Female Tech Heroes role models #9 - Sylvie & Kim Bogaerts: ‘We want to help people with dementia to stay in control using high tech’
Jun 3, 2020 5:13:46 PM. By: Anna Mazur
After experiencing what it’s like to have major health problems, Sylvie Bogaerts decided to change course together with her sister Kim. They developed a smart watch called ‘WATCH SEM’ to help people with dementia to live independently at home for longer. Love for sports, motivational coaching and conscious design were brought together into a health-tech innovation.
The coming months we will introduce female and male role models who act upon increasing diversity in the tech industry. By telling their personal and career stories, we can inspire and learn from each other.
How did this journey start? Kim: It started with Sylvie, who suffered from health problems for many years. Her left-hand side was paralyzed and her lower back locked. According to statistics, she should already be in a wheelchair. So, that’s really heavy. But by adjusting her lifestyle choices and daily rhythms, she is still fit and able to stand upright.
Sylvie: My body and the way I lived were not healthy. I wanted to see what I could influence, and that was my lifestyle. Once I decided to turn my lifestyle 180 degrees into a healthy one, very soon I experienced less pain and less fatigue. For this personal reason, I started a scientific study to find out how the change of lifestyle can influence the degree of pain. With my research on chronic (back) pain, lifestyle and rhythm, I’ve proven that with a healthy lifestyle, which suits you, you experience less pain.
I was working at the High Tech Campus Wellness Center, when the ideas of a healthcare tech product started popping up in my head, and I shared them with the team and customers. One of the customer’s husband, who is a software engineer, explained to me that what I wanted for WATCH SEM was possible. From there, the journey continued with networking and events. We continued our research on the product and its cost-effectiveness.
Why did you decide to leave the High Tech Campus Wellness Center and become an entrepreneur? Sylvie: I had a great experience working there. I feel that I have helped people to get fit and vital again. The team at High Tech Campus Wellness Center has always supported me in this quest and helped where they could. They are wonderful people, I miss them enormously.
The High Tech Campus is all about smart technologies, so it became a big source of inspiration to start working on my own tech product. I'm a very energetic and perseverant person, and I’ve always wanted to share that energy with the people who have less.
WATCH SEM combines my love for technology with a healthy lifestyle. It has resulted in a beautiful personal but, above all, practical product. By continuing to move functionally and having motivational coaching conversations, people automatically become fit in their head and body. That’s how you get balance.
Together with Kim WATCH SEM became a reality. It's a smart watch to help people with dementia (Alzheimer's) live independently at home for longer. The watch ensures a fixed rhythm in their life based on: Sleeping, Eating and Exercising. It provides many important memories, like pictures and voice-messages to maintain your personal lifestyle and keep control as long as possible. It can be adjusted via various devices and can also viewed by caregivers and family. That’s why we call it “your personal trusted tailor-made coach”.
Kim, you are a designer by heart. You also have your own design agency for many years. What are the most important lessons you learned throughout your entrepreneurial career? My business partner Michael Brugmans and I started KIMMIC 20 years ago when we saw a growing need in what we are best at – design and concept creation. It is great cooperation. We are both very experienced creative minds that complement and keep each other sharp. Working with all kinds of businesses, we visualize their new identity or help them to develop and launch their new product or service.
The biggest lesson I have learned from my entrepreneurship is that everything is actually possible when you use your creativity and inventiveness. At the same time, you must, of course, continue to persevere and not give up. It is important to do something that gives you energy. Finally, I learned that good partnerships can strengthen you and that trust is essential for 'something’ (product or service) to be successful.
How is it to work together with your sister? Sylvie: It is going very well, we are both very enthusiastic and complement each other. We know where each other's qualities lie and we use that. We are a strong team that I am proud of.
Kim: Working together has great advantages for us because we know each other through and through. We know where each other's strengths and challenges lie and where we want to go. Also, it is in our nature to be decisive, adaptive and take steps quickly, and we realise that we often can go faster than the people around us. We strongly believe in WATCH SEM and in our partnership to make it a success.
What does diversity in the tech world mean to you? Kim and Sylvie: The worlds of design, technology and science should work more together. Inclusiveness and better cooperation will make technology wider and more socially accessible. Think about healthcare and education. With WATCH SEM we are committed to care. The shortage of hands, to a large extent, is to be absorbed by means of technology. If a user eventually experiences this as a positive contribution and a solution, then an opening has been made to go further. As technology use continues to grow, so will the number of jobs within it across different industries. Diversity within technology is critical to its progress and success.
How is your startup doing? And how are you experiencing the tech world so far? Kim: Since the start of the corona crisis, our patience has been tested and everything has slowed down a little. But just like everyone, we can do a lot online and manage things gradually. The collaboration with Fontys Hogescholen is going really well. We have almost completed the research and are very happy to collaborate with enthusiastic students, who chose to do their minor with WATCH SEM. We are proud to say that we are working on a prototype now, and are still looking for investors. Our name is recognized because of the awards we won, and our further goal and the dream is to go global.
Sylvie: At first, I was very naive thinking it will be very easy to put WATCH SEM on the market, because: ‘who doesn't want this healthcare innovation?’ But things are different, there is so much beautiful smart technology emerging, making the other tech products obsolete. What we run into is that there are sufficient subsidies to develop a product, but there is 0 subsidy on the actual end consumer product. WATCH SEM is a prevention care innovation, so that makes it extra difficult to get it on the market because then the consumer has to pay.
The corona crisis has once again made it clear that we need to take better care of ourselves and that even more attention must be paid to the prevention. If we can mention a small advantage, this is a good outcome that politicians are investing more in the prevention and are, therefore quickly removing and deploying this smart technology. WATCH SEM is for older people with dementia phase 1, but can also be used for people who have difficulty completing a daily rhythm.
Because of this fantastic educational experience in the world of technology, I believe that we really need to take a closer look at what is already there and build from there. There is so much beauty in smart technology.