within 5 years, as many as 80% will die due to added complications.

Wearables will shape our future but have not been widely adopted. Currently wearable technologies have a 30% return rate and low retention after 6 months. We solve this problem with wearable technologies that are seamless and invisible. Smart fabrics have the potential to be worn comfortably 24/7 as computing components become smaller and more powerful. Siren makes smart clothes for the masses.

LN: Who are your primary users? How will your product benefit the 50+ population?

RM: Our socks are essential for people with diabetes to protect their feet. 1 in 4 people over the age of 65 have diabetes. About 70% of the almost 400 million people with diabetes worldwide have some form of neuropathy and cannot feel pain. So a small injury can go unnoticed and become an infection, gangrene, ulcer and amputation. We want to help them prevent injuries so that they can age with dignity.

With Siren Smart products consumers will finally have access to wearables that are completely invisible as computing components get cheaper, smaller, and more powerful.  Being the future of wearable technology, Siren Smart clothing are designed to offer consumers extremely powerful computing sensors that can be worn all day and all night.

LN: How did you assemble your team?

RM: Our team has a unique combination of skill sets, experiences and networks. I (CEO) have a B.Sc. Biomedical Engineering (Johns Hopkins University) and deferred my M.Sc. in Biotechnology (Northwestern University) and in Bioentrepreneurship (CBS) to work on Siren Care. I previously worked extensively in wound research to develop medical devices for the department of Plastic Surgery at Northwestern University – bio masks to regenerate the human face for war veterans and burn victims. Jie Fu (CTO) has 10+ years experience in hardware manufacturing (Cisco & Phillips). Through his own hardware design firm, he designed and mass produced 4 hardware products and has long-standing relationships with factories/CMs in China and understands the fine nuances of how to scale up production. Jie Fu went through the HAX program with Darma, a pressure sensing mat to monitor heart rate. Henk Jan Scholten (COO) is experienced in garment manufacturing and textile sourcing and has set up an international collaboration between multinational textile companies, trade unions, and suppliers. He has worked with clients, including the top 18 clothing brands in the world (Topshop, H&M, Zara, Primark, etc.), to optimize their supply chains.

LN: How has what happened with your company differed from what you envisioned would happen?

RM: When I started, I only had an idea, so I just started making the first prototypes in my room. I showed these at a medical conference, but they were still very early prototypes with wires hanging out everywhere. Last month I was a speaker at the same conference and we did a live demo on stage with a fully functional product! 

LN: What do you wish you had known before developing your product?

RM: When you develop a new product you’re constantly learning and a lot you just don’t know before you do it! We carefully selected our team so that we could find solutions for all the challenges that arise during product development. We especially did a lot of research on the healthcare market in the US.

LN: What most excites you about the aging/health technology market?

RM: Aging is inevitable. But we can do it with dignity and with less complications. And that starts with useful products and great tools, with friendly design, and the right data at the right time. That’s why we do what we do.

LN: What is your best piece of advice for startups who want to include or target the aging / tech market?

RM: Keep it simple, solve the key problem, don’t overload with features, and design something that is dignified.

LN: Where do you see your company five years from now?

RM: We would have made a difference in the lives of many people living with diabetes and we would have moved finding solutions for other aging-related problems as well, such as pressure ulcers and incontinence. Aging is a space that we are focused on and want to develop other great products for.

LN: What health or wellness technology do you hope exists by the time you retire?

RM: My list is expansive and unrealistic, but I would hope we could cure most chronic disease and cancer by then! And a super affordable full body diagnostic tool, like a handheld MRI, but even better.

 

About the Author

Ran Ma (CEO) has a B.Sc. Biomedical Engineering (Johns Hopkins University) and deferred her M.Sc. in Biotechnology (Northwestern University) and in Bioentrepreneurship (CBS) to work on Siren Care. She previously worked extensively in wound research to develop medical devices for the department of Plastic Surgery at Northwestern University – bio masks to regenerate the human face for war veterans and burn victims.