AUSTIN, Texas (TheStreet) -- Technology is taking over the health care space. Entrepreneurs and investors are taking notice.
Funding for online health-related startups will grow to $6.5 billion in 2017, compared to $3.5 billion in 2014. The number has swelled by an average of 31% each year since 2008, according to Accenture. Meanwhile, the Apple Watch, which has significant health applications, wowed investors at its glitzy unveiling earlier this month. Revolution CEO and AOL co-founder Steve Case said Apple's (AAPL - Get Report) latest creation could open up new opportunities in the wearables space.
Capitalizing on all this interest in medical technology and wearable devices, South by Southwest hosted its first ever health and medical technology exposition this year.
"We knew health and med tech was growing," said Dana L. Abramovitz, Ph.D, MSM, and community liaison at the SXSW Health and MedTech Expo. "We want to get everyone involved in the conversation, instead of forcing technology into the health care system. You need to pay attention to the entire ecosystem: the doctors, the patients, the hospitals and the policy makers."
Beyond the apps and services, plenty of health gadgets stole the show at the expo. Beddit, for example, was showing off a small device users can attach to their mattress or sheets, which will track their sleeping patterns. "You're turning your bed into a smart bed," said Annina Pierson, Beddit's U.S. marketing lead. "The sensor actually tracks your respiration, the sleep stages you went through, and how long it took you to fall asleep."
Another noteworthy device was the AmpStrip, which consists of a small piece of adhesive material that attaches to one's chest and monitors the heart 24/7. It's also waterproof, making it optimal for gym goers. "You can do your sweatiest and strongest workout," said Doug McClure, head of product at AmpStrip. "You get not just the information of how hard you worked out, but how well you recovered."
More niche gadgets were also highlighted at the expo, including a wearable watch for seniors living on their own.
"[The watch] provides medication reminders and a guard against wandering," said Jean Anne Booth, CEO & founder of UnaliWear, which created the Kanega watch. "There's no smartphone required." The app uses GPS and Wi-Fi and has been called an "Onstar for people" by focus groups. Booth previously sold startups to Apple and Texas Instruments (TXN - Get Report).
Meanwhile, a standalone desk featuring an oversized 32-inch Android powered tablet, called Sonzia, was developed to help those with disabilities. "It's an assistive device developed for people with learning, motor and intellectual disabilities," said Mihai Dinulescu, Sonzia's co-founder. "For a lot of folks, it's difficult to use the small or even larger tablets because they don't have the fine motor skills or intellectual comprehension." The tablet made its debut at the expo.