Singularity University and the Health Global Grand Challenge

Darlene Damm
Jan 21, 2019

Health impacts each of us on a personal level and is also a major cornerstone of the well-being of society and our economy. Globally, while some health challenges are getting worse, overall, people are living longer lives. In the United States, the healthcare sector is now the largest employer, and globally, healthcare is poised to become a nearly $9 trillion industry by 2020.Health is one of Singularity University’s global grand challenges. In particular, at Singularity University we are striving to use exponential technologies to create a world with “optimal physical and mental health, including access to cost-effective prevention, early diagnosis, and personalized therapy for individuals and communities.” As our Vice Chair of Global Grand Challenges, I wanted to share with you some of the positive impact that our community’s work is having on the health global grand challenge around the world.

Exponential Medicine catalyzes the future of health and medicine

In 2011, Singularity University Faculty Chair of Medicine, Dr. Daniel Kraft, founded the four-day immersive conference Exponential Medicine. This annual conference brings together not only clinicians but also innovators, startups, investors, executives, and world-class faculty to learn and share about the most cutting-edge solutions in healthcare.The conference covers breakthrough developments and rapidly scaling technologies including 3D printing, personalized stem cell lines, point-of-care lab-on-a-chip diagnostics, robotics, augmented intelligence, machine learning, large-scale bioinformatics, synthetic biology, low-cost genomics, gene editing, blockchain, and more. Over the years it has become a leading forum for infusing exponential mindsets and moonshot thinking into the healthcare sector as well as for bringing together a unique set of people ranging from medical doctors to startup entrepreneurs and policymakers. You can check out over 150 talks from past conferences that are now available online and free to the public.

Science lab

Our faculty are addressing health from all sides

At Singularity University, we have a large number of faculty who are working on distinct aspects of the health global grand challenge. In addition to Dr. Daniel Kraft’s accomplishments cited above, check out the work of Faculty Director and Vice Chair of Medicine and Digital Biology Dr. Tiffany Vora, who regularly speaks about digitization of genes and other biological materials and the implications for programming life on healthcare and society; or Neuroscience Chair Dr. Divya Chander, who explores bionic brains and how technology can help us better understand consciousness; or Digital Biology Chair Raymond McCauley, who explores genomics, gene editing, systems biology and personalized medicine not only in human healthcare, but also agriculture and other forms of life that impact humanity.Additionally, other faculty harness other aspects of health and wellness. Lucien Engelen (SingularityU Benelux) covers a broad range of health topics, Dr. Michael Gillam explores big data and medicine, Jos Joore (SingularityU Benelux) focuses on healthcare on a chip, and Dr. Sonny Kohli (SingularityU Canada) is an expert in wearable medical devices. Kim Hulett (SingularityU South Africa) founded a company in biobanking, biologics, and genetics and also brings a background in finance and regulation to the discussion; Dr. Thomas Zoega Ramsoy (SingularityU Nordics) works on applied neuroscience; Dr. Kausar Samli brings a strong background in digital biology and entrepreneurship to the conversation; and Andrew Hessel covers synthetic biology, including digital biology and nanotechnology as well as innovations in open-source efforts.Moreover, several faculty members have developed tools to help us better “see” and understand our bodies, and to treat and manage our health challenges. Christopher De Charms and Dr. Roeland Dietvorst (SingularityU Benelux) work in neuroimaging equipment, Dr. Ramesh Raskar focuses on computational photography, and David Bolinsky is a pioneer in the field of digital medical illustration. These powerful digital tools will follow Moore’s Law, rapidly scaling and improving in sophistication, and spreading to all corners of the globe.

Doctors examining a brain scan

Several faculty are ensuring that healthcare innovations reach lower-income countries and marginalized groups. Dr. Eric Rasmussen focuses on global health, disaster response, and global health policy. Valter Adao (SingularityU South Africa) focuses on ways that public-private partnerships can improve health outcomes in Africa. Elie Calhoun explores health, wellness, and equity in a world of exponential change, including powerful work on how technology can support survivors of sexual assault.Other faculty focus on specific health challenges or diseases. Dr. Aubrey de Grey, Dr. Kris Verburgh, (SingularityU Benelux) along with Singularity University co-founders Dr. Peter Diamandis and Ray Kurzweil, are known for their work in longevity. Dr.Habib Frost (SingularityU Nordics) works on heart health, and Dr. Philip Edgcumbe (SingularityU Canada) is driving innovation in Alzheimer’s disease, in particular by collaborating with XPRIZE on ending Alzheimer’s.Our faculty are speaking not only to Silicon Valley audiences but also at our programs and Summits around the world. In addition, our faculty and other experts have written hundreds of articles on the future of healthcare on Singularity Hub, all of which are freely available to the public.

Our startups and alumni are building moonshot solutions

Singularity also works with and guides startups innovating in health. While some of these companies joined us as portfolio companies, others came to SU as very early-stage innovators who were winners of Global Impact Challenges or who applied to our Global Startup Program or Incubator. Here are some examples of their impressive work.Active For Good encourages people who are exercising to log the calories that they burn; in exchange, the company provides malnourished children with food. So far, over 395,000 people have supported over 18,000 children with over 2.7 million life-saving nutrition packets. Our Active For Good case study explains how SU helped the co-founders conceptualize their work as an impact business and develop plans to expand their customer base, improve the technology experience, and aggressively scale their business.


Basepaws created the first genetics kit for pet cats, with the goal of both improving cat health and research on human diseases. In our Basepaws case study, you’ll see how SU helped Basepaws build a minimum viable product three times faster than typical biotech startups, attract a sizable customer base, and develop a plan to attract investors.Be My Eyes has over 1.8 million sighted people volunteering their time to help over 100,000 blind and low-vision people navigate their environments via their smartphones. Read our case study to learn how SU worked with the founders to find the right business model to grow and support a global ecosystem.Braincare, a Brazilian startup, developed the first non-invasive technology to measure pressure inside the skull. It was founded by Sergio Mascarenhas, who at 90 years old was unhappy with his own medical treatment and invented a solution with his students. Our case study documents how SU Ventures helped Braincare’s leaders realize a new approach as an impact-focused company and refine its mission to focus on its real innovation: the sensor technology and the data it gathers.Clinic AI is creating smart bathrooms using non-invasive sensor networks and AI to help people track their health and wellness and detect early-stage diseases.Cuida Health has created “Lisa,” a voice assistant designed for the social well-being of older adults that is compatible with Echo and Google Home.Human Longevity Inc. is a health intelligence company helping people address aging and illness by providing them with data and insights on their genotypic and phenotypic data.IRIS AI uses artificial intelligence to conduct scientific research across a number of disciplines. The company has been able to reduce research time by 90% while also helping people access information they might not normally come across by performing research on their own.Janus Choice is building an easy-to-use platform to better match patients with post-acute care providers using over 3,000 points of data.Key2Enable, developed in Brazil, has created smart keyboards for people with cerebral palsy, tremors, Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, Down Syndrome, Autism, and other motor, physical, or intellectual disabilities allowing for autonomy and efficiency when navigating the digital world for work, communicating, study, and play.Matternet, which pioneered the idea of drone transport for medical goods, has delivered more than 850 blood and pathology specimens in Switzerland as well as tested their technology around the world with the World Health Organization and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).Miroculus has re-imagined the paradigm of laboratory testing, so that high quality science can be practiced anywhere in the world. The company provides accurate, affordable, and minimally invasive molecular testing.Muzi is using smartphones to provide low-cost, convenient, rapid diagnostic tests for HIV in South Africa and to gather data for health records and epidemiological studies in low-income countries.MZP, an Argentine startup, develops microtechnology and embedded systems to manipulate and detect small samples of fluids using portable devices for medical diagnostics.

Test tubes

Nexleaf Analytics improves global health by deploying sensors and capturing data to ensure that services, such as vaccine refrigeration and delivery, are working in the field and having the intended impact. Our case study shares how SU provided access to the tools, experts, and resources necessary to help the founders grow the company and increase its impact in developing nations.Ourotech is helping cancer patients initially access the best treatments by testing tumors and potential drug resistance in advance. Our Ourotech case study describes how SU helped the founders make valuable connections, secure funding, and develop a plan to bring their revolutionary late-stage tumor testing solution to market.Nextbiotics works on genetically engineering viruses for good using CRISPR technology. The company’s first product is exploring viruses for overcoming antibiotic resistance.Nutrigene is creating liquid supplements based on people’s unique metabolic needs.X2AI has built a chatbot to improve mental health. Within two weeks the chatbot is able to help people “get back on their feet” and can reduce depression by 13% and anxiety and stress by 18%. Over four million people have paid to access their services. Read the case study to learn how SU helped connect the founders with experts to refine Tess, help her scale, and get her to market faster to begin making a real and positive difference in the world.

Our global innovation ecosystem is thriving

In addition to our faculty and startups, SU also works with large companies, governments, institutions, and others to improve health. For example, you can check out our work with Bayer on digital innovation in healthcare models and improving health and nutrition.We also have a significant number of alumni who graduate from our programs and then go on to launch new initiatives together. For example, SU alumni Michael Fichardt and Nick Walker created One Bio, a new biotech incubator in South Africa that offers investment capital, lab facilities, mentorship, science and business incubation, and a residency program. You can apply to participate if you have a company, an idea, or some IP you believe could be built into a biotech business.Two other SU alumni, Sara Naseri and Søren Therkelsen, formed Qurasense, which has created a smart menstrual pad that aims to detect biomarkers for hormones, vitamins, minerals, HR-HPV, cancer, and other diseases. The company has conducted trials in Zimbabwe and the United States and currently have an open trial in San Diego, California which is accepting applications. In addition, SU alumnus and member of the SingularityU Recife Brazil Chapter leadership team Onicio Neto founded Epitrack to help quickly identify and respond to disease outbreaks and epidemics. Finally, SU alumni Alicia Chong Rodriguez and Monica Abarca built the Bloomer Bra to help track women’s heart health. These examples constitute a small sampling of some of the efforts of our alumni and community who now number close to 200,000 people.

Looking forward

As we look into the future, one of the most exciting trends I am seeing is the diverse background of people now innovating in the health sector. Our faculty and participants come from all corners of the world and from a variety of professional fields and life experiences. As the tools to research, innovate, and build new solutions scales and democratizes, we will see a further unleashing of creativity and solutions in the health arena that will likely benefit many of us personally as well as advance the field overall.On this note, I would like to end by highlighting the work of SU faculty, astronaut, and entrepreneur Dr. Yvonne Cagle, who works at the intersection of medicine and space exploration. In her recent TedX talk called the “Poetry of Space on Earth” she shares her thoughts about the importance of bringing diverse voices to fields of work, building bridges, recognizing the genius in diversity, and how this diversity is what makes us human. As we head into a future of unknowns, with humans integrating more closely with technology—especially in the field of space exploration—she speaks about how our humanity will play a crucial role in navigating our collective future and purpose.Sometimes the answers to the future are best found by looking to some of the most inspiring movements of human progress in the past.