An Ottawa entrepreneur whose firm was recently acquired says the deal will help his platform that remotely connects patients with therapists and loved ones find its way into more hospitals and care homes across North America and the U.K.
Michel Paquet’s company, Aetonix, makes a videoconferencing system called aTouchAway that allows users to securely communicate with health-care workers and family members at the touch of a screen, without having to enter a password or log on to a website. Messages are encrypted to ensure patient data is protected and files are deleted after 72 hours to protect users’ privacy.
Founded seven years ago, the company got off the ground with funding from Paquet’s family and friends and later landed a couple of angel investment rounds. It’s been part of Invest Ottawa’s startup ecosystem for years and earned a spot in the Canadian Technology Accelerator, a program from Global Affairs Canada’s Trade Commissioner Service that helps companies tap into foreign markets.
Aimed at patients suffering from heart disease and conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Aetonix’s system is now found in more than 250 hospitals in Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. and has more than 30,000 users.
Virtual care platform
About two years ago, Aetonix began working with ProResp, a subsidiary of London, Ont.-based medical equipment manufacturer Trudell Medical that provides respiratory therapy to patients in their homes. ProResp adapted aTouchAway for use as a virtual care platform, allowing therapists to treat patients remotely.
“They really liked the product,” Paquet says.
Trudell had been looking to enter the digital health-care market and saw Aetonix as a perfect partner to help it establish an instant foothold in the space.
The two sides started talking about a deal last summer, and the transaction was finalized on Feb. 1. Financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed.
Like Aetonix, Trudell’s main markets are in Canada, the U.S. and the U.K., but the company also has a presence in many other countries.
"From our side, it gives us an opportunity to reach markets that we’ve never reached before."
“From our side, it gives us an opportunity to reach markets that we’ve never reached before,” Paquet says. “This is just a dream come true.”
The deal is the latest chapter in a compelling story that’s played out since the beginning of 2020 for Aetonix.
The company based at Ottawa’s Bayview Yards has grown steadily for most of its existence, but really took off after Paquet paid a visit to England last January.
A couple of months later, the CEO got a call from doctors at London’s St. Thomas Hospital asking if aTouchAway could be used with patients in the hospital’s intensive care unit.
“That one (call) turned out to be the beginning of an amazing story,” says Paquet, a computer engineer who previously worked at Nortel and IBM before launching his own company.
Help from Amazon
With the help of mentors such as Invest Ottawa head Mike Tremblay, Aetonix soon forged partnerships with Amazon Web Services and British Telecom, which installed aTouchAway on customers’ tablets and other mobile devices throughout Britain. In a matter of months, its product was in the hands of close to 20,000 patients at 176 hospitals across the U.K.
Paquet, whose firm has grown from five employees to 12 in the last year while its revenues have also risen substantially, says the pandemic accelerated Aetonix’s ascent. But numbers aren’t what he’s most eager to talk about.
The entrepreneur says what brings him the most joy is making a tangible difference in users’ lives. He cites the example of a COVID-19 patient in a British intensive care unit whose wedding was conducted over aTouchAway.
“It was really awesome,” he says. “Of course you want to make money. But the biggest gift is when you see your product really changing the life of people like this. That is so rewarding. It drives the team to success.”