HeartLab is a tech start-up with a vision to transform cardiology. For its Nelson-born 22-year-old co-founder Will Hewitt, it’s all about getting the world’s doctors away from their computers and back in front of their patients.
Launched in 2018 at the Auckland Bioengineering Institute, where Hewitt (pictured) was an applied mathematics student at the University of Auckland, the company builds artificial intelligence (AI) tools that assist doctors to diagnose and treat heart disease.
Backed by funding from Icehouse Ventures and US venture capital firm Founders Fund, HeartLab has made significant progress, operates at a number of sites in New Zealand, and is currently entering both the Australian and US markets.
For Will, the realisation that they were onto a winner with their technology wasn’t the first time a customer purchased their software. “Back then it was still very much a work in progress and they were buying into the vision as much as they were buying what it could do that day,” he recalls.
“The realisation kicked in when they first said to us ‘wow, this tool is seriously changing things for us’.”
Raising capital for a new tech venture will always be tough, admits Will. “And to be fair, it probably always should be tough to convince people to give you large sums of money.
“Thankfully we’ve had a pretty straight-forward journey raising capital to date, and it’s promising to see the amount of new funds entering New Zealand, which provides founders with more options.”
A world of opportunity
HeartLab’s founder acknowledges that New Zealand has a handful of tech companies with an outsized global impact. It’s their firm intention to become one too.
“With its tax, and other, incentives New Zealand probably has one of the more favourable jurisdictions to build new technology,” says Will. “However, I believe the biggest challenge for New Zealand is building and attracting the same talent pool as other tech hubs [around the world].”
He is especially grateful to Peter Hunter of the Auckland Bioengineering Institute, for getting HeartLab to where it is today. “Peter was one of my first supporters and he created an environment where I was able to start building HeartLab. “I’d also like to thank Diane Siew and the Icehouse Ventures team, who were early backers.”
HeartLab received the very first investment by Outset Ventures, a collaboration between Icehouse Ventures and Level Two. LevelTwo happened to be the major backer of Rocket Lab and biotech start-up LanzaTech in the early days – two companies that have gone on to become global leaders in their fields.
For now, the future is highly promising for HeartLab. “We’ve built an incredible product and we want to bring it to more and more doctors,” says Will.
He has to pinch himself sometimes to believe the potential that their venture offers, and the journey he is on personally with HeartLab.
“I knew I wanted to do something in health, but never in my wildest dreams did I imagine being here.”
This article is an extract from a story originally featured in the 2022 August Quarterly edition of NZBusiness magazine.