By Brigette Currin 6 minute read

Last year, Boots UK discovered Norfolk-based tech company, Wiggly Amps, had the capabilities they needed to successfully drive forward their healthcare agenda. As part of an acquisition deal, the remaining healthcare-focused products and services previously delivered by Wiggly Amps are now owned and delivered by two new companies, Engage Health Systems and Little Green Button. Managing Director, Jon Witte, introduces these two new companies and explains why he believes the future is rosy for healthcare and technology.

Hi Jon, congratulations on the acquisition by Boots UK! Before we ask about your new ventures, can you take us back to the beginning – how did it all start?

 Most companies, particularly in the tech sphere, do everything and anything to start with, and as time goes on, get more focused and find the thing they’re actually good at. Wiggly Amps was born in July 2000 when I left the Royal Air Force. It began with a friend. We did all sorts of weird things to begin with, but we fell into NHS and healthcare at an early stage when a GP friend asked for help with internal communications at his surgery. We designed something to fix their problem.

Pivoting is a way of life in tech businesses. What you’re doing today isn’t necessarily even what you’ll be doing tomorrow. The challenge lies in knowing how much to invest in what you’re actually doing. It costs to develop stuff, so you have to figure out what will work.

Last December, Wiggly Amps was acquired by Boots UK. What was that process like?

Boots UK approached us in September 2018, and we completed the deal just before Christmas. It happened super-fast. We essentially had some capabilities that Boots needed for patient facing services. Boots wanted to use our capabilities for their business-to-consumer (B2C) offering. We’re a business-to-business (B2B) company, so we’ve never really made much headway in that area, however I’m sure Boots will make our stuff fly.

We’re still working with Boots to help them integrate the IP they acquired – we hope to have a long and fruitful relationship with them going forward. We’re helping them navigate how our product sits, and continues to sit, with theirs. There’s a lot of moving parts at the moment.

Tell us about the two new companies – both separate entities to Boots UK – that have been created following the acquisition.

In the healthcare space we still have a strong presence. As Engage Health Systems, we continue to design and manufacture hardware and software that saves GPs and nurses time by allowing patients to self-serve. Our digital solutions can be used to ask patients health-related questions and even integrate with other devices, such as medical scales and blood pressure monitors. We are still seeing strong growth in that particular market.

We have recently put a bid in for Norfolk and Waveney to develop solutions for online consultations. This will integrate nicely with medical systems used by healthcare professionals to manage patient workload. Patients and staff will be able to make an appointment, interact securely online, and send information to clinicians. We already have a couple of big wins around the country, where we are covering over one million patients – and are continuing to expand.

Following the acquisition, we also separated out our software as a service (SaaS) panic alarm system, the Little Green Button. This is predominantly for desktop use and allows people to request assistance. It’s suitable for any organisation with a public facing arm. A receptionist, for example, can double click an icon on the desktop to alert peers they need assistance. It results in a very rapid response from colleagues and is cheaper and more flexible than fixed installation systems. It started off in the NHS but has grown out quite markedly – we now do more non-healthcare than healthcare with it. We have 54,984 buttons reporting in at the moment world-wide. We’re seeing strong growth, which is one of the reasons we split it out as a separate company, so we can give it the focus it needs.

How will technology affect the healthcare sector? And what are patients’ attitudes towards this?

 The future for healthcare and tech is rosy. There’s lots of opportunities. The biggest hinderance to healthcare and IT is access to, and communication with, interfaces and data. Despite new frameworks mandating open interfaces, some of the incumbent providers are less than open to doing what is required. Opening up information – in all fields – but particularly in healthcare, has the possibility of making real difference to society.

Patients’ comfort and attitudes to adopting online services are proving very interesting – it’s variable. The benefits are that they can get an answer more quickly. If you have a rash, for instance, you don’t need to wait three weeks for an appointment. You can take a photo, send it to the surgery, where it will be triaged, and you will receive a fast response. Online services can also direct patients to localised resources, such as pharmacies, using the NHS directory of services. This can reduce the strain on general practice.

You’ve been working out of Norfolk for nearly twenty years, first with Wiggly Amps, and now with Engage Health Systems and Little Green Button. What keeps you here?

It’s a great part of the world. We can find good quality people and offer them engaging work. The team are brilliant – I would clone a few if I could! Our overheads are lower than they would be in London or Cambridge. You can run this sort of business from anywhere, although I wouldn’t be comfortable offshoring things due to the information and security governing medical information. We want to do it right and do it well – and we can do that here quite happily.

What do you gain from being a Tech East member?

We all need to find an environment to work and play. It allows us to work with the people in the area – other tech businesses in the east have similar pressures and requirements. They’re not competition as we all operate in difference spheres.

We’re also keen to support an environment where tech can flourish. If you create the right environment, and it’s supported by industry, national and local government, it will come. We know you can create fantastic and awesome things here. You don’t have to live in a metropolis. There’s lots of talent that we can get out of the woods and into the spotlight. If we can keep the presence up, we will attract more talent to the area. Good people will want opportunities to progress through organisations, and we want there to be those options here.

The embassy down in London is really useful for us too. When you are based in a rural area and need to meet customers and suppliers in the big city, it makes life a lot easier. It’s a huge plus. For us, it’s just a case of really keeping everyone engaged and talking.