On Building An AI Healthcare Product

Published: April 7th, 2021
Zvi Huber
Founder, Brainworks
from Emeryville, CA, USA
started July 2018
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My name is Zvi Huber, Chief Operating Officer of Brainworks. Brainworks is a provider of AI-enhanced, non-contact vital sign measurement and automated digital healthcare tools for personal, telehealth, and next-generation medical clinics and hospitals. The company’s first product, Medio Smart Health, is a national-scale service for personal health management. Through our free Medio Smart Health online solution, anyone can use their mobile phone, computer, tablet, or similar smart device to automatically measure their vital signs and track their health over time, all while answering specific CDC-recommended screening questions related to COVID-19. The latest version, Medio for School, is based on three key pillars of screening, testing, and monitoring, that will keep schools safely open and minimize halting of in-person instruction.

We are also working on a low-cost, high-sensitivity PCR-based testing service designed to detect even asymptomatic COVID-19 carriers using the very latest in next-generation genomics technologies. Brainworks and our trusted partners are building the capabilities to test for COVID-19 in a manner that is accurate, speedy, widely deployable, and cost-effective to allow greater numbers of the population to be tested more often, safely, and non-invasively. We are beginning with a focus on schools, and subsequent versions will include workforce management tools for businesses and services to oversee the evolving health statuses of their workforce, patients, and customers.


What's your backstory and how did you get into entrepreneurship?

About twenty years ago, after serving as a plant manager at Lutron, a company that invented much of the modern light dimming technology and having a fairly rich career in technology management, operations, and large-scale systems, I decided to join and lead my first startup in the satellite communications industry. I must admit, at the time, I knew very little about satellites or much about the underlying technology required for communication with them — but I knew what it takes to build technology and operations teams and of course, how to move from idea to prototype all the way to large scale commercialization.

Read, research, ask questions, and don't be uncomfortable seeking help from others. You will need that if you want to lead effectively a technical team when often, you may not be the domain expert.

This turned into quite an exciting journey. I’m always looking for new challenges and for innovative ways to do good (while having fun). I keep a keen eye out for opportunities to increase organizational revenue and offer talented people challenging employment along the way. I remained in the satellite communications space as president and/or general manager for quite some time, working through various startups and medium-to-large-sized organizations.

For the five years leading up to my role at Brainworks, I was the co-founder and CTO of Sfara, a mobile app company that leverages every single sensor in a mobile phone to create machine-learning algorithms aimed at detecting behaviors of drivers and passengers in vehicles. We were able to detect aggressive driving and speeding, all the way to crash, and made the distinction between driver and passengers while assessing phone handling. These past experiences in manufacturing, satellite communication, and mobile apps markets help me develop strong general management skills, technology development, and large-scale solutions deployment, all highly relevant which led me to this opportunity to join Brainworks in 2018. The initial vision for Brainworks came from Dr. Philip Alvelda, originating from his work with the brain-machine interface at DARPA.

Take us through your entrepreneurial journey. How did you go from day 1 to today?

After I graduated with my Master’s in Engineering from Lehigh University, my first job in the US was at Lutron, a lighting control company in Pennsylvania. I started as a design engineer to run the plant within five years and start my own business in ten years. I became the plant manager after three years, before being recruited by an Israeli satellite communications company. In April 2018, I met Dr. Phillip Alvelda at a dinner orchestrated by a mutual connection who brought together six people looking to “change the world”. Within our 20-minute introductions, we connected. At the end of the evening, Phillip sent me an email relaying how much he’d enjoyed the dinner and that he was looking for new partners for his company. We met the next day for lunch, and the rest, as they say, is history.

The work I’m doing now with Brainworks has truly been the highlight of my career. My previous management and entrepreneurship experiences/skill sets have enabled me to contribute the best of what I’ve learned to bring the vision of Brainworks to fruition. This company genuinely has the ability to influence large numbers of people globally with the work we’re doing. We started by focusing on artificial intelligence and developing the capabilities to understand a variety of medical conditions just from the raw video as captured by everyday cameras, phones, tablets, or a simple webcam.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, we decided to pivot and focus on all things COVID. Addressing one of the key challenges of going back to work safely, we are building a rapid turnaround, low-cost COVID-19 PCR test lab. I am honored to be able to apply my expertise to help others in the collective fight against this novel virus.


How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

While this past year has been troubling for us as a country, it has been an exciting time for Brainworks as a company. Through all of the mayhem of this pandemic, we’ve seen tremendous opportunities. Operationally, we’re a small team looking at an exceptionally promising future. We have the vision of building a network of low-cost, high-turnaround COVID-19 labs around the country. We plan to start a national lab next to a shipping / distribution hub that will allow us to set up and deliver test results overnight. We are also eyeing international expansion. Places such as Saudi Arabia where millions of pilgrims coming from other, often poor or underserved countries, vis-à-vis availability of vaccines, are likely to see uncontrolled spread of the virus unless they establish rapid turnaround, low-cost testing facilities.

Where rich countries are slowly but surely going to get their people vaccinated, most countries would take years to get to herd immunity. This pandemic is affecting the entire globe, and it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. If we can deliver a testing solution that is rapid, accurate and affordable, we can do some real good for millions of people around the world.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

I am humbled by every startup I’ve touched and every piece of knowledge or insight I glean from them that I was previously lacking. Every time I engage with a new business, I realize how much I need to learn to make an impact and am delighted by the opportunity to bridge that gap in a way that allows me to lead a company to success. In my last startup, for instance, as a CTO, I needed to rapidly acquire technical and business knowledge required to develop and deploy machine learning-based mobile apps. Being able and willing to address one’s knowledge shortfalls is key in leading any startup to realize its potential.

I first joined Brainworks with a limited background in artificial intelligence, but today I have a much deeper understanding of what AI can bring to the healthcare market. This past year showed me the unique advantages that my past experience working across states, countries and continents with a distributed workforce offers. In the past, having a team working out of different offices and locations was an obstacle that we needed to overcome. Today, in the pandemic era, it might be a blessing. When presented with a challenge by our Saudi Arabian colleagues in the evening, we can often deliver a solution by morning while working with investors in Australia, all without missing a beat, albeit missing a few hours of sleep.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

We use a variety of software and communication tools to execute our work. On the software side, we’ve done much of our development with Python. We also try to keep abreast with all-new AI and machine learning tools that are available today.

We’ve found that tools (such as Quip) that allow for seamless communication across state lines and different time zones are essential. We’ve also found Jira Software to be very beneficial in managing our projects — mostly in the agile environment. Jira allows product managers to tie-in tasks with use cases and test scenarios all the way back to the requirements. Agile development recognizes that the product is evolving, and the customer may change their mind as they are presented with ongoing release of features.

Looking ahead, as we move into the business of setting up and managing labs, we plan to utilize lab information systems that provide a comprehensive platform for all aspects of lab management. Also, we’re looking to infuse AI tools into the analysis of COVID-19 test samples. This is something that has not been done before, so it’s an uncharted area that is completely open for us to make a mark on.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

I’m an avid reader. Personally, I often read about politics and prefer nonfiction genres. I find value in the multicultural experience I seek through my readings, whether in Russia, Japan or Israel, all sources one can learn from. My most recent read was about the origins of Russia and takes us from the early age of Russia’s development to its current political incarnation. I’m also reading Barack Obama’s memoir, A Promise Land. There isn’t a specific book that I’m drawing from to connect to my management experience, rather I gain insight from many!

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?

I’d first remind entrepreneurs that however much they think they know already, there is going to much, much more they will need to learn. So, be ready and humble and embrace any/all knowledge available to you. Read, research, ask questions, and don't be uncomfortable seeking help from others. You will need that if you want to lead effectively a technical team when often, you may not be the domain expert.

Second, I’d advise them to do everything possible to create a MVP (minimally viable product) they can believe in and share with customers and investors early on. Have clarity as early as possible on what product you want to deliver, what value it provides to the customer, and why people would be willing to buy or use the product. With agile design, even if the users tell you exactly what they want at the start, they may not actually know or they may change their mind once they see the product. You don't want to complete heavy development only to find out that you need to completely change course mid-build. So, engage with your customer frequently, openly seek out their feedback, listen closely and deliver small but meaningful increments as early as possible to receive actionable feedback.

Lastly, never underestimate the complexity of managing people. People are extraordinarily diverse, from disciplines, genders, cultures, religions and locations to teachability, learning style, work ethic and expertise. As a leader, always be exceptionally open. Understand that you'll make mistakes and try to mix in a little humor whenever possible and appropriate. Oftentimes, humor (especially self-deprecation) is an international language.

Where can we go to learn more?