Their Break: ‘Entrepreneurship allowed me to help people’ – CEO of Beats Medical Ciara Clancy
02nd Jul 2018
The Pitch backs business women that are shaping the working world. Women that defy the odds, that believe in their brand and that push their businesses to the top. As part of The Pitch, our partnership with Samsung, we’re shining a light on women who are inspiring others and learning more about how they got ‘Their Break’.
CEO of Beats Medical Ciara Clancy was never a natural entrepreneur; she just wanted to help people. Working as a physiotherapist with people with Parkinson’s disease for many years, she saw how slow and frustrating the treatment could be for patients. In founding Beats Medical, she found a way to pair new technology and the accessibility of smartphones with years of research into neurological conditions to help thousands of people with the disease. As part of the Their Break series, we chatted technology, the power of stories and why the ocean is the perfect stress reliever.
What was your big break?
I remember the exact moment that was the lightbulb to start Beats Medical. I was working as a physiotherapist and a patient of mine who had Parkinson’s disease was 20 minutes late for his appointment. I went out to investigate and found him at the front door to the hospital frozen in place, unable to move forward. He was coming in for a treatment called metronome therapy, which is like musical therapy, that sends out beats or soundwaves which signals the feet to move again, overcoming this freezing on the spot. But the problem was, despite nearly 50 years of research behind the therapy, it was only available in hospitals and it was individually tailored daily; each beat was different every day, so it was all very slow moving. I really felt after all these years of working as a physiotherapist that I was still falling short of having that impact that I wanted. The patients were still struggling, and I wanted them to be able to walk well with ease at home. That’s when I thought that what if we could take research and advancements in smartphone technology and bring it into the home. What if we could allow people with Parkinson’s to take control of symptoms at home? From there, Beats Medical was born – well, that sounds quite simple! It really took two years of research and development to figure out how to do that, but when we did, the results were immediate.
Have you always wanted to own your own business?
Absolutely not! I see myself as an accidental entrepreneur. I wasn’t the kind of kid setting up lemonade stands on the corner, always coming up with business ideas. All I really wanted was to help people. The careers presented to me were things like physiotherapy, nursing and healthcare, so I pursued that. But what I didn’t know then, and I think this has changed a lot since I was young, is that entrepreneurship could allow me to help people on a greater scale than I could have as a physiotherapist. As a physio, I could have helped maybe 10-15 people a day in a clinic. In Beats, I can help tens of thousands every single day. It’s a dream come true but a dream I didn’t even imagine when I was a kid.
What piece of technology is your business most reliant on?
Definitely the mobile phone. Our therapies are powered by it. I really believe that the advancements in mobile technology are what made Beats Medical possible. Take, for example, sensors in mobile phones, and in particular speech sensors and speech recognition. We were able to build on their advancements and take those sensors and apply them to speech therapy. Now we offer speech therapy in the app which patients had been requesting for months before the technology was ready. The smarter the technology out there gets, the smarter ours does too and the more we can apply it to new projects and new therapies.
Do you enjoy keeping up with new technological advancements?
Yes! I’m a really big podcast fan, and anything to do with tech, advancements, developments etc, I love. It’s a great way to gain knowledge on the go. Anything about business and design thinking, there’s a lot you can learn, especially with a busy schedule, as podcasts are perfect for that. Anything that enables the business to do more is really important to me.
What makes you bounce out of bed in the morning?
The people we meet and the stories we hear. Our users continue to inspire us with what they achieve with our technology all the time. We recently had a patient who had been unable to write for a year or two then wrote us a Christmas card to say thank you for their treatment. It could be someone who was able to run a marathon, or just someone who was able to walk to the shop again. How could you get up and not want to make more of an impact like that and be so excited about the future?
Have you ever had any doubts or felt like quitting?
For me, quitting was never an option. Admittedly, entrepreneurship has its challenges and is a rollercoaster but I think it’s really important to have resilence. And I think what helps with that, for me anyway, is when you have a bigger vision to work towards. When you’re tyring to build something important, you know it won’t come easy, but if you keep that vision in your head all the time, you can draw strength from it and everything else pales in comparison. Like I said, having good feedback from users and continuing to understand the impact we have and the impact we could have on them, that gets me through when times get tough. There’s so much work to still be done.
What’s the most rewarding part of owning your own business?
Again, it’s definitely the users around it and that we have a social impact. We’re preparing to launch a new product for children with neurological conditions within the next few months and it’s been incredible to hear stories from families and kids who have already been impacted. I’m so excited to launch all of that soon and work on it. It’s so motivating and I’m really lucky to have a team that are all so passionate to change lives and help expand our service to help people.
What does success look like to you?
There are over a billion people in the world with neurological conditions. It’s an issue that we’ll all be affected with, directly or indirectly, and it’s very important for someone affected to be given the tools to take control and to use their speech, their hand movements, their independence for as long as they can. This is something that’s really important to me, and something that I want Beats Medical to play a role in, and to help these people for years to come.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
From a business perspective, we’re hoping to expand our scope beyond Parkinson’s, which we’re already doing, and to continue to do that. I think we’ll be staying in neurological conditions because the issue is so big and there’s so much work to be done. On a personal level, I hope I’ll be able to look back on my work and be content with having achieved what we’ve set out to do. I really think you should always look forward and I hope in five years time, we’re as forward thinking as we are now.
What do you do to relax?
I actually love being by the ocean, so I try to get out there as much as I can, whether it’s the occasional surf or swimming a bit more frequently. I do yoga a few times a week, usually mornings or else it won’t fit into my schedule! I also used to dance a lot, so I’m trying to do that as much as possible too.
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