Heart Attack Monitor Wins US Startup Contest for Middle East
Ziad Sankari's Cardio Diagnostics idea for a heart attack monitor won a startup contest sponsored by the U.S. government.
CREDIT: Cardio Diagnostics | Ziad Sankari
Most Middle East entrepreneurs can only dream of a startup oasis such as California's Silicon Valley that is filled with angel investors and venture capitalists. But a few entrepreneurs have begun receiving funding from a more unlikely source ? the U.S. government.
One of those entrepreneurs, Ziad Sankari, was just 17 when he lost his father to a heart attack. Today, the Lebanese engineer is building a startup based on a medical device that can monitor cardiac patients outside the hospital around the clock. His startup idea won a first place prize of $20,000 in the final rounds of the U.S.-sponsored GISTech-I Competition held in Istanbul last December.
That funding from the U.S. State Department may help Sankari and his colleague, Najwa Sahmarani, develop a business plan for their "Cardio Diagnostics" startup. The competition also provided business mentoring by flying in experts from MIT and Silicon Valley.
"GISTech was our shortcut towards better connections and visibility and provided us, indeed, with some cash and unmatchable opportunities to visit Silicon Valley and possibly find a collaborator there," Sankari said.
Cardio Diagnostics uses algorithms that can interpret patterns in the heart's electrical activity to detect reduced blood flow, irregular heartbeats or even early signs of heart attacks. If it finds anything unusual, the medical device ? resembling a harness or shirt ? wirelessly transmits an alert to a monitoring center.
Sankari cited well-known American innovators, such as Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and Larry Page, as inspirations for his startup. But he also pointed to successful business examples from the Middle East and North Africa, such as Maktoub, a regional Internet platform sold to Yahoo! for $100 million.
A desire to become entrepreneurs "flows in our blood," Sankari told InnovationNewsDaily. He spent his high school and college days trying out startup ideas for both profit and charity, before he met Sahmarani and a third team member, Ramzi Farchoukh.
The latest startup vision took shape in college and continued when Sankari won a Fulbright Scholarship to get two master's degrees at Ohio State University in Columbus ? one degree in electrical and computer engineering and another in biomedical engineering.
Cardio Diagnostics envisions a possible $1.2 billion market for its medical device across the Middle East region, including Turkey. The startup may also try to expand its heart monitor idea to the U.S., where heart disease kills more than half a million people each year and remains the leading cause of death.
Still, the startup has an eye on more than just profits. Sankari hopes to attract investors who have the entrepreneurial connections and business knowledge to support future Middle East innovators. His team plans to visit Silicon Valley toward the end of 2012.
"We're not looking for money ? we're looking for an ecosystem," Sankari explained. "There are so many wealthy people in region willing to spend a buck, but money alone would not be enough to create a successful model."
Sankari also wants his high-tech health startup to serve as an inspiration for young people across the Middle East and North Africa who have already witnessed political upheaval during the recent Arab Spring revolutions.
"Today, mothers raise the children on the values of social status, and assert that social status can only be defined by occupying an employment career in medicine, engineering or law," Sankari said. "We'd like to see the day when mothers teach their children that becoming an entrepreneur or a founder is the landmark in social achievement."