Nest, French buyers rumored to be eyeing Nokia's digital health division

By Laura Lovett
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Less than two years after Nokia ventured into digital health territory with its acquisition of French health tech company Withings, the Finnish company could be on the verge of selling off its digital health division, according to reports from a French publication, Les Echos

Nest, the Alphabet subsidiary focused on smart home devices, is chief among those most interested in making the purchase. However, the digital health division also has the potential to return to its French roots, according to Les Echos, as two of the top bidders are based in France. 

According to another report from Wearable, the French government is pushing for Nokia to sell to a French company, noting that a few days ago the government revealed a plan to boost the country’s artificial intelligence efforts. However, Les Echos notes that Nokia’s relationship with the French government has been dicey since the Finnish company announced it would be cutting close to 600 jobs 

French government officials have shown keen interest in technology and healthcare. In a March interview with Wired, French President Emmanuel Macron said that he was most struck by how AI was emerging in healthcare. 

“Innovation that artificial intelligence brings into healthcare systems can totally change things: with new ways to treat people, to prevent various diseases, and a way — not to replace the doctors — but to reduce the potential risk,” Macron said in his interview with Wired. 

In 2016 Nokia purchased Withings in what it called a “reverse takeover,” putting former Withings' CEO Cedric Hutchings in charge of Nokia’s digital health. Since then, Hutchings moved into an advisory position. Rob Le Bras-Brown is now head of digital health and Gregory Lee, president of Nokia Technologies, will now be handling the day-to-day operations of the digital health business, according to a Nokia spokesperson.  

The Withings deal came after Nokia’s Device and Services Business was acquired by Microsoft for $7 billion in 2014, which included its signature mobile phones and smart devices, Engadget reported.

This left the company opened to reinvent itself — eventually finding its way into digital health.

However, Nokia’s digital health division has been on the rocks in the last year. In February the Finnish company announced a strategic review of the digital health department and an update on a company-wide cost savings plans. The digital health strategic review plan gave an indication that the division might be put on the market. Currently Nokia won't confirm or deny that the division is up for sale. 

"Nokia recently announced the strategic review of its Digital Health business," a Nokia spokesperson wrote to MobiHealthNews in an email today. "The strategic review may or may not result in any transaction or other changes."

Never the less the division appears to be on uncertain ground. Following the announcement of the strategic review, an ominous memo was leaked to The Verge in February. 

“[R]ather than only falling in love with our technology, we must be honest with ourselves,” Kathrin Buvac, Nokia’s chief strategy officer, wrote in the memo. “In its entirety, our Digital Health business has struggled to scale and meet its growth expectations. Currently, we don’t see a path for it to become a meaningful part of a company as large as Nokia. Thus, we are conducting a strategic review to determine the best next steps for the business.”