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Founding an efficent startup: The Caru case

A small digital friend for Grosi Thomas Helbling from Frauenfeld and her colleague have developed a device that will enable the elderly to live longer independently at home. The electronic helper even understands words like “help”. Ida Sandl

Frauenfelder Thomas Helbling has founded a successful start-up company in Zurich. His company Caru manufactures sensors that help seniors to stay independent for as long as possible.

The Valley of Death has passed through Thomas Helbling several times. The idea is scrap, he thinks then. That will never work. These are bad moments, but enormously important. “When you’re at the bottom, you have the most creative ideas,” says Helbling. The half-length hair he has tied at the back of the head, wearing T-shirt and sweater. Rather the guy student. He just turned 40 and is an entrepreneur. Two years ago Helbling founded the company Caru with his colleague Susanne Dröscher. And in 2018 it was already listed among the top 100 startups in Switzerland.

Caru, that’s the name of the development of Helbling and Dröscher. A small white device that looks like a tin of skin cream. Caru may seem unimpressive, but is an intelligent thing. The device measures the temperature in the room, the humidity, registers movement and how much CO2 is in the room. Caru is a kind of digital roommate. The device is intended to help elderly people to live independently in their own home for as long as possible. Little by little, Caru learns how the daily routine of the human resident is. If it does not move for a long time, for example, it does not get up in the morning, Caru alerts.

Everyone wants the boys

The electrical engineer Thomas Helbling and the materials scientist Susanne Dröscher have already noticed that they are a “super team” at the ETH. At some point, they decided to develop something together. While the brains in Silicon Valley focus on the boys, Helbling and Dröscher took on the growing group of elders. “We wanted a product that would make life better,” says Thomas Helbling. Since then four years have passed. They did not leave anything to chance, conducted interviews with those affected, with nurses and doctors, and held workshops.

Then also the accident happened

The aged great-aunt of Susanne Dröscher crashed so unhappily that she could not stand up alone. Half a day she lay helpless in her apartment until someone came. She owned an emergency watch. But she only carried them when there was a visitor, she confessed later.

It was clear to Helbling and Dröscher at the latest that their product had to work “without people having to change their lives”. So no charging, no programming, no maintenance, no button, which would have to be pressed. Caru does not even have to be in your hand, let alone tie or hang around your arm. All it takes is a power outlet. Caru is controlled by a few voice commands.

Caru understands words like “help”

So you can make phone calls without picking up a phone. The grandchildren can send voice messages from the holidays, the daughter wish the mum good morning or remind her of her medication. Caru is the digital link between the old man and the family or the caregivers who are more or less far away. Caru recognizes keywords like “help” and then alerts a doctor, for example. Over time, the device knows the everyday life of the human resident. If something is not as usual, it informs the relatives: “See if everything is alright.”

Caru consciously has no camera. “People do not want a surveillance camera in their private area,” says Helbling. The scientists needed to learn a lot about the market economy In February 2017, Helbling and Dröscher took the plunge into the business world by establishing a startup and establishing contacts with investors. They would have put all their money into the young company, says Thomas Helbling. “It hurt.”

Warn the investors

The end of 2017 – his last good jeans showed cracks – was the first round of financing. Caru now had ten employees and two pretty little rooms in the Zurich Seefeld. “We were extremely lucky with our investors. That’s far more than just donors, “says Helbling. Sometimes they would slow him and his colleague down: “Watch out, this is a marathon and not a sprint.” The device has been on the market since the end of November. For now, only companies can buy it.

Negotiations are in progress with two major Swiss customers. German companies are also interested and are currently testing Caru. It runs fine. Nevertheless, Thomas Helbling remains modest: “Caru is only a tender little plant”.

Also published on Medium.

Published inStartups
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