Christian appeared on the Venari Podcast’s HealthTech CEO series
As a sports-mad classically trained singer, Christian Tullberg Poulsen is perhaps not your typical HealthTech founder. However, as he told our Digital Health specialist, Cristian Owen, on the Venari Podcast’s HealthTech CEO series, both pursuits have been central to the foundation of his company, Airofit.
The journey began when a friend of Christian’s gave him an old device designed by a Danish MedTech company for training the lungs of people suffering from asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Christian’s interest was piqued. ‘So, we take it to the University of Copenhagen and train 30 of the best singers in Denmark. And it goes extremely well.’ When it became clear that the quality and pitch of their singing improved, Christian didn’t waste any time, buying worldwide rights and stock of the device to sell to singers.
The next step was possibly even harder to predict, though maybe it shouldn’t have been a surprise – after all, swimming requires plenty of breathwork, just like singing. When Christian’s eldest son, qualified for the Nordic Junior Swimming Championship several years after the University of Copenhagen test, his father encouraged him to train with the old system that worked so well for the vocalists. Three months later, the boy brought home seven gold medals – something that Christian calls ‘a kind of wake-up call for me because, alright, this is actually not just for classical singers. It’s for so much more.’
Christian went all in, pouring all of his (and some of his friends’) money into a completely new device complete with smartphone connection and built-in knowledge ‘from all kinds of breathing experts in order to actually be able to scale it to a lot more people.’ In fact, the Airofit’s benefits have now been proven to work positively for sufferers of long COVID, as shown in a study by the University of Ulm in Germany. ‘We saw that during COVID we were only selling towards sports athletes, but suddenly we could see from our user base that we had other kinds of uses.’ Christian notes.
He cites a video from a 55-year-old English user named Mike, who got in touch via Facebook to detail his own positive experiences of using the Airofit to recover from the condition. Having previously lived a normal life, with long COVID Mike saw the vital capacity in his lungs decrease to a critically low 0.8 litres. He felt so low and weak that he considered suicide on several occasions. Indeed, when someone gave Mike an Airofit, he could only train for one minute per day, as opposed to the recommended three to 10. ‘But he did that for 43 days and then he got his vital capacity back, he got three litres and his life back. And of course, we are so happy about it. We didn’t do it – he did the training himself. But we are so happy about stories like that, and we have a lot of them.’
As much as Christian loves music and sport, he recognises that the Airofit’s potential ‘can make so much more difference in the world. Maybe not a big dent, but a very little dent in time about helping people with respiratory issues.’ With that in mind, they’ve developed a system specifically for COPD, asthma, and long COVID patients. Christian’s aim is that Airofit comes to be seen as the go-to brand name for pulmonary wellness – comparing it to Hoover for vacuum cleaners – for people who are in good health as well as those with lung conditions.
‘Hints’ for future founders
Christian is self-effacing about recommendations for the healthcare founders of tomorrow – ‘Who am I to advise?’ – though he does offer a selection of ‘hints’. While he didn’t invent the Airofit, he still advocates for bringing products to market as soon as possible. ‘I have engineers around me who say, “Oh, but you cannot launch this now because it’s not 100%.” But if I wait until it’s 100%, someone else [will have] done it and we will never get into a market.’ In Christian’s view, having a product that’s 85% ready is enough; after that, you can push and improve it until it’s perfect.
He also brings up something that we’ve heard many founders say in so many words: ‘the road is not straight.’ There will be many setbacks and plenty of resistance, and while you’ll hear plenty of people saying it’s hopeless and that you should give up, Christian warns against heeding them. ‘You have to take these voices out of your head and you keep on going.’
The importance of lungpower
Finally, on a slightly more prosaic level, he advises keeping fit and healthy – and getting plenty of sleep, though he recognises that, traditionally, entrepreneurs and CEOs don’t often get to enjoy a lie-in. Arguably the most important advice he has concerns everyone, not just founders: look after your lungs and intercostal muscles (diaphragm). ‘These muscles are extremely important for your breathing and your wellbeing overall,’ he notes. ‘And they’re very overlooked in everyday society because you use them all day, all year, all of your life. But most people don’t train them – and they should, because it matters’.