Lessons from a serial entrepreneur and how Covid 19 inspired his latest invention

07 December 2020

The world needs inventors and the greatest ideas are often derived from the greatest challenges. Serial inventor Alex Winter has put his mind and team to work on solutions during the pandemic completing the development of his latest innovation, the first ever contact-less health sensor that can scan temperature (and other vital signs) anywhere, for anyone, easily and fast. The Norbert Health Sensor promises renewed freedom and faster treatment. We speak to Alex about his track record, drivers and patents, sharing some of the lessons he has learned.

Alex Winter

You founded your first company when you were 28 and have filed multiple patents. How would you describe yourself and what motivates you?

I am passionate about building stuff that does not exist and is part of my vision of the future. I am obsessed and passionate about futuristic - nothing gets me more excited than imagining the world(s) of tomorrow and what new things or software will do for us, empower us and enhance us. Also, I love building things from scratch, ex nihilo.

What triggers your ideas and are there parallels across your innovations?

There is a common thread in my innovation: how the world can understand us, what we do, how we feel, and adapt to it or act on it, in order to make our lives better, richer, healthier or easier.

Which inventions have been most significant and why?

CMOS sensors (cameras) have been extremely impactful for the world - automation, self-driving cars, social media, AI, and many other fields have been radically changed by the profusion of visual content and the availability and low cost of visual sensors.

More recently many inventions were very impactful but more the result of collective intelligence and academic collaborative work - most of the AI field is like that.

When you apply for a patent what is your thinking behind doing so and your strategic objective?

I have two main reasons for filing for patents: materialising our immaterial IP for a future IPO or acquisition, and preventing competitors from doing exactly what we do. I have never used patents in a defensive manner, but it gives peace of mind and probably deters competitors from copying our approach bit by bit. I have benefited from our patent portfolio in the two acquisitions I have been through already - good investment!

The Norbert Health Sensor is positioned as a solution to the early identification of illnesses, such as the Covid 19 virus. Can you tell us more about how it works?

We are able to measure essential vital signs of the body in a contact-less manner, and very quickly - we measure temperature, heart rate, pulse wave velocity (blood pressure), respiration rate, and blood oxygenation levels - all that in 10 seconds approximately. This helps collect vital signs on a regular basis, at home, school or the office. Then we can detect the early onset of diseases with patterns we detect in the vital signs; rising blood pressure, irregular heart rate, lower SpO2 probably means an infection is happening.

Your company Norbert Health is located in New York and France. Was locating your company in France a strategic choice?

It was a practical choice: we needed to hire the best people as soon as possible and we found a bunch of them in France - so we created a subsidiary to hire them. Most of the software / AI team is in France now.

You released the sensor in October 2020, how successful has it been?

It is a first, short run of 200 devices - and it has been very successful! We are almost sold out and are preparing the next run of 2000 devices in Q1 2021.

What funding sources have you tapped into and can you share how you’ve gone about accessing them?

We are VC funded primarily. We are planning to leverage non-dilutive funding provided by the French BPI, and also the NIH SMB programmes.

What are you plans for the Norbert Health Sensor patent?

We just filed two provisional patent applications and might file more as we make more inventions. Then we are planning on waiting as much as we can before we spend more in turning these into utility applications: we are a startup and are very focused on our cash position :). We have internal procedures to identify patentable innovations.

With any invention that gathers personal information there are consent and data sharing regulations. Can you expand on how you are dealing with these?

Yes of course. And our system is able to recognise people using their faces, their radar and infrared signatures, so we have to be extremely careful and clear about encryption of our health data and how we ensure their privacy.

In a standard office or manufacturing environment, employers are allowed to screen their employees on site, when they get to the office, but can not store the data they collect - they can only use it to trigger notifications and go check on the health of a specific employee with the right medical devices.

All data is deleted from the system once notifications are sent and processed.

We have built an opt in system where people can register to the Norbert system and collect / keep their data, that will be encrypted with a key they own. Then they can leverage this data with their medical providers, caregivers. And control who has access to it granularily.

What other challenges are you facing as you develop your innovation and take it to market?

Going fast enough and engineering the innovations perfectly are the two other main challenges! Do things fast and well. Before others get inspired by us!

What’s the next step for you?

Shipping more devices, predicting diseases, and making preventive healthcare a reality for the masses!

What advice would you offer policy makers seeking to encourage people towards becoming innovative entrepreneurs?

The process of checking prior art is always a bit dangerous and complex… It would be terrific to anonymous or less impactful.

What is your advice for other inventors and entrepreneurs?

Definitely file IP even if it can sometime seem like a distraction compared to building software or products. The cost and time are reasonable and the impact is real - albeit longer term. But you can’t go back in the past when it comes to IP.

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The views expressed in this feature are those of the interviewee and may not reflect the views of 4iP Council or its members. The purpose of this feature area is to reflect thinking on the topic of intellectual property and enable open discussion.