Milbotix: Transforming dementia care with SmartSocks™

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SETsquared Bristol

Following our company Milbotix’s recent investment from Alzheimer’s Society and £1.15m in non-dilutive funding awards, we had a chat with CEO, Dr Zeke Steer, to hear his story…

Zeke Steer, Founder of Milbotix with Smart Sensor Sock. Photo credit to St Monica TrustMilbotix key facts

  • Start date: 24 February 2020
  • Market sector: Healthtech/wearables/IoT
  • Location: Bristol and Oxford
  • Number of employees: 8
  • Company growth status: Startup

Milbotix is partnered with the UK Dementia Research Institute and University of Exeter Medical School. The healthtech startup has been featured on Sifted’s list of the ‘Top caretech startups to watch’ and won the Santander X Accelerate Award, Medilink South West Start-Up and Future Technologies Awards.

In your own words what does Milbotix do?

Milbotix is an award-winning caretech startup and spinout from the University of Bristol and the University of the West of England.It is developing SmartSocks™ – an innovative line of wearables designed for people who find it difficult to communicate distress.

Over half of people diagnosed with dementia (and many more with autism, learning disabilities etc.) experience challenging behavioural symptoms such as aggression and agitation, which arelinked to unmanaged distress, pain or anxiety. These symptoms decrease quality of life and drive admissions into care homes, costing the UK over £2 billion per year.

SmartSocks™ combines textile-based sensors measuring physiological indicators of stress and wellbeing with artificial intelligence (AI) software to alert carers to early signs of distress. The product enables carers to intervene sooner to alleviate distress before wellbeing is significantly impacted and behaviour becomes challenging.

SmartSocks™ has broader applications as a minimally intrusive at-home monitoring solution and fall prevention aid.

How did you start this journey?

I was working as an engineer in the defence sector when my great-grandmother Kath was living with dementia. Her escalating aggression eventually become so challenging that our family was left with no option but to admit her to a care home.

I embarked on a PhD at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, the UK’s largest multidisciplinary robotics research facility, to investigate how robotics, AI, and wearables could help people like Kath. I also began volunteering at St Monica Trust, a care charity in Bristol, where I met my Co-founder Jacqui Arnold who was Dementia Lead.

The idea of using socks was born out of conversations with frontline carers at St Monica Trust who related how wristbands were almost always removed by people with dementia. Together, Jacqui and I recognised the huge potential of the innovation to positively benefit people with dementia, their families, and the care sector at large – and so founded Milbotix.

How has SETsquared Bristol support helped?

The support Milbotix has received from SETsquared Bristol has been absolutely invaluable. We’ve benefitted from:

  1. The Investor Readiness Programme delivered by Entrepreneur in Residence, Olivia Champion.
  2. Excellent workshops covering a range of hugely useful topics (IP, R&D tax credits, the role of the board etc.)
  3. Networking opportunities and the enjoyment of a community of like-minded founders and advisers.
  4. Pro-bono professional advice from Advisers in Residence including VWV and Corrigan, which has been amazing.
  5. SETsquared Partnership’s Scale Up Programme which provided fully funded grant writing support leading to Innovate UK awards worth £850k. We also made excellent use of fully funded interns recruited through Scale Up.

What funding have you raised?

Milbotix has been awarded £1.15m in non-dilutive funding including a £96k quasi-equity investment from Alzheimer’s Society, the UK’s leading dementia charity. We’re now raising £500k to match grants with £240k committed so far.

We are seeking passionate, impact-oriented investors to help us revolutionise how dementia care is delivered. Investing in Milbotix offers the prospect of an attractive return whilst helping to address challenges arising from a globally ageing population. The grant awards, coupled with the increased SEIS allowance from April, means there has never been a better time to invest. Please get in touch if you would like to share our journey to revolutionise dementia care, globally.

What advice would you give to other healthtech researchers looking to start a business?

Bristol is a fantastic place to start a healthtech company! Be sure to leverage the amazing networks and resources available, particularly through the universities. These include: SETsquared Bristol, Runway, the New Enterprise Competition at the University of Bristol, Future Space, the West of England Academic Health Science Network, Medilink South West, UWE’s Health Tech Hub, RIFBristol, and funding opportunities at UWE.

What’s next for Milbotix?

We launched a SmartSocks™ pilot in April with Cranfield University, funded by Innovate UK. We’re excited to be progressing through to evaluations with care homes soon, whilst also hopefully closing our investment round, with a view to launching our first product early next year!

Photography credit: St Monica Trust

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