This type of skin cancer can develop from abnormal moles, and in Australia, where Neil is from, two to three people are expected to experience it in their lifetime. As the key to surviving this type of cancer is early detection, the duo decided to create a unique cloud-based service that can keep track of skin changes, recording images of the evolving lesions that people can then show to their doctor for a faster, more accurate diagnosis. ideaSpace and the Cambridge environment had a great impact on the success of their company, which has been able to access the right support, knowledge and funds to be able to launch the Beta version of their app.
Two friends, one mission: using technology to improve healthcare
University of Cambridge alumnus Julian Hall met his business partner Neil Daly whilst studying for an MBA at London Business School. They both wanted to become entrepreneurs and started brainstorming ideas before even finishing their course. As Neil comes from Australia – one of the countries where skin cancer is most common – the idea of creating technology to help early detection of melanoma did not take long to appear in their minds.
Although there were many apps on the market which claimed to be able to diagnose melanoma, all had been proven to be dangerously inaccurate – only an expert doctor can give a correct diagnosis. What did not exist was a mobile-based service that kept track of changes in the colour, shape and texture of moles, which is the key to early diagnosis. This is what Skin Analytics set out to address.
The Cambridge cluster and ideaSpace
The choice of where to base Skin Analytics was between the two main start-up clusters in the UK – London and Cambridge. The latter was eventually chosen for two reasons: being smaller, Cambridge is less dispersive – everything is concentrated in a few key locations and not scattered around a vast area; secondly, it offers an incredible environment thanks to the amount of specialist expertise in the healthcare and technology sectors that has no equal. By basing their company in Cambridge, Julian and Neil were able to talk to experienced academics in the field of skin cancer and access the specialist knowledge they needed to start their company.
ideaSpace came into the picture as they were searching for an incubator where they could base their start-up. They soon found out it was more than just an incubator: they could enjoy the benefits of a community of entrepreneurs and start-ups with a variety of skill-sets and knowledge with whom they could share experience and tips; have contact with experienced businesspeople to get advice on fundraising and business strategy, but also with accountants and lawyers; and ultimately, and most importantly, being in a well-known incubator allowed them to gain visibility and credibility.
It was thanks to the influence of the ideaSpace community and the University of Cambridge’s experts that Skin Analytics managed to receive the right input and support to be able to work on the ground-breaking image tracking technology at the base of their service. They received advice on what the technology should be doing, gained access to an image bank which is unique in the world, based in New Zealand, and got expert feedback on progress made, as well as help with managing their business.
Their service was covered by several media outlets including the Telegraph, BBC, The Engineer, Techcrunch and Mashable, and entered many awards, winning the Cambridge Wireless Discovering Start-ups competition in 2012 and becoming a finalist this year at the Smart UK Project competition for the UK's most innovative mobile company and at the NHS Healthcare Innovation Expo for start-ups showing future potential for healthcare delivery.
Helping Australia and then the world
The Skin Analytics team has now grown to 4 people. Julian and Neil hired an image processing specialist to work on the technology and a web architect to develop the app and website. Having reached a good level of technical maturity, the Beta version of their app was released at the beginning of 2013 in Australia, where awareness of skin cancer and popularity of self-checking is greatest. They expect to get a great amount of feedback and collect a large number of images that they can use for testing and improving their image tracking technology.
Once the technology becomes as accurate as possible, Skin Analytics will be officially launched, first in Australia and then, country by country, in the rest of the world.
- Sep 2011 - Julian and Neil meet at London Business School and decide to start a business together. They have an idea: a mobile-based service to track mole changes and help prevent skin cancer.
- Dec 2011 - They win the ‘Smart Award’, a research grant bid from TSB for SMEs involved in high-risk technology projects.
- May 2012 - Julian and Neil decide to base their company at ideaSpace.
- An image processing specialist is hired to study how the image tracking system can become more accurate.
- August 2012 - A web architect is hired to help with designing the app and website. The basic system is built.
- January 2013 - The team works on ways to reduce noise from images and improve accuracy
- March 2013 - The beta version of the app is released as a way of getting feedback and improving technology
- August 2013 – A soft launch of the service is offered across Europe
- 2014 – Skin Analytics plans to grow the business worldwide