Steven Vercammen, a young Belgian doctor, was selected as one of MIT Technology Review’s eight ‘Innovators Under 35 Belgium 2016’, receiving a special mention as Social Innovator of 2016 for his app, which improves the chances of saving the lives of heart attack victims.

MITTR Innovators Under 35: Steven Vercammen aims to save lives with his app

We should not be fooled by appearances. In his lab he looks a bit shy, a typical brilliant scientist who is not much given to talking about his ideas to non-scientific people. Quite the contrary in fact. On stage for the MIT Technology Review’s ‘Innovators Under 35 Belgium 2016’ ceremony – which L’Atelier BNP Paribas partners – Steven Vercammen told jokes and spouted ‘shock’ statistics by turns, earning both laughter and applause from the audience. A few minutes later, the 24-year old received a special mention as Social Innovator of 2016 for his Emergency Volunteer Application NGO system EVapp.

Every year 10,000 people suffer a heart attack in Belgium. The first few minutes following the attack are crucial. If emergency help does not arrive within ten minutes the survival rate plunges below 15%. “We have an excellent emergency system in Belgium, but we aren’t managing to increase the survival rate,” revealed Steven, a qualified physician. Then one day he had one of those ideas for solving the problem that make you wonder why no-one had thought of it before. He has now developed an app which enables anyone who witnesses a heart attack taking place to sound the alarm, alerting all volunteers in the vicinity who know how to administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Steven estimates that this is 20% of the Belgian population. The app also geolocates available defibrillators situated nearby. Joking that EVapp might one day save the lives of all his over-55-year-old friends there in the hall, the young doctor thanked the jury for naming him Social Innovator of the year with the words: “Thank you, not only on my behalf, but also on behalf of your parents!”

“Innovation comes from regular people”

The idea for EVapp came to him when he was doing an internship in Israel. The residents of areas threatened by missile attacks received advance warning from the authorities and mobile emergency aid units used scooters to get to the zones under attack as quickly as possible. Steven decided to transpose the idea to Belgium for cardiac arrest situations and a year ago embarked on an entrepreneurial venture with three partners from the medical field.

However, after the challenging year that Belgium and France have just undergone, Steven no longer intends to confine himself to helping heart attack victims. “This is the first step in saving a lot of lives, but the geolocation-based technology can be extended to incidents potentially involving large numbers of people, such as terrorist attacks. One advantage in building a system that draws on a large number of volunteers is that it would be difficult to attack the emergency aid network,” he points out. In the longer term, the first-aid entrepreneur hopes to see his solution deployed elsewhere in Europe, and then worldwide, and proving effective in all types of emergency medical situations. When asked what message he would like to send out to the world, he replied without any hesitation, in a manner both serious and inspired: “Do what you believe you have to do. Innovation comes from regular people.” Message received.

By Philothée Gaymard.