Winner Spotlight: Insulin Angel Offers Saving Grace for Forgetful Diabetics
About 387 million people around the world are diabetics who face many daily challenges related to their medication. A Berlin startup wants to make their lives a little easier.
Insulin Angel is a smartphone-compatible device that monitors medication and alerts users when something isn’t quite right with their insulin.
Winner of the Berlin Challenge Cup health category, Insulin Angel is excited to advance to D.C.’s Challenge Festival in May. Each member of the Insulin Angel team has a connection to diabetes and wants their product to eventually be the number one device in the diabetic market. Following the pitches, we talked to the company’s founder—and Type 1 diabetic—Amin Zayani.
Tell me about how Insulin Angel came to be.
I myself suffer from Type 1 diabetes, so I depend on many insulin injections throughout the day to stay alive. I started experimenting to make Insulin Angel about two years ago out of frustration. Sometimes my blood sugar would swing up and down mysteriously, and I suspected that my insulin lost its effectiveness. This happens when it gets too hot or too cold, but there is no way to find out.
Coming from the tinkering scene, I started a little side project that consisted of a micro controller, a temperature sensor and a buzzer. I wanted to solve the problem of uncertainty by making a basic temperature-triggered alarm. Then I discovered a smarter, more advanced solution by relayr.io, which cut my development time considerably and brought Bluetooth connectivity, which uses my smartphone as the interface.
I initially wanted to make one for me and one for my diabetic brother. Then some friends wanted one, the two became 10 and the 10 became 50. So I decided to take it all seriously and made it my main occupation rather than just a hobby. That was September of last year. I started a couple of user feedback rounds, and I met Steve and Marc, my cofounders who also happen to be fathers of Johnny and Linus, both Type 1 diabetics. Steve comes from the IT industry, and Marc is an award-winning industrial designer.
My background is actually in environmental management, solar energy and energy economics. Tinkering with electronics is my hobby. Insulin Angel is more than just a business venture for the three of us—we see it as a way to help people with diabetes cope with the countless everyday challenges they face. There is a very strong personal link to the project, and we put a lot of passion in it.
What are some problems that diabetics face today, and how does Insulin Angel address those problems?
There is no known cure for diabetes today, but luckily great advances in medicine made it possible for people with diabetes to live a normal life, as long as they pay strict attention to measuring blood sugar levels and take the right doses of insulin at the right time. It’s a stressful condition, and it comes with many challenges.
For example, eating an apple becomes a complex mathematical problem with variables like: What is my current blood sugar level? How is it evolving? What physical activity do I intend to do? What is my stress level? And that’s just an apple.
The two challenges we decided to tackle with Insulin Angel are:
- Insulin getting too hot or too cold, exceeding the limits that make it lose it effectiveness.
- Forgetting or losing insulin and the blood glucose test kit.
So we made the temperature and proximity-tracking device that connects to your smartphone app. The app notifies you before your medication reaches a dangerous temperature, if dangerous temperature was exceeded in your absence and also when you lose or leave your essential medical kit behind. This is the very basic functionality, and we are working on further developments to solve other daily life challenges that come with diabetes. But as you know, every startup needs extreme focus, and we want to get these two core features right first.
How exactly does the science and technology behind the product work?
We use state-of-the-art hardware in the device itself—the latest Bluetooth Low Energy module, a very accurate and reliable digital temperature sensor, and we implemented ultra low-power algorithms in the firmware code to get the longest possible mileage out of the coin cell battery. Our main focus on the hardware side is reliability and accuracy. We didn’t compromise on the quality of the components, even though that means higher costs. We use the processing power of modern smartphones to run the intelligent part of Insulin Angel in the app itself. We focused our efforts on the app side on two things: ease of use and smart contextual algorithms in the background.
The device wakes up every couple of minutes to send the temperature reading to the phone, then goes back to sleep. This method extends the battery life. Once the app receives the sensor data, it compares it to the saved types of medications and triggers a series of warnings if necessary. Depending on the temperature reading and the safe temperature range of the medication, the app triggers several alarms. If the primary user of the device is someone who needs special care and assistance, the alerts can be remotely delivered to a caretaker’s phone.
How has your background as a diabetic helping in informing your work with Insulin Angel?
Tremendously! Diabetes is a chronic medical condition that becomes part of the everyday routine. Since every patient has a different lifestyle, habits, social and cultural environments, they deal with different challenges that come with diabetes in different ways. At the very beginning we sat down and wrote down all the problems and challenges we personally have. Then we narrowed it down to what we can actually solve.
We based our MVP on our own personal needs and after that we organized user feedback rounds, which helped us turn the initial MVP from something that works just for us, into a product and service that can serve the masses.
Tell me about your experience at Challenge Cup in Berlin. How do you plan to prepare for the Challenge Festival in D.C.?
Challenge Cup was an amazing event—well organized, well promoted, and with an excellent panel of judges. I personally found the feedback from other attendees, fellow startups and jury members as valuable as winning itself. The Challenge Festival in D.C. is of special importance to us as it comes after the end of our crowdfunding campaign. We pitched an idea, a team and a prototype in Berlin, and we are very excited to show traction and the support of a community in D.C.
While we were looking for feedback on the product itself and guidance on how to proceed in Berlin, Challenge Festival will be all about seeking help and investment for scaling, and with the help of shown traction getting the route to market we need for success. D.C. will be our first challenge where we will show a serious successful startup with real traction, and we will get ready as much as possible to both consolidate our presence in the U.S. and reach out to strategic partners in the digital healthcare space.
What’s the next step for Insulin Angel? And what is the ultimate long-term dream?
We are preparing to launch our crowd funding campaign very soon. We are planning to launch a limited quantity of Insulin Angel devices to a community of early adopters who are aware of the problem and keen to be part of this. We are super excited about the campaign, and we have lots of surprises and exciting features to announce. Anyone who is interested should sign up to be the first to know when it’s live.
On the long term, we dream of the day when the solutions to the problems we are trying to solve become trivial. Then we can say ‘We made it,’ and move on to the next challenge. We dream of the day when every person who buys medication from the pharmacy gets an Insulin Angel device for free to look after their medication—hopefully in less than two years.