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  • Lloyd Price

Navigating through healthcare as a Startup

Health is a large and varied sector, with private and public healthcare providers and many specialisms. Where do you see the biggest opportunities for start-ups to add value and why?

Healthcare is one of the most complex sectors, no doubt. Health startups have the big advantage they can be flexible, fast and agile whilst focused on solving one specific problem at a time. Startups can add value to different areas of healthcare in my opinion.

Big Data is a popular buzzword at the moment and has one of the biggest opportunities to make changes within the healthcare system to provide better care and outcome for patients. Anybody who knows Google’s story on the flu trends and the public health implications as a result, also knows about the commercial opportunity big data analytics offers, adding indisputable value to the public. This is especially true in an environment where decisions have to be made quickly.

Access is the second area we see opportunities for healthcare startups. Web 2.0 enabled us to communicate much more quickly with each other, while making it much cheaper. Now Healthcare needs to benefit from the digital revolution. Whether it is online consultations via your phone, online access to health appointments or helping patients and doctors to use the web as a library for health information, startups in this space enter a huge white space of opportunities.

Electronic health records like PatientsKnowBest have been around for several years now. Accenture expects the global market for electronic health records (EHR) to reach $22.3 billion by the end of 2015. EMR allow us to share data across platforms, give the right doctor the information they needs to make better decisions, and with increasingly less people doubting the security aspect. Future generations may be dependent on systems healthcare startups create today.

Wearable Technology is another area startups can expect the most lucrative opportunities to scale. In the UK companies like Big Health with their Sleepio product and partnership with Jawbone are seeing a lot of growth by helping to solve people’s sleep problems. As Apple, Samsung and Google start to build ecosystems for healthcare tracking applications, wearable devices will be responsible for capturing huge amounts of data. Who interprets the data and what happens to the data is another area for startups to focus their attention.

How are start-ups well-placed to approach each of these issues/challenges?

Currently one of the biggest challenges is to build the right interfaces – design is key. The majority of electronic interfaces in the healthcare world still look like an operating system from the 1990’s. Startups can rule the world if they can reinvent the interface into the world of healthcare and improve the patient journey.

Taking the risk of developing new tools to support doctors and patients is an unprecedented opportunity. Other than startups, nobody else has been brave enough to bet their money on new digital systems it seems.

Once a startup has proven a scalable solution in a small environment, large healthcare providers will quickly come and follow. Collaboration will be offered or concepts will be replicated. Health technology startups have to position themselves to be non-replicable, and scalable. This is true in all areas mentioned above: big data, online access, wearable devices and EMR solutions.

What do you see as being the biggest obstacles that start-ups need to overcome, in order to work in health?

We think that healthcare has two major areas which make it difficult for startups to generate traction, time and regulation. The complaints we hear at Zesty from our fellow healthcare startup companies is that healthcare regulations make it difficult to launch products and services quickly enough to survive the entrepreneurial gap. Over and over again we hear how healthcare is heavily regulated and that health tech startups run out of money before even generating any return at all. The strategy, we at Zesty chose was to stay away from regulatory quicksand and to concentrate on the non-clinical side of healthcare, which includes marketing, administration and efficiency. Even the data we capture is 100% non-clinical and to help patients and healthcare professionals to communicate and meet better is the only focus at the moment. It is not more complicated than that.

What would you say is different/unique about Healthtech, compared to the rest of the tech sector?

The measure of success in the healthcare industry is different compared to the rest of the tech world. In the rest of the technology world, startups would just go for it, execute, succeed and make a lot of money, without caring much about other factors. In healthcare, success is defined differently and measured in large clinical trials, ethnical studies and evidence based achievements, and ultimately health outcome for patients.

Customer care is also different. If something goes wrong in the tech sector when serving a client, your reputation is at stake. If something goes wrong in the healthcare sector, people’s health and wellbeing is at stake, which is far more impactful and potentially deadly.

Doctors for example require an absolutely perfect product or service, as they have to deal with so much uncertainty in their jobs. Startups often struggle to deliver on this level of expectation because their notion is “trial and error” rather than “doing it 100% right in the first place”.

Another unique factor in healthcare is the fact it is an old, conservative and slow business. Medical Associations, influential industry bodies and established systems have been ruling the world of healthcare for centuries so getting their respect and approval is not easy.

Even with all the recourses in the world, if a startup concept does not fit into the healthcare world, the company will have little chance to succeed. To use a simple metaphor or analogy … “In the healthcare family, a future husband needs to receive approval from the conservative father in law to marry the bride, otherwise he will have a difficult time to get married.”

From your perspective, how does London’s Healthtech compare to the rest of the world? What excites you about the potential of MedCity?

London is a wonderful place. Under the direction of the London Mayor, the London Health Commission is now concentrating on digital health and how London’s health economy can benefit from new health technology innovation.

MedCity is a wonderful initiative that contributes to the ecosystem. With a new accelerator promised and exciting new initiatives planned, MedCity couldn’t be established at a better time, when new technology impacts the healthcare system most.

Finally, if you could send a message or some advice back through time – back to when you first founded your start-up – what would that be?

First of all, don’t be afraid to hire good people early, even if they don’t necessarily have a clearly defined role. Good people who are passionate, committed and have a “get up and go” attitude will change the success of your startup.

Second, follow your instincts and follow through on every meeting you have. As an entrepreneur your job is to make things happen, get projects and partnerships off the ground and build a network as quickly as possible.


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