Thomas Thuijsman © Relai
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The corona crisis is hitting the economy hard but where most people are reluctant to start a new business, the founders of start-up Relai came to the Chamber of Commerce in good spirits. Thomas Thuijsman, co-founder: “We were even laughed at. They told us our timing was rather unorthodox.”

Relai supports companies with expertise and knowledge in the field of AI (Artificial Intelligence). “During the crisis, we added the medical sector as our focus. Because that is precisely where there is a big demand. We see this mainly in two areas: innovation within existing methods and relieving the pressure on healthcare. One example is when AI can help predict when patients need to be referred to the doctor, based on digital care, the so-called e-health solutions.”

Better understanding of a disease

The founders started the company because they saw that IT companies were not thinking enough about the real performance of their products. Thuijsman: “IT companies make decisions based on their products and not on customer demand”, says Thuijsman. What they need to know is if the customer has been helped with the product. For example, a customer offers an e-health solution via an app to patients with a chronic illness. These users are now asked to answer questions on a weekly basis, and from this, a picture emerges. That’s fine. With the help of artificial intelligence, however, you can go a few steps further. Based on data, you could predict when a patient will become ill, even before they realize it. You can then estimate who will and will not be referred to a hospital, thus relieving the pressure on the care personnel. In short, we think along with companies about their problems and then see whether AI is the solution. If that is indeed the case, we will start with an implementation process on the basis of a step-by-step plan.”

For example, Relai now works with Radboudumc to see whether and how it can be predicted which patients need to be referred to the intensive care. “We do this with a dataset that is unique in the world, which is very cool! But there’s much more. We also help an international company, Howden, with predictive maintenance on the industrial cooling fans they build. In addition, we help a few companies to set out a roadmap on their way to AI.”

The need for e-health solutions

Yet, the first weeks of the crisis were not easy for Relai either. “We already had conversations with potential clients. However, due to the uncertainty, no orders were received. They were all put on hold. After a few weeks, we decided to focus more on the medical sector. In that sector, there was a great demand and need for e-health solutions. In our view, AI can play a major role in this. That choice worked out well. After the first few weeks, we noticed that there were more projects in other sectors as well. The fear of corona’s economic damage ebbed away and people started to find us – digitally, that is.”

Thuijsman noticed around him that some companies were unable to invest due to the crisis. “Other companies are struggling but see AI as a long-term investment. In addition, especially in the medical sector, there are companies that are doing very well, we notice.”

“AI can save lives”

According to Thuijsman, AI is of vital importance. “It has the potential to predict situations. In the medical sector, it can save lives by sending patients to the doctor early or by recognizing breast cancer in a mammogram. In other sectors, it provides efficiency, great cost savings, and greater ease of use.”

AI will not replace people like a doctor, says Thuijsman. “However, the combination of AI with a medical specialist can provide more accurate and faster choices. This allows doctors to focus on the part of their work where they can add the most value. We believe there is still a lot of untapped potential in medical innovations. AI can play a leading role in this.”