Filipino startup bags prize at Dubai hackathon: Page 2 of 2

  • Beats participants from 41 countries to win second place
  • Secured two rounds of angel funding to the tune of US$40,000 in the past six months


Filipino startup bags prize at Dubai hackathon


IT ISN’T often that a little-known Asean startup beats 41 other countries to win second place at an international hackathon. However, MaroonStudios which hails from Quezon City in the Philippines, has done exactly that.

The startup won second place and a US$30,000 cash prize at the recently-concluded UAE Blockchain Virtual GovHack in Dubai, with their blockchain innovation called HealthBlocks.

HealthBlocks is a blockchain-based technology that enables secure health information records transfer between governments, patients, clinics, insurance companies and service providers.

MaroonStudios co-founder and chief executive officer James Mendoza explains that HealthBlocks is an ecosystem that comprises the following:  HealthWallet, a smartphone application that enables easy patient identification and access management; HealthPortal, an all-in-one solution for customisable and standardised Health Data Management; and HealthNetwork, a provisioned-blockchain Health Information Exchange Network that enables cryptographic and immutable data storage.

“We only knew about the hackathon about a week or so prior to it, I was introduced to it by a Malaysian startup called Neuroware, which is also in the blockchain space. And they suggested we join this hackathon in Dubai,” Mendoza tells Digital News Asia in a recent interview.

The hackathon was organised by the Prime Minister’s Office of United Arab Emirates (UAE), in collaboration with AngelHack, a global hackathon organisation. The hackathon was in line with The World Government Summit 2017 and specific to blockchain technology.

Prior to their hackathon win, the MaroonStudios team also won last November’s Asean’s Next Great Idea competition sponsored by Uber, Digi and the Malaysian Global Innovation & Creativity Centre.

According to Mendoza, 20 teams were chosen to join a two-week incubation program in Cyberjaya.

He adds that HealthBlocks being among the five finalists awarded in the Global Entrepreneurship Community 2016 closing ceremonies, will be flying to Uber’s headquarters in San Francisco this month for more training and venture capitalist (VC) fundraising.

Where it all began

So how did MaroonStudios come about? “We started the company in 2014 and our vision has always been affordable innovations for positive change. And for the last three years or so our company has focused on building innovations in the healthcare space in the Philippines,” Mendoza explains.

When asked about the name MaroonStudios, Mendoza says that five of them started the company. “We were all university mates. That’s why we coined the name MaroonStudios because our school collar was maroon and our varsity team was called The Fighting Maroons, so we said ‘let’s just name our company Maroon’.

“Of the five, two are electronics engineers, one is a computer scientist and the two computer engineers. Right now only three founders remain since the other two sold their share in the company to pursue other ventures. The team is now comprised of 10 members,” he says.

According to Mendoza, the main problem in the Philippines’ healthcare space is that service providers, practitioners and the government are quite reluctant towards technology, as they’ve been used to their usual way of doing things for a really long time.

“So whenever a new technology comes in they are quite averse to it. In the past three years we’ve been helping healthcare organisations here embrace digital technologies and making them realise that using digital technologies will make them more efficient and more secure.”

Why healthcare? “When we started out, the only opportunities we got (80%-90% of them) were in healthcare. We had a couple of friends from the same university as us who happened to be doctors and working in the public healthcare space in the Philippines.

“They connected with us and our first project as a company was with the local Food and Drug Administration, we created a mobile app for them and they loved it. And through referrals and word-of-mouth, we became entrenched in the healthcare space here. We were introduced to the local Ministry of Health and did a project with a public healthcare unit as well.”

“So that has been somewhat lucky for us but when we tried to sit down and think about what we actually wanted to do, we felt that in healthcare we would be able to create more impact and more positive change hopefully for the Filipino people.

“We’re a populous nation and one of the biggest problems is actually healthcare; how to keep 100 million plus people healthy.”

Next page: Putting the pieces together



Building with Blockchain technology


Filipino startup bags prize at Dubai hackathon


Mendoza (pic above) explains that the team has been intrigued by blockchain technology for the past couple of years.

“In the fintech space blockchain is very popular, but we felt that the concept of blockchain distributed databases, their immutability and encryption would be very beneficial to healthcare as well. So that’s when we started trying to deep dive research a few companies in the US and Singapore doing healthcare-based blockchain technologies. And we felt that it (blockchain) would be the next step for us and also the healthcare space.”

According to Mendoza, the company has already done blockchain implementations for healthcare in the Philippines.

“For example, for the HealthPortal part of the HealthBlocks ecosystem, that’s what we’ve been using with the Ministry of Health projects over the past few years. We started commercialising HealthPortal two years ago with the Ministry of Health projects and the HealthWallet and HealthNetwork are completely new solutions that we are integrating with the Health Portal. So at the hackathon in Dubai, we specifically created HealthWallet and HealthNetwork to communicate with HealthPortal.”

For the HealthPortal, the company has carried out deployments, namely the HIV and sexually transmitted diseases data management systems for the entire country.

They are working with 70 clinics nationwide, with close to 100,000 patients benefitting from these two deployments.

“Right now we are working on getting hospitals on board,” Mendoza shares.

In terms of their revenue model, HealthWallet is free for the public to download and use, while HealthPortal and HealthNetwork are chargeable services.

The customers for the HealthWallet are basically patients. “It is an identification platform that basically enables patients to go to any hospital and clinic and just show the HealthWallet, which has access to government insurance, private health insurance, and high-level information about the patient. In terms of that particular vertical, we felt that it should be free of charge to patients. The plan is to launch the mobile application in the apps store in a couple of weeks.

“We will be getting revenue from HealthPortal and HealthNetwork deployments. For those two solutions, we will be partnering with healthcare organisations, hospitals and clinics and the Ministry of Health, and basically, those solutions charge per patient. So for example, if a particular hospital doesn’t have a data management system, the HealthPortal will be deployed for them and it integrates with the other hospitals and clinics through the network itself.

“So the charge to the hospital will be per patient based on the number of active patients per month and it will be billed accordingly. So it’s a deviation from the revenue model of the healthcare system in the Philippines where the costs are upfront to the hospital such as licensing fees or server costs, where irrespective of the number of the patients, they still get charged a huge amount.”

When asked how they will utilise their hackathon prize money, Mendoza reveals that they will be funnelling 90% of the money into the company as part of their budget for developing and deploying HealthBlocks.

The quest for funds

Prior to winning the hackathon, they secured two rounds of angel funding to the tune of US$40,000 in the past six months. With the combined funds, the focus is on developing HealthBlocks as a platform, he says.

[Correction: An earlier version incorrectly stated the angel funding amount.]

Is VC fundraising a key goal for the company? “For us, the trip to Uber headquarters in San Francisco is part of the incubation programme, so if we could get some VC funding in San Francisco, to help us expand regionally, that would be a huge boost for us because we feel that HealthBlocks as a platform could benefit not only the Philippines, but neighbouring Asean countries as well,” Mendoza says.

He adds that when he was in Malaysia, he spoke to a few players in the healthcare space and to the former head of the Ministry of Health Malaysia as well.

“The struggle is similar. The healthcare space is very fragmented, with disparate technologies. So the goal for us with regional expansion is if the San Francisco VCs could help us with funding, we’re quite open to that as well. So that’s part of the roadmap for 2017 and beyond.”

What has he learned so far from being an entrepreneur? “Being a first-time entrepreneur and doing this first part-time and then full-time for these last couple of years…it sounds clichéd, but it was so difficult. It’s not like the romanticised version we see in the movies and the Silicon Valley TV series.”

He adds that it’s important to be strong mentally and emotionally. “There will be lots of ups and downs but mostly what brings you down are the down moments. I’ve learned that if you really believe in the vision of the company, and if you really believe that this is the life for you, then by all means pursue it. There’ve been many sacrifices along the way and I know that there will be more to come. But when I look back at what I’ve accomplished in a short span of time, with limited resources and how we’re trying to impact the society, I think somehow it’s quite worth it,” he shares.  
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