Information technology businesses are not just the largest group of startups in Atlantic Canada. They dwarf every other sector, accounting for almost two-thirds of all East Coast startups at the end of 2023. If there is a challenger for the most dynamic industry, it is medtech, which posted the fastest revenue growth at 168 percent, according to data from Entrevestor's 2023 Atlantic Canada Startup Data Report.

Those two statistics are significant because they reflect the relative strengths of the two sectors: IT companies tend to have a lower barrier to entry and relatively modest costs, while medtech investment tends to be more capital-intensive and slower-moving, but with better defensibility for market winners. Now, several East Coast companies are tapping into the potential of information technologies to make healthcare more accessible and flexible.

Here is a look at four Atlantic Canadian companies that are leveraging the ubiquity and affordability of software to provide healthcare outside the confines of a doctor’s office:

Parados Cerebral Solutions, Fredericton

Motion capture and exercise software startup Parados CEO Pascal McCarthy said earlier this year his company had acquired several hundred users and was ramping up business development efforts.

Parados’s software analyzes video of workers performing a variety of different movements, using machine learning to predict where a subject’s joints are located and offering medical professionals a user-friendly way to assess the risk of someone experiencing a workplace injury. It can also measure a range of biometric indicators that may point to hidden problems or potential injuries.

Crucially — since Parados’s beachhead market is professional sports teams — the app requires no special equipment and can be used outside the confines of a doctor’s office.

McCarthy, a former professional volleyball player and later a coach at the University of New Brunswick, founded Parados in 2020. His initial intention was to use sensors in mouthguards to measure the force of head impacts, such as when football players tackle each other.

Shortly after a 2021 pilot project with several professional teams, Parados pivoted to its software-focused solution, dropping the hardware component of the business in favour of better versatility.

“We’re a rapid test tool,” said McCarthy in January. “Being able to test more frequently leads to being able to address issues quicker.”

NovaResp, Halifax

In a sector in which investment dollars have traditionally been hard to come by, NovaResp CEO Hamed Hanafi said last month he believes his company has managed to secure enough funding to comfortably finish clinical trials.

Hanafi’s team closed a $3 million seed extension round in May, building on a $2 million deal from Dec. 2022, with the latest tranche of investment being led by board member Dr. Neil Smith.

NovaResp is testing artificial intelligence software compatible with any continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP machine — the medical equipment used to treat sleep apnea by forcing air into the user’s lungs. Hanafi’s system aims to predict sleep apnea events, during which a person stops breathing, and add air pressure proactively instead of reactively. The more targeted approach means the system can use less pressure, making patients more comfortable and more likely to actually use their machines.

A traditional CPAP machine is still needed in combination with the software. But the versatility of using a purely code-based approach, rather than the combination hardware and software platform Hanafi originally envisioned, allows for more flexibility in the commercialization process and means Hanafi’s technology can more easily be incorporated into existing equipment or designs.

PragmaClin Research, St. John's 

While treating Parkinson’s Disease has historically been complicated by the unsuitability of conventional telehealth solutions for the task, PragmaClin Research has developed software aimed at bridging that gap.

The company’s platform uses the cameras already installed in most electronic devices, along with a proprietary algorithm to perform remote medical assessments of people with movement disorders. Patients stand in front of a phone or laptop, for example, and perform a set of prescribed exercises. Then, the system records the motions and sends the data to a medical professional for assessment.

Founded in 2020 by Memorial University PhD candidate Bronwyn Bridges, and Gord Genge, a Parkinson’s sufferer, PragmaClin earlier this year joined the United Kingdom’s Plug and Play Health accelerator, part of an international network of similar programs.

“We’re able to do everything from sitting, to standing, walking, speech, face recognition and more,” said Bridges previously.

Sparrow Bioacoustics, St. John's 

St. John's-based Sparrow Bioacoustics recently launched Version 3 of its stethoscope app, which can now perform AI analysis of heart sounds, using only the audio from a phone’s built-in microphone.

While the AI-enabled version of the Stethophone app is so far only available in Ukraine, building on a pilot program that has involved Ukrainian cardiology clinics piloting an earlier version of the technology, an early version of Stethophone was recently approved by U.S. regulators as a Class II medical device, similar to products like blood pressure cuffs.

The technology is possible thanks to the sophisticated microphones found in modern iPhones and most mid- to high-end Android devices. And because many manufacturers source parts from the same suppliers, CEO Mark Attila Opauzsky has said previously there is significant standardization across brands.

If the quality of a recording is poor, Stethophone will prompt the user to collect more audio, and if the quality of the microphone is completely untenable, the system will warn its user.

“We’ve benchmarked it against the gold standard digital stethoscopes and similar tools,” said Opauzsky earlier this year.

“And in every case, we’ve come out either as good or in some cases better, in terms of what the doctor can actually hear when they hold the phone to someone’s chest.”