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From Withings to blockchain: he meets the French entrepreneur who tries to reinvent digital health

Despite the ups and downs Alexis Normand has experienced in recent years, her confidence in the digital health revolution remains surprisingly unshakable. In fact, it has become so strong that it is pursuing two separate but equally interesting paths towards the realization of potential benefits.

The first is his ongoing role as vice president of health care of Withings, the associated healthcare device company that was recently acquired by its French founder after a disastrous takeover by Nokia. The second concert is directed by the Consorzio Embleema Blockchain, which has developed a system of patient records based on the technology of the distributed ledger.

What binds these two experiences to Normand is that each in its own way is part of a movement that is putting personal health data in the hands of consumers.

"It's about feeling more empowered," said Normand. "For a long time, most of the data collected about you was owned by someone else – the fact that people can access it now changes their perspective."

To learn more: Éric Carreel intends to raise his company to wear from the dead

VentureBeat met Normand as he spoke last month at the INFO Venture Summit last month in Bordeaux, France.

He was there primarily to talk about the most recent of these two efforts, Emblema, which is in the middle of a coin on offer. The company hopes to raise between $ 2 million and $ 3 million to continue expanding its cloud software and blockchain service called PatientTruth.

"There are many health blockchain companies," said Normand. "But not many who have launched a product."

Incentive patient data

Basically, the idea is to use blockchain as a safe and reliable way to digitize multiple patient records. But by putting it on the blockchain, the company wants to make sure it remains completely accessible to patients. This, however, is only a starting point.

From there, the platform connects this patient's data to hospital networks, rehabilitation centers, urgent care centers – wherever data can be collected – to continue developing a single digital health care record for each patient. Emblem also wants to make data available to researchers. To do this, the company wants to distribute token blockchain to patients as an incentive to share their data.

The founders of Embleema believe that this could create a second wave of innovation through turbo-boosting the quantity and quality of data that medical and pharmaceutical researchers could gather to accelerate drug development and the creation of other innovative treatments.

Sharing this data in real time, the company also believes it can help shorten the regulatory approval process by linking US federal agencies. Normand notes that the 21st Century Cures Act that was approved in 2016 creates a mandate for the FDA to accelerate new drug approvals if it could access more patient data in real time.

"We need to build a market, which is why we are doing an ICO," said Normand. "There is a logic for this system: Facebook takes your data and has all the value created outside of it.With Embleema, the patients own part of the network with their tokens.More transactions are done with their data, the higher is the value of the network Our challenge is to bring people around the table ".

While Normand works with Embleema, he continues to support the efforts of Éric Careel, co-founder of Withings, to revive a company that once seemed destined to become an iconic success of the French startup before it became a poster for M & A gone wrong.

Horribly, terribly wrong.

Withings withered

Founded in 2008, the Paris-based company Withings made the first impression when it released a connected scale that sent data via Wi-Fi to a smartphone. It may seem strange a decade later, but the device was seen as the first step towards building a company of medical devices connected around the world. In the end, the company would raise about $ 38 million in venture capital, thanks to the spread of gadgets such as blood pressure monitors, fitness trackers and watches.

As the company grew slowly but steadily, an insulting suitor knocked: Nokia. The Finnish company was famous for abandoning the consumer gadget business by selling its handset business to Microsoft a few years earlier. But suddenly, Nokia announced that it acquired Withings in April 2016 for $ 192 million as the foundation of a new Nokia Digital Health business.

Normand argues that the Withings team was enthusiastic at the start, believing that Nokia offered a path for massive investment, global distribution and faster product development.

Instead, the deal was unveiled at a breathtaking speed.

Withings was effectively acquired by a subsidiary called Nokia Technologies, based in Silicon Valley. The company has placed its massive patent portfolio in Nokia Tech, with the idea that the fees would be used to invest in the development of new digital businesses aimed at consumers. The company has hired former manager Dolby Ramzi Haidamus to manage Nokia Tech, and the purchase of Withings to create a Digital Health Group was one of the first big steps.

Just four months after the agreement, Haidamus was expelled from the company for reasons that remain a mystery.

The life of the Withings team crumbles quickly.

Normand recalled that almost all the decisions taken by Nokia from that moment seemed condemned. The decision to kill the Withings brand in favor of Nokia Health has provoked a reaction among users. A change in strategy has also led to the removal of Withings products from the Apple store. And all decisions about how to exploit patents and other product development ideas seemed to get bogged down in multiple levels of lawyers and corporate bureaucracy.

Toward the end of the next year, Nokia had taken a note indicating that Withings was absolutely useless and looking for a buyer. It was then that Carreel returned to photography and reacquired the company for an undisclosed sum.

Relive digital health

Normand says that while only a few months have passed, Carreel has transformed the company's mood. Not to mention the fact that Withings has already released a couple of new products, including a $ 130 Pulse HR activity tracker and a $ 200 Steel HR Sport smartwatch.

"On the Withings side of things, people are very happy that Éric is back," said Normand. "Éric is not afraid to risk and really knows the development of the product." Of course, it is difficult not to look at the two years of Withings under the thumb of Nokia as a lost time, as the company has seen the expansion of Apple Watch since its launch in 2015 to become a full-fledged health device in its own right.

Yet, a new impulse from Withings and Embleema has made Normand believe that the digital health revolution is gaining ground.

"Health care is a very slow sector to move," he said. "But there's a good reason for that." "You want proof that things work, but the important thing about the digital health revolution is that you have constant feedback from users." You know how many times people use your product and so there are opportunities for continuous improvement.

"So we have a lot of evidence that these things are working, and from here, I think things will move very fast."

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