AliveCor - 2014 Fierce 15

CEO: Euan Thomson
Based: San Francisco
Founded: 2011

The scoop: AliveCor's AliveECG mobile electrocardiogram can detect atrial fibrillation, a warning sign of stroke. Following FDA clearance in 2012, the company recently received permission from the agency to add the first algorithm that can tell a customer if they are experiencing afib based on a 30-second measurement of the pulse through the fingertips. Customers no longer need a doctor to interpret the information.

The company is utilizing its database consisting of the more than 1 million ECGs taken so far (with almost 100,000 more ECGs being added every month) to build other algorithms and continue to improve its data-analysis capabilities. At any one time AliveCor's device has about 6,000 users. And animal lovers will be happy to hear that AliveCor also makes a heart monitor and ECG app targeted at veterinarians.

In 2012, AliveCor snagged $10.5 million in a Series B financing, led by Burrill & Company and Khosla Ventures. Thomson said another round is possible in 6 months. 

What makes AliveCor Fierce: The device--which costs $199--and associated app have the potential to saves lots of lives and the healthcare system tons of money. Government surveys found that stroke is responsible for 1 in 19 deaths in the U.S. and cost $37 billion to treat in 2013. Afib is often asymptomatic and affects about 10% of those over 55.

"It's believed that there are millions of people in the U.S. who have afib and don't even know about it. If we can find them we can prevent strokes," CEO Euan Thomson said in an interview.

AliveCor's AliveECG--Courtesy of AliveCor

The new algorithm opens up a world of possibilities. Previously, AliveECG was mostly used among patients with previously diagnosed afib who were trying to manage the condition. They used it to answer questions like "The doctor said I shouldn't have coffee, but is coffee really affecting me?" by testing themselves after drinking coffee, Thomson explained.

Now customers can use the device to see if they have the condition and are at risk of developing stroke. Thomson said that is more practical than sending the data to a doctor after every test. Still, because of the small chance of a false-positive reading, AliveCor recommends receiving confirmation from an expert for a nominal fee.

2014 has been the year of the mobile medical app, and AliveCor's is one of the most legit. Few of the myriad healthcare apps out there are regulated, but AliveECG has the FDA's backing. In February, the agency allowed the product to be sold over the counter; previously it was available only by prescription. Most of the customers are end users, but doctors also purchase the device to test their patients, Thomson said.

What to look for: "Our job is now to get the word out," Thomson said. "Our objective is to build up increasing evidence that you can find afib with the device."

The new algorithm expands AliveECG's target population, but in the long run, AliveCor aims to become a data company, not a device one. "We want to start to understand why people are in atrial fibrillation sometimes and other times they're not. What are the triggers that cause the heart to go from normal beating to atrial fibrillation? For that we need lots and lots of people to be sharing their data with us. Not just the afib, but other lifestyle parameters. What we refer to as the context of the ECG. From that we can start answering on a population-wide scale and on a personal level what it is that triggers afib."

More algorithms are planned, Thomson said. He wouldn't give any specifics but said the company is developing a machine learning platform because "it's possible for computers to process much more data and to spot features that are much smaller than the human mind can spot."

The transition toward services is essential or else the company may be eaten by its product's host. Earlier this year Apple ($AAPL) filed a patent for an embedded ECG that could eliminate the need for AliveCor's snap-on accessory (though the product works on Android phones too).

"We're building the company strategy based on the idea that ultimately the device itself becomes a commodity item," Thomson said. "Ultimately, our strategy is not to build the company off the device itself, the strategy is to build the company off the analytics and interpretation services, and that's what we've been investing heavily in."

"So honestly if Apple comes out with an ECG or anybody else comes out with an ECG it's a huge opportunity for us," he said. "As long as the ECG is good enough quality, we'll be able to run our algorithmic interpretation services on their ECGs as well." -- Varun Saxena (email | Twitter)

For more:
AliveCor teams with India's Apollo Hospitals to offer smartphone heart monitoring
FDA clears first smartphone-based device to detect atrial fibrillation
ECG-maker AliveCor pulls in $10.5M

AliveCor - 2014 Fierce 15