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Know thyself: a tale of two healthtech startups

Know thyself: a tale of two healthtech startups

Have you ever thought about how our understanding of health has changed over the years?

I’m not talking about as far back as the ancient Greeks and their belief in humors. I’m talking about how our ideas have changed since just 20 years ago.

Back then, we didn’t really think about health very much beyond eating our fruits and vegetables and getting regular exercise. Tracking our heart rate without being ordered to by a doctor? Whatever for?

Two people sitting on a bench at a park looking at a mobile phone
Photo credit: imtmphoto / Shutterstock

And let’s not even begin talking about mental health because two decades ago, we didn’t actually talk about it at all.

“In the past, we were a ‘health-ignorant’ population, and we only knew something’s wrong when we visited a doctor and discovered it’s too late,” says Jonathan Lau, founder of Singapore-based digital health startup Nervotec.

Now, that’s changed. Aside from us knowing more about how our bodies work and what we need to do to stay healthy, modern technology – such as smartphones – have also opened up new ways to understand our own well-being.

Let’s look at two startups that are changing up the way people think about and understand health.

Smile for the camera

Imagine opening an app, holding your phone up to your face, and having the app tell you your heart rate, heart rate variability, respiration rate, and oxygen saturation levels.

Sounds like science fiction? Well, this actually exists, thanks to Nervotec.

We wanted to find a very accessible way using the equipment that [people] already have to give them insights into their health.

Jonathan Lau

Founder of Nervotec

Headshot of Jonathan Lau, founder of Nervotec

Jonathan Lau, founder of Nervotec / Photo credit: Nervotec

The idea for Nervotec came from the founder’s own experiences as a fighter pilot. He initially wanted to create a wearable, like a smart watch, to monitor pilots’ vital signs and ensure that they were fit to fly.

However, he soon realized that, by using wearables, he wouldn’t be able to scale his solution, even if he expanded his target market. In Asia, the adoption of smart watches remains very low, with South Korea’s 8.46% penetration rate being the highest in the region.

While he could have built a niche solution specifically for the military, Lau had greater ambitions and saw a much greater opportunity.

Wearables are expensive, and people without them don’t have access to that kind of information about their health to make certain behavioral changes or lifestyle changes to have a better quality of life. How do we do it in a very accessible way using the equipment that you already have?

Jonathan Lau

Founder of Nervotec

Screenshots of Nervotec’s app, NervoHealth
Photo credit: Nervotec

The firm decided to utilize photoplethysmography (PPG), a method of measuring blood volume changes using the reflectivity of different channels of light on a person’s skin. If you’ve ever owned a Fitbit or a similar device and noticed a green light flashing underneath it, that’s PPG.

“What we did was take PPG and make it remote,” says Lau.

Using cameras on devices like smartphones and laptops, Nervotec’s solution captures videos to track these changes, parsing through individual frames to detect the minute changes in a person’s skin to provide a reading of their vital signs.

Nervotec has worked with construction firms such as Japan-based Kajima to offer health monitoring during the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s also partnered with insurance companies such as Prudential to provide the insurance firm’s customers with greater insights into their health through the company’s consumer app. Nervotec’s platform is now on track to being certified for medical use, such as in telehealth consultations.

“It’s about technology for humanity,” says Lau. “We believe that knowledge about health and your body should be universal and accessible.”

Proactive, not reactive

A photo of Bjorn Lee, founder of MindFi

Bjorn Lee, founder of MindFi / Photo credit: MindFi

Another startup that’s changing the way people assess and think about their health is MindFi.

The company started as a meditation app, but it’s now an employee wellbeing platform for businesses.

According to MindFi’s founder Bjorn Lee, the firm aims to make mental health and personal well-being a priority for businesses.

Mental health has historically been very reactive. Most HR leaders and managers take a very consultative or democratic approach and ask people for what they want. But this doesn’t work when it comes to a stigmatized topic like mental health. Who’s going to raise their hand and say they want a mental health solution? It singles them out.

Bjorn Lee

Founder of MindFi

However, that has changed in recent years. Covid-19, alongside larger cultural shifts and greater awareness about mental health, have led to more people speaking up about the topic in the workplace.

MindFi comes into the picture to help businesses take a proactive approach toward employee well-being.

A screenshot of MindFi’s platform
Photo credit: MindFi

It offers a mobile and desktop app, where employees can track and assess their mental health as well as access wellness resources and connect with coaches and counselors. It also works closely with its clients to offer comprehensive wellness support beyond the app, such as talks about managing one’s energy or finding purpose at work. This takes a more preventive approach toward mental health.

It also encourages companies to have “well-being champions” among their staff to speak openly about their experiences.

A cartoon illustration of “Then versus now”
Then versus now. / Illustration by Tech in Asia

“This helps to create a culture of openness and gives the organization permission, at a collective level, to talk about it,” adds Lee. Case in point, the app has a community feature, where users can anonymously share their problems and receive responses from fellow employees, well-being champions, or MindFi’s professional experts.

Businesses are also able to access an anonymized, analytics dashboard for them to monitor the overall health and well-being of the company and take action before it’s too late. MindFi counts organizations such as Deutsche Bank, Funding Societies, and Willis Towers Watson among its clients.

Know thy body, know thy mind, know thyself

Several studies have shown that your mental condition affects your physical health and vice versa. While Nervotec and MindFi offer different services, they operate on the same core idea: empowering people to make the best decisions about their well-being – body and mind.

“With physical fitness, we go to a gym, but for mental wellness, how can we make that conversation easier? How can we be more proactive on that front?” asks Lee.

“We want a future where everybody will be able to have some insights into their health so that they are empowered to make that choice to move to a better quality of life,” Nervotec’s Lau says.

These two startups may be focused on the B2B front, but they’re setting the stage for many more exciting developments in the world of health and well-being on the road ahead.

In the meantime, us regular folks should probably go for a run or get around to that meditation session we keep talking about doing. Here’s to health.

Artwork by Lim Chae Huah for Tech in Asia.


The IMDA Spark Programme aims to address the key challenges and support the growth of Singapore-based infocomm and media startups by providing selected government tools as well as creating a vibrant, collaborative ecosystem and network.

If you’re a startup looking to tap into the opportunities that Singapore holds, learn more about what the Spark Programme can do for you. Nervotec and MindFi are two very different companies in the health and wellness space working toward the same goal of enabling people and companies to gain better understanding and ownership of their health and well-being. Learn more about Nervotec and MindFi.

This article was first published on on 1 November 2023.


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