Last week Digital Labs spent an extraordinary week in London enjoying one of the best events in digital healthcare that are available in Europe today – Health 2.0. Since one of our goals is to bring innovation to our clients and partners, I wanted to share with you what the experience was like – with some great videos included. In case you wonder here is the agenda.
The event took place in the Mermaid Center near Blackfriars, close to the St. Paul’s Cathedrayl, in the heart of the City, in a large auditorium that was nearly full most of the time. The audience was a mix of entrepreneurs, investors and suppliers of the tech industry trying to find the next big idea to transform healthcare.
The format was a mix of a 3 minutes start-up pitch conducted by 3-4 start-ups per theme, and an additional interview conducted by the moderator. This allowed for a showcase of working applications, and wearables.
Some of the highlights of this sesion were:
- Kemal Malik, Global Chief Innovation Officer at Bayer (see video), made a genuine plea to entrepreneurs to help pharma companies move forward with innovation specially in patient-doctor services. Big pharma is aware of the great challenges they face, and of the relevance of digital in addressing them. And Bayer seems serious about it.
- Many are trying to drive more efficiency into the doctor-patient interaction, whether it is for chronic disease (Medicine apps connected to Apple’s Health Kit), whether it is the routine and operational stuff of getting or changing appointments (UK’s Dr. Doctor has created a transactional tool on appointments that can be changed very simply through an SMS interface) or you want to help patients understand where to go to for their particular problem by asking questions based on their symptoms (Informedica).
- Medexo’s second medical opinión start-up in Berlin has been able to grow extremely fast through a concept that attracts both insurers and consumers: helping reduce up to 50% of recommended surgical procedures. They have been able to sign-up 20 health insurance companies and are servicing their customer base with 70 specialists from all over Germany. They have a well-thought marketing plot, but what are the barriers for entry in this market if you can service an 85 million country with such a low number of specialists?
- Piotr Kolosza, Managing Partner at Polish VC firm RTA, told me all about DocPlanner, one of his most promising investments. This company helps patients book doctors online primarily in Poland, Czech Republic and Turkey. The model is a pay per lead business, in which doctor’s pay for each booking made through the platform. They have been booming for the past 12 months and are considering expansion.
- Jordi Serrano, founder of Universal Doctor (see video), presented some of the interesting digital healthcare initiatives being conducted in Africa, and filled me in on his start-up Universal Doctors, a kind of Google Translate to help you get by anywhere in the world if you are sick and need urgent help.
- The digital healthcare VC panel provided tips on what they were looking for in their future investments: For consumer facing applications possibility of reimbursement or an alternative business model, FDA or CE certifications in the case of wearables is on the rise, capacity of applications and devices to sync with legacy systems, proof of a working concept, and of course, the usual team factor.
- Patient-Doctor interfaces at hospitals were all the rage. Apparently the number one cause of death in UK hospitals is lack of fast and accurate access to patient data. So there are many companies trying to help UK hospitals replace the current mostly paper based workflow for applications that host all clinical data available in real time. Some examples of this are Medopad (see video), Patient Source and finally Spain’s MedTep, which focuses on gather all data that surrounds delivering and monitoring Action Plans for patients (see video). From my backstage conversations, the key to success seems to lie on not competing with existing legacy systems directly in trying to do everything, not adding workload to IT departments, but ensuring the new model can be tried in parallel to existing workflows and then migrate the whole hospital. By the way, good advice never go to IT for this, they will almost always be against any change.
- James Matthews from Indian VC firm Health Tech Ventures made by far the most eye-opening and mind-challenging presentation. He discussed what start-ups in India are doing to bring better healthcare to underserved communities throughout that vast country at ridiculously low costs. Probably, as in other business áreas, Indian innovation has a difficult application in Europe, but healthcare entrepreneurs should be on the look-out to find the next big thing in India. He provided several examples:
- Cycletel, helping women with family planning through their mobile phones
- Biosense, a smartphone coupled to a portable device to enable diagnostics and analysis on the go
- Diabeto, a hardware device which plugs into the existing glucometers used by people and transfers all data (blood sugar readings) via Bluetooth to an Android device running the Diabeto app
Funnily enough, the same theme performed really well at the RockHealth event in San Francisco this summer.
- 2ndAid, a start-up idea from Barcelona led by a group of 15 year old kids, won top kudos. Its proposal to gamify and make chronic disease more bearables to children was a refresher for these type of events. Their beautiful English accent and their articulate communication also contributed to their success. See video.
- Wearables and devices are increasingly attracting tough scrutiny as there are too many start-ups trying to come-up with the Silver Bullet, but trying to do the easy thing. They are targeting fitness fans rather than people with chronical disease that really need the stuff. Most of the people I discussed with were under the impression that this could not last for long and warned investors of going down that route. BTW, a note for those creating hardware: Diabetes, although important and growing, is not the only chronical disease in the world.
- The same feeling applies to apps, where proliferation (nearly 200.000 in the main app markets) is giving way to startups creating Marketplaces for healthcare apps. I am not very convinced about the business models behind these start-ups, but one thing is sure, I am not betting my money in apps, no way.
- That said, some apps like NeuroTrain have managed to re-start the brain training business engaging health insurance and hospitals to pay for licences to use the neurotrainings proposed by this software who has been certified by neurological experts at the University of Hamburg.
- Voting to win the start-up competition. Winning start-up was defined through a curious mix of audience and jury electronic real-time voting, with the latter getting more say. Given the limited amount of time, and the rigidity of the template all start-ups had to follow, the competition was probably decided more based on the attractiveness of the 1 minute videos used by each of them. So for all start-ups out there consider this videos as one of your best investments.
- Still too local for my taste. For now most of the stuff presented is country led, and few of the businesses presented had expanded beyond their initial borders. The same goes for the investors, which are reluctant to invest outside their home country. Although most recognize the need of scale to succeed in the global arena, there are still too many obstacles for this to happen and too much fear in the investors side.
- Public healthcare institutions will not play a leading role. As for the public and institutional role in the transformation of healthcare, we had a couple of panels on this topic. However, the feeling that emerged is that politics & health public servants are far removed from the requirements of healthcare start-ups and that it is highly unlikely they will be a catalyst for change. This presents a rather unique opportunity for big pharma. They can pick the best start-ups and capture sizable participations through partnerships in which they will bring forth their knowledge of introducing innovation into a heavily regulated eco-system like healthcare in Europe.