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Embracing innovation

Embracing innovation
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Embracing innovation

What’s so special about “embracing innovation”, you might think. Isn’t that what all of us are doing every day already? Well, it is… and then, it isn’t. Not all of us are effectively embracing innovation in the same way. At least, that’s what I experienced recently when finding out about the Ghent-based start-up Zembro. It quickly became clear they rose up to the challenge in the most literal sense: they developed the Zembro smartwatch.

Zembro’s story is one about drive, passion & creativity to translate technology into a solution that fits human needs. It’s a story about a company with a social mission, yet leveraging technology to create business success.

Silicon Valley is where the story begins

And late 2013 is when it begins, with a group of Flemish CEO’s and entrepreneurs undertaking a business trip in Silicon Valley.  Headquartering Fortune 1000 high-tech companies like Apple,  Google, Intel, Netflix, or Tesla Motors, Silicon Valley is the place to be for anyone interested in disruptive innovation. Silicon Valley fully assumes its role as an incubator of disruptive technologies, providing a start-up ecosystem for high-tech innovation and development.

Therefore, it’s really not that surprising that the group traveling in Silicon Valley got infected by the climate and decided to extend the momentum built up during their many visits and discussions. Fully taking up the challenge of embracing innovation, they created their own start-up Zembro with a clear goal to combine entrepreneurship with a social dimension.

Zembro’s corporate mission is to connect generations such that they are empowered to care for each other in the best way possible. Zembro is not a technology company, but it recognises digital technologies as the lever par excellence to succeed in its mission.

The Zembro bracelet is the very first product they are bringing to the market, but – and here, I’m citing Zembro people – their dreams are manifold.

Connecting generations through the internet

The Zembro bracelet is an elegant and easy-to-use smartwatch for elderly people that wirelessly connects them with their younger relatives. Thanks to a companion smartphone app, younger relatives are immediately notified when things go wrong.

Don’t we all know that feeling of anxiety when our parents or grandparents are getting older? And even if nowadays elderly people can perfectly take care of themselves for much longer than used to be the case, the inevitable is bound to happen sooner or later. A brief moment of inattention, a dizzy spell,… that’s all it takes to make a painful fall.

And that’s exactly the kind of situation where the Zembro bracelet comes in as extremely helpful, allowing the elder to get in touch with younger relatives at all times.

Translating technology into simplicity and elegance

It’s a long road from concept to product. And it doesn’t get any shorter when the idea is to have elderly people embrace digital technology. Wisely, Zembro decided not to rush things and to cooperate with both IMEC (headquartered in Leuven, and internationally renowned for the research it performs in different fields of nano-electronics) and GBO (a Benelux-based design office) to design a wearable that fits the needs of elderly people. From the very start, a number of clear objectives  were defined to ensure that the final product is fit for purpose:

  • the bracelet to-be-designed needs to be beautiful and elegant, almost an object of desire, to be worn with pride.
  • the wearable needs to be suited to all kinds of active recreation, including biking and swimming. To put it even stronger: elderly people should have no excuse whatsoever for not wearing it – not even while sleeping, bathing or showering.
  • use of the bracelet should be self-explaining. No complex installation or configuration, but true “wear and play”.
  • and last but not least, the wearable should give no reason to be perceived as stigmatising.

Peace of mind at all times

The Zembro bracelet, recently released into the market, proves to be an easy-to-use smartwatch that can be used throughout the whole of Europe (just like any mobile phone, but without the need for a separate SIM card).  One push of a button activates its clock function, while pressing its screen during 4 seconds will activate the alarm. That will inform family and friends who have installed the companion app on their smartphone.

Upon activation of the alarm, the Zembro wearer can easily communicate with his relatives just by talking to the bracelet. In case of an emergency, the exact location of the person wearing the smartwatch can be determined at all times thanks to the embedded GPS.

Also nice to know is that the Zembro bracelet is entirely waterproof, which ensures it can effectively be used under all circumstances, 7/7. With a battery capacity of 10 days or more, there’s absolutely no reason to take it off during the night for recharging the battery (which is really important, knowing that the risk of falling when getting out of bed increases with age).

We are talking about more than a product 

Most of us have got used to updating smartphone or tablet apps, even to the extent that it has become a habit. Within the context of the Internet of Things (IoT), such updates are also becoming applicable to many other products. Just think, for example, about the software update that was recently announced for the Tesla Model S. That update simply upgraded the car with an entirely new autopilot function.

We will undoubtedly see more of this. Products will no longer remain limited by the features they have at the actual time of purchase, but will incrementally provide new capabilities throughout their lifetime. Products-As-A-Service (or PAAS): it’s a very interesting concept, and it’s one that will potentially redefine quite a few business models.

People at Zembro have understood this concept well, and have a clear strategy for upgrading the Zembro bracelet with new functions. Right now, they are developing a capability that will help the bracelet wearer to remember when medication must be taken. Machine learning technologies will also be added in future so as to analyse the habits of the bracelet wearer. Suppose your mother goes to the market every Thursday morning, then the Zembro bracelet will be able to record and recognise such fixed time patterns. By itself, it will diagnose this kind of activity as perfectly normal – unless your mother would go to the market place in the middle of the night. Being alarmed by such inconsistent behaviour, the Zembro smartwatch will send you a warning that something is going on that may require your immediate attention.


Made in Flanders

Inspired by what happens in Silicon Valley, the Zembro bracelet is a nice example of innovative digital product development in the Flanders region. But obviously, a lot more is happening in this part of the world.

iMinds, Flanders’ digital research & entrepreneurship hub, recently announced that it hits the European Top-10 of university business incubators for the second consecutive year. It is not just encouraging to have this kind of research centres within our part of the world, it is also absolutely vital if we have the ambition to remain among the world’s leading technology innovators.

It’s equally vital to have start-ups like Zembro translate technology into successful fit-for-purpose products. While being a company with a social mission in the first place, Zembro is embracing innovation to change the way people connect. Thereby it proves that “technology” and “business” needn’t be at odds with a social company mission. Apart from the necessary funding it does however require vision, passion and a lot of creativity to make this happen.

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