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Thomas Smolders
Thomas Smolders

Periodically on our site we highlight a company that followed one of our pathways. Oncomfort is one of these great companies. Thanks to Scaleup Vlaanderen, they are revolutionizing the operating room, both in Belgian hospitals and abroad.

You lie staring into a bright lamp with eyes wide open, trying with all the effort in the world to forget that someone is cutting into your knee. How long do you have to lie on this table? And what is that strange sound?

If you have ever had surgery performed under local anesthesia, this is undoubtedly a recognizable situation. In one part of your body sensation is switched off, but for the rest you are fully conscious. You see the doctor reaching for instruments you would rather not have seen and hear sounds that will keep you awake for nights. Even more: at the next doctor's visit, you will be in pain beforehand just thinking about the operation.

Situations such as these create anxiety, which can be tempered somewhat with appropriate medication. As a mental health specialist, Diane Jooris had experience with clinical hypnosis, a technique that allows you to temporarily divert patients' attention, for example. During her stay in Houston, Dallas, Jooris volunteered to help dozens of patients get rid of their pain and anxiety in this way.

This is useful not only for the doctors - who can work more calmly this way - but especially for the patients. Because they have more anxiety after each operation, they need more and more medication to calm down. When, as a patient, you have to be fully sedated, you also feel nauseous after surgery. Yet the technique of Jooris and her colleagues is not scalable because 1-to-1 clinical hypnosis is very labor intensive there is only a limited number of experts trained in clinical hypnotherapy.

Enter virtual reality

Upon her return, Jooris founded the company Oncomfort, which lets patients put on VR glasses to eliminate anxiety and pain in patients. 'Getting them to watch a cartoon would help a little bit already, but that distraction stops as soon as you feel someone coming at you,' says Mario Huyghe. The former Philips top executive joined Oncomfort and has led the company since 2018. He knows better than anyone how technology can be used in the operating room.

'What we're doing with Oncomfort is digitizing that clinical hypnosis. Such VR glasses lower the threshold for patients and ensure that they are immediately included in what they get to see,' says Huyghe.

Among other things, they can see a whale swimming in front of them with soothing, programmed movement, or they are given breathing exercises. The Oncomfort application is now available in 12 different languages.

Not that, as is the case with traditional VR experiences, patients want to look around continuously once they put on the glasses. 'To prevent people from tossing and turning on the operating table, we let them get used to the VR images in the beginning. Once the real hypnosis begins, their gaze is fixed on what they see in front of them. Thus, patients just lie quieter than when they see and hear everything around them. This is very useful during radiology, for example, because in children there up to 40% of all scans have to be redone because they moved," Huyghe says.


A few months ago, Oncomfort took the group coaching program from Scaleup Flanders. 'Once you get past the startup, you have to go through that growth phase well as a company. As a scaleup, your business goes in all directions, but in the coaching we learned to focus. We had two goals before we started: a 10 million euro capital round and the distribution of Oncomfort in five European countries.'

Last September, the company succeeded in that first goal when it raised 10 million euros in a Series A financing round from institutional investors Debiopharm and Crédit Mutuel Innovation.

The company also gained a foothold internationally. 'Because what we are doing is completely new, we cannot rely on market research. Therefore, it was useful to study in Scaleup Flanders' sessions which foreign markets are best and which expansion strategy would have the most impact. In the end, we had a checklist of what to consider and a specific go-2-market strategy per country," Huyghe says.

In Belgium, 70 hospitals now work with Oncomfort; in France, 40 hospitals are customers. A contract has been signed with the first hospital in Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland.

'We also have a lot of added value because of Scaleup Flanders' network. Because you are in one track with people from different sectors, you have access to a diverse range of competencies. The main thing that binds us is the phase we are in with our companies and the mindset we share. It is a regular occurrence that we call each other for help, which makes us move forward together.'

Also curious about what Scaleup Flanders can do for your business? Take a look at our calendar! Does your company have a turnover or capital round of more than one million euro? Then come to our One Million Club! On December 15, Peter Vanham (WEF) will give a keynote on Belgian entrepreneurs through the ages. You can register here.