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Limmex: A Swiss Beacon of Hope for the World?
September 04, 2013
People are getting older. According to the World Health Organization, by 2050, the number of people over 60 will more than triple, from 600 million to 2 billion, 21% of the global population.
Right now the global median age is 26; in 2050 it will be 36. Europeans are older than the rest: the UN reports that 15% of Europeans are already over 65, and in 2050 that number will climb to 30%.
The Danger of Isolation
Switzerland boasts one of the most long-lived populations; The Swiss Federal Bureau of Statistics reports a population of 17 percent over 65, and the UN predicts that nearly a third of the population will be over 65 by 2050.
Maybe it’s not a coincidence then, that the Limmex watch, named for Zurich, the city on the Limmat River, originates with a 2008 conversation between three friends, Pascal Koenig, Pascal Stübi and Sven Carlson, and the Zurich City Councillor in charge of Protection and Rescue, Esther Maurer.
CEO of Limmex, Koenig says: “Councillor Maurer told us that people are found dead or injured in their homes on a daily basis because of falls. Most of them are seniors, fortunate enough to live independently at home, but not fortunate enough to reach somebody in time when they need help.
“The problem with living alone is that if you have a bad fall, the longer you lie there, the more severe the consequences. The sooner the rescue, the greater the chance you will survive or recover fully.
“That’s why Councillor Maurer proposed that everybody over the age of 70 should have constant access to an emergency communication system.”
Since half of the 500,000 serious falls of people over 65 each year in Switzerland alone happen outside the home, Koenig, Carlson and Stübi began to investigate whether there was already a portable emergency-call device on market.
Pride and Prejudice
Nearly everyone, seniors included, has a smart phone or a mobile phone, but they aren’t always on hand in the event of a serious fall. And they aren’t easy to operate with a broken arm or other debilitating injury.
The only wrist device available previously was a medical alert bracelet with a big, red button which screamed, “Old and infirm!” to passersby. Koenig says, “Nobody wants to wear them, which severely reduces their benefit.”
Therefore, the 10 million medical alert bracelets are rarely worn around the house, much less in public. And while 50% of falls occur outside the home, most emergency fall devices only worked inside the home.
Research and experiments still proved the wrist was the easiest body part to access in an emergency. So it was time to ditch the ugly bracelet, and invent a sleek wristwatch that also functioned as a mobile phone. It would be something that would serve not only seniors, but also people with medical issues, those doing risky work, children walking or playing unsupervised, VIPs, and athletes off the beaten path. What would James Bond be wearing on a mission? Exactly.
Koenig, Stübi, and Carlson invested a lot of time talking to seniors and senior organizations, to find out what was most important to them in an emergency wristwatch, and arrived at three product USPs: design, simplicity, and performance inside and outside the home.
Says Koenig, “Our number one USP is design. People want to be able to make an individual choice from an array of attractive watches—we offer 12 now, from Swarovski-studded chic to an ultra-cool, black leather ‘Aviator’. We are constantly working on new design options.”
Somehow the three co-founders brought together experiences from every field necessary to create the finished concept of the Limmex emergency watch. Pascal Stübi was a well-established Swiss watch-developer, with more than 100 designs to his credit already, and an extensive industry network. Sven Carlson was an electrical engineer with experience launching several technology companies. And Pascal Koenig, Limmex CEO, was an economist with entrepreneurial expertise in osteosynthesis and telemedicine.
Ancient Inspiration for Modern Hope
One of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the Pharos Lighthouse in Alexandria, Egypt served as a beacon of hope and refuge to sailors and travelers for over a millennium. Famed to cast its light 50 miles out to sea, this beautiful and noble emblem seemed perfect for a life-saving watch, invented to offer the aging global population greater independence and dignity. The lighthouse is the Limmex logo.
How Does the Limmex Work?
After you buy the watch online or at a local shop, you can program the numbers you want to reach in an emergency via a simple web interface.
When an emergency arises, you press one single button. The watch connects to the cloud database, which instructs the watch to begin calling numbers—family members or emergency services—in programmed order. When you are connected, you simply speak into the microphone, and they can be heard through the speaker. In the background, the mobile phone network tracks your approximate location within a defined area, helping emergency services to find you.
What about GPS?
The watch does not yet have GPS (Global Positioning System), which would pinpoint someone in trouble, rather than just outlining an area, as the mobile phone network does. Why didn’t they include GPS?
Koenig says, “It eats up the battery life, and does not work indoors. The current battery lasts for three to six months of typical use, which is critical, as we do not want the watch to hang on the charger rather than on the wrist. However, we are developing GPS, taking into account all experience to date.
“Out of tens of thousands of calls so far, there has not been one single situation where a person could not be found.”
Imagine the parents market, particularly in the US and the UK, for a children’s watch with full GPS-tracking and the one-click mobile function: Thank you, sir! May I have another?
By 2009, Koenig, Stübi, and Carlson had the first prototype ready, but it was two more years before the watch was ready to go public.
Koenig says, “We thought it was pretty much ready, but after testing, we realized the antenna still wasn’t as good as that of a mobile phone. And our investors and advisors from Phonak (the world leader in hearing devices) told us we absolutely should not launch a product that wasn’t 100% ready. We learned how to be patient.”
It’s one thing to miniaturize an antenna and acoustical system (microphone and speaker) to fit into a mobile phone or smart phone—and make it water proof! Making them petite enough to fit into the miniscule pockets of air surrounding watch gears requires another level of precision and skill.
The redundancy concept was also crucial: backups of backups. Every aspect of the emergency system utilizes layers of backups, from the initial programming—up to 10 phone numbers—to the type of calls made to each number. First the watch tries to establish a one-to-one voice connection. If that doesn’t work, it uses GPRS/GSM data to reach the other end, and if that fails, it sends an SMS—the transmission which usually works even in extremely remote locations.
In 2011, the company—by then 6 employees—decided the product was ready to go.
Says Koenig, “Immediately, we got great press coverage, and everybody was so excited, talking about how people needed the watch. Then a week passed with almost no orders. Another week passed. By weeks three and four we were feeling pretty deflated, and then suddenly, the orders started coming in.
“It was just a few at first, and then they came in faster and faster, week by week.”
The biggest Swiss emergency organizations - Swisscom and the Swiss Red Cross - finally decided Limmex had proven itself after six months, and now organizations from more than 70 countries are clamoring for it.
After successful expansion into Germany, France, and Sweden, the US will be the next big roll-out in 2014. Sales in the USA will reach a whole new scale.
Limmex is winning international innovation, design, and medical awards, and of course Switzerland is proud of this quintessentially Swiss product storming the global market. Limmex is now one of only 10 companies named a “High-Potential SME “ by the Swiss Economic Forum, CEO Pascal Koenig has been named one of the 300 most influential people in Switzerland, and Limmex has been nominated for the Swisscom Business Award.
Limmex CEO Pascal Koenig
The Spy Factor
Limmex does not advertise the mute function, but undercover policemen and international government operatives are actually using the watch to report on criminal activity, simply by pressing the mute button before a connection is established, allowing the other end to eavesdrop silently.
Politicians and executives are also wearing the watch as a safeguard against abduction. Could this be integrated into a kidnapping and ransom insurance package in the future?
What If It Fails?
Koenig says, “We try not to over-promise, and we warn people that there are certain areas where mobile reception is bad, like basements. Keeping it simple also precludes a lot of problems. It’s just one button. And then we’ve added redundancies to everything. But things can happen. Watches can be dropped or clogged by sun cream”, battery life is limited, network coverage is not always 100% reliable.
The contract details and usage instructions are crucial, as are the legal preparation, disclaimer and primary insurance coverage, especially in a litigious country like the USA.
“We already had basic public and product liability coverage, but we quickly exceeded the risk perception and capabilities of our local insurer as we launched the watch, and especially as we approached international markets. That is why we are glad to be able to trust to the technical and international expertise of a really strong partner like XL Group. It helps us figure out how to navigate. We don’t have a risk officer at this point, so we really look to XL Group for help.”
As production mounts, another challenge will be to maintain the superior quality people expect—and pay for—in a “Swiss-made” watch. With a price tag of USD 500, they aren’t cheap.
Koenig says, “Trying to meet the exploding demand is a problem we’re pretty happy to have.
“Anyway, we can keep growing, and still make the watches in Switzerland to maintain quality control and our image for a long time, even as we add features, because those will be integrated into the cloud software—that was our plan from the beginning. The only physical changes would be the reduced thickness and the addition of GPS.”
Has It Really Saved Lives?
It’s hard to document the lives that have been saved. Understandably, most people would rather not talk about their accidents and hospitalization or share personal information. What is clear is that with dozens of calls a day for emergencies, people are being rescued who could otherwise have become statistics. Some people, from seniors to athletes to parents with children, have shared testimonials on the Limmex website about how they were rescued, or found their lost children, because of Limmex.
The people who are allowed to track patients, emergency services at the Red Cross and numerous hospitals, are beginning to include Limmex as part of their standard emergency package. As expected, it is particularly valuable for patients who have suffered falls or breaks. Issuing a Limmex to patients enables hospitals to discharge them sooner, a boon to the patients who enjoy the freedom and comfort of home when they would have had to stay in the hospital. It also saves costs for the hospitals, and makes room in the hospitals for patients in more critical condition.
It’s not just for accidents or criminal reporting, either.
Says Koenig, “Occasionally, people use the watch when they get locked out of the house. Hey, it’s cheaper than a locksmith!”
Doing What We Do, So Innovators Can Do What They Do
We all want to enjoy our independence as long as possible, and this is one of those products that make people say, “Of course! I’m going to need that!”
Our mission is to unleash the power of innovators, by covering their risks for them, even if the risks cannot be completely qualified or quantified. We’ll find an intelligent way, especially when a project shows promise. If we can’t, or won’t, empower innovators, then we simply aren’t relevant anymore. The world is changing fast, and insurance has to keep up.
When Limmex’s local broker Fredi Caspar (VersicherungsManagement VM GmbH) approached us for help, we didn’t hesitate: the Limmex watch exemplifies the highest ideals of progress and innovation, and it was almost certain that this exceptional product was going to propel Limmex far beyond the Swiss border.
Since Limmex mastered the painstaking antenna and acoustical miniaturization process, several tech giants have been knocking on Limmex’s door. This is what happens when small, determined teams are alleviated of their risk burdens. They move faster, and open up new territories for all of us. Limmex, with 20 employees now, is providing something everyone in the world will be thankful for, sooner or later, as we join the aged population. We are proud to play our small part in supporting them.
Stephan Wallertshauser is Casualty Underwriting Manager for Middle Market companies in Switzerland. He provides comprehensive insurance expertise to companies expanding into the international marketplace.
- About The Author
- Stephan Wallertshauser
- Casualty Underwriting Manager Switzerland, International Middle Market, AXA XL