Hugsy, a Dutch startup that's developing a 'smart' blanket designed to help the care of newborns and premature babies, has raised €200k (~$220k) in seed funding via the Leapfunder European angel investor network.
The blanket started out as a student project nearly two years ago, when CEO and co-founder Sylvie Claes was studying for her MSc in industrial design at the Eindhoven University of Technology.
"The idea came from a collaboration between the local hospital NICU Maxima Medical Center (MMC) in Veldhoven and the Eindhoven university of technology as MMC was looking for ways to improve patient comfort, and asked the team of industrial designers if they could design something to support those vulnerable babies," explains COO Jody van den Tillaart.
This March the team incorporated as a business, after going through the hardware-focused HighTechXL accelerator program in Eindhoven.
Development on the product has mostly been self-funded thus far. Prior to the seed they'd taken in €15k via the accelerator.
The aim with the new funding is to get a first product into the local market by spring 2018 (and thereafter other markets in Europe, followed by North America) -- in the first instance as a home care product for babies up to three months old and/or to help parents that are transitioning a premature baby from a hospital incubator to a crib at home.
They're also working on a version of the blanket specifically for hospitals for the care of premature babies -- though this is slated to come later, as they expand their clinical trials with additional hospitals.
The core concept behind the blanket is that premature babies especially benefit from a type of skin-to-skin care contact known as kangaroo care, where exposure to the heat, smell and feeling of a parent's skin, including the rhythm of their heartbeat, has been shown to be beneficial for young babies -- as a way to relieve stress, promote deeper sleep and boost their development in a variety of ways.
The problem is parents and hospital carers aren't necessarily in a position to provide kangaroo care for long periods of time -- so the idea is for Hugsy to at least simulate the calming experience of being held by a parent.
The smart blanket includes a heartbeat module, while the blanket is designed to be a supportive wrap which, once tucked around the baby, evokes a parent's warmth and embrace.
"We recreate these key elements by providing babies with their mothers smell, heartbeat, and feeling of being hugged," says van den Tillaart. "The blanket supports kangaroo care moments between mother and baby and is used as a supportive wrap that absorbs a mother's smell during kangaroo care.
"The heartbeat module records a mother's unique heartbeat with our algorithm and translates it into a realistic heartbeat sound and vibration. In the crib, the blanket and heartbeat module are used in combination to provide these elements of a mother's presence even when she can't be nearby."
While the product is an MVP at this stage, van den Tillaart says the team has additional ideas to expand a product portfolio looping in additional Internet of Things devices in future.
"We are planning to create next generation hugsies with IoT applications and more connectivity to other devices," she adds.