While incredible technologies are being developed to treat various diseases, the wisest startups seem to focus on preventative measures, anticipating a world—and marketplace—where diseases are minimized or avoided entirely.

Singularity University’s annual Exponential Medicine conference highlights the future of medical technology, and its annual MEDy Awards—that’s Medical Entrepreneurship and Disruption—help gauge the pulse of medtech startups.

At this year’s MEDy Awards, startups focused on preventative care via wearables, apps, and data sets. The common thread: rather than treating disease only after it has advanced to the point of being discoverable, let’s create systems to prevent disease in the first place.

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The Best Pitch MEDy was won by Elemeno Health. Billed as “a mobile solution for your frontline healthcare team,” Elemeno works to align internal hospital staff on consistency, quality, and safety with user-friendly interfaces and gamified checklists. In other words, it’s exactly the type of software you don’t often see in healthcare.

The Convergence MEDy winner was Upright Technologies, whose founder noted that sitting while slouching is the number one cause of back pain, and back pain is the number one cause of disability in the United States. Upright Technologies has already sold over 10,000 small gizmos that cling to your person throughout the day and simply buzz to let you know when you’re slouching. A corresponding app visualizes your tendencies for bad posture and reinforces better sitting behavior.

The Most Disruptive MEDy went to Pison Technology, whose wearable sensors allow those without full control of their limbs to interface with computers. Focusing initially on patients with ALS, Pison allows users to control a regular computer desktop using unobtrusive devices strapped to upper arm muscles. By reading muscle signals, the user can control a cursor on the screen, and a feedback system will eventually give Pison the ability to monitor neuromuscular conditions and corresponding muscle signals in real time.

Lastly, EmojiHealth won the One to Watch MEDy. Seventeen-year-olds Alexandra Reeves and Anna Melnyk created a Facebook Messenger chatbot to regularly and casually check in to see how users are feeling and ask if they’ve been keeping up on regular health habits, such as taking prescribed medication.

The founders of EmojiHealth at the Exponential Medicine 2016 MEDy Awards.
The founders of EmojiHealth at the Exponential Medicine 2016 MEDy Awards.

Beyond Startups

Startups, organizations, and governments are all identifying the needs for consumer-oriented medical technology. This year, Singularity University launched their second California Impact Challenge in partnership with the California Governor’s Office focused specifically on precision medicine, which is to say medical technology that uses a precise, person-centered approach for diagnosis and treatment.

The winner of the challenge, Kanteron Systems, built a software platform that focuses on the patient as an individual. Their digital healthcare ecosystem integrates medical imaging with genomic, pharmacogenomic, and biosensor data to improve both diagnoses and treatment plans.

The Future of Healthcare Companies

As Peter Diamandis has written, healthcare is a fundamentally broken industry, and that’s probably why we’re seeing the most intriguing and fastest-growing startups focusing on consumers and niche diseases rather than appealing to big pharma and existing hospital systems.

An entrepreneur isn’t anxious to be the next Bayer when they can empower consumers directly as the next 23andMe or Fitbit.

We often cite “the democratization of healthcare” and “the quantified self” as the tropes indicating where medtech is headed. And if today is about software and wearables, tomorrow is about the big data and insights generated from all of those platforms.

See the rest of our Exponential Medicine coverage here.

Matthew focuses on digital content strategies and social media for Singularity Hub and Singularity University, constantly wondering about the future of digital media and information distribution. Previously, he was a co-founder and Director of Communications for IDEAco, an educational Singularity University Labs nonprofit.