MedTech Actuator startup Neev Tech Labs is transforming how patients around the world experience and access healthcare through telehealth innovation
The Neev Tech Labs virtual care platform, Connect2MyDoctor is powering a connected global health ecosystem – supporting the response to challenges including delivering healthcare while preventing the spread of COVID19, and rising chronic illness.
Connect2MyDoctor is a HIPAA compliant and ISO 27001 certified virtual care platform that enables healthcare providers to deliver care in efficient and patient-centric ways. The comprehensive platform spans on-demand care; consults between rural hospitals and large tertiary care centres; care for in-patients in isolation and regular care; home care; and remote patient monitoring including medical device integration to capture real-time data.
The idea for Connect2MyDoctor was sparked in 2012 when, soon after moving with his family from Dubai to Australia, the daughter of Neev Tech Labs CEO Pramod Kutty needed to see a medical specialist.
“We were not used to the long wait period and tried to find help in the meantime through Dr Google and doctors overseas to understand more about the problem. I thought, there should be a better way to do this,” says Pramod.
This experience and Pramod’s subsequent market research led him to launch Connect2MyDoctor in 2016. Neev Tech Labs is now headquartered in Melbourne and has teams in India, Dubai, and Bahrain, along with a growing network of advisors.
Healthcare providers, hospitals, insurance companies and corporates around the world are turning to Connect2MyDoctor in growing numbers to improve and save the lives of individual patients and to create systems-wide change. The virtual care platform is deployed in 35+ multi- and super-speciality hospitals in India, the Middle East, Turkey, Azerbaijan and others. There are currently 2,000+ doctors across 50+ specialisations on the platform, supporting patients in 15+ countries. Connect2MyDoctor will soon open an office in Dubai and will also expand into the African subcontinent.
In a reflection of the difference the platform is making, Connect2MyDoctor was selected as the preferred telehealth platform of a leading healthcare association in India. This has opened access to a member base of 10,000+ hospitals. Connect2MyDoctor has also launched work with the Federal Authority of Human Resources, UAE and their mental health partner to provide 300,000+ employees and their families with access to mental health specialists from the comfort of their homes.
Neev Tech Labs was recently accepted into Hatch Quarter’s MENA Bridge for Startups global bridge program – designed to give exceptional Australian companies the tools and connections to enter and succeed in the booming Middle East and North Africa “MENA” markets.
Connect2MyDoctor wins Micro Business Award
Connect2MyDoctor wins Micro Business Award at India-Australia Business and Community Awards 2022. The annual IABCA Awards initiative looks to strengthen and celebrate the organisations, social enterprises and business leaders from across the globe who are advancing the India-Australia relationship.
“We feel privileged and honoured to have won this prestigious recognition from IABCA. It is a testament to the ground-breaking work we have done in the area of telemedicine and virtual healthcare. The importance of online healthcare has grown significantly during the pandemic and we are happy to have contributed our bit by enabling high-quality virtual healthcare access for the needy. In our next phase, we focus to deploy our new modules – cARe – 3D/AR module for patient education, OmniROM for remote rehabilitation, HomeDoc our home care module with Remote patient monitoring globally. As the preferred telehealth partner of the Association of Health Providers of India (AHPI), which has over 10,000 hospitals in its network, we are looking to further expand our horizons and address the health requirements of the patients in a virtual and efficient manner.” Says Pramod Kutty, Co-Founder and CEO of Connect2MyDoctor.
The MedTech ActuatorTM is proud to support Neev Tech Labs on their journey. The company joined the MedTech Actuator in 2019 to support market validation of Connect2MyDoctor; to connect with global industry and mentorship; to be guided through commercialisation models and capital raising.
“The MedTech Actuator helped us validate our business models and opened doors,” says Pramod.
“For any MedTech startup, the MedTech Actuator is the perfect kickstart for access to teams, industry leaders, mentors and pre-seed funding.”
Fusing science, research commercialisation, and entrepreneurship
Each year, MedTech Actuator and the Menzies Foundation award ten high-potential health, medical and biotechnology researchers with the MedTech Actuator Menzies Scholarships, supporting them to explore and develop a career that fuses science, research, and entrepreneurship.
The MedTech Actuator Menzies Scholarship was pivotal for 2021 Scholars as the program provided them the opportunity to gain knowledge from leading industry experts, learn alongside Australia’s emerging healthcare entrepreneurs and receive mentorship from MedTech Actuator.
By leveraging 1:1 coaching, Scholars were challenged to envision their research hypothesis through a commercial lens. With direct exposure and integrated exploration of Australia’s startup ecosystem, the program set each awardee forward on a path to innovate and create impact for human health.
Since the inaugural 2021 scholarship program, awardees have hit key milestones and taken their research ambitions to the next level, becoming ecosystem thought leaders and future founders of the next big startups in MedTech, BioTech, and HealthTech.
MedTech Actuator Origin 2021
A number of Scholars have continued their entrepreneurial journey, entering and participating in the MedTech Actuator Origin program. Pitching their innovations to the ecosystem, program participants included the following Scholars:
DrAnushi Rajapaksa, Senior Research Officer, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and Founder, Think Project Global
Winner of the MedTech Actuator People’s Choice Award
Project: Developing rapid, life-saving drug delivery for children with infectious respiratory disease.
Dr Rowan Page, Lecturer and Industrial Design Program Director, Monash University.
MedTech Actuator Origin 2021 Semi-Finalist
Project: Developing a wearable light sensing device to guide people toward healthier light exposure patterns
Dr Sebastian Corlette, Anaesthetist, Royal Children’s Hospital and PhD Candidate, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and the University of Melbourne
MedTech Actuator Origin 2021 Semi-Finalist
Project: Developing a new sensor for high-quality, long-term electroencephalogram (EEG) measurement in young babies
The Scholarship encourages health researchers and innovators to build strong foundations in commercialisation and supports the scientific community’s capacity to bring innovation to the market. In doing so, the MedTech Actuator Menzies Scholarship helps to nurture the next generation of leaders in healthcare entrepreneurship.
A number of Scholars are continuing to make waves across Australia’s health and medical ecosystem, including:
Dr Anushi Rajapaksa who received a REDI fellowship with GSK for research project detailed above;
April Van Der Kamp, PhD Candidate, Flinders University, who has begun a PhD at Flinders University and is commercialising her research into a BioTech startup;
Ethan Grooby who is leading the team behind the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society (EMBS) International Student Conference (ISC) Series at Monash University;
Marta Orlowska, PhD Candidate, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute and Queensland University of Technology, who presented her PhD research at the 16th Congress of the Federation of Asian and Oceanian Biochemists and Molecular Biologists;
Julie Dao, PhD candidate, Monash University, who is the president of Monash Young MedTech Innovators and who completed the Startmate Women’s Fellowship in 2021;
Debolina Majumdar, PhD candidate, RMIT University was awarded the RMIT HDR Student Leader of the Year Award in 2021;
Dr Luke Visscher, Doctor, QLD Health; PhD candidate, Queensland University of Technology, who was awarded a Medical Research Fellowship at the AO Research Institute Davos, Switzerland; and,
Erin Humphries, Research Assistant at Children’s Medical Research Institute and Masters by Research Student at the University of Sydney, who was awarded the Females in Mass Spectrometry Empowerment Award in 2021.
As a part of the scholarship, recipients will embark on a four-month scholarship, gaining knowledge from leading industry experts, work alongside Australia’s emerging healthcare entrepreneurs and receive mentorship from MedTech Actuator.
Across an industry-led intensive sprint and mentorship, scholarship recipients will gain an extensive overview of entrepreneurship, the startup ecosystem, and the commercialisation process, as well as a one-off, $1,000 stipend to aid their commercialisation journey. Topics covered include pathways to market, business models, navigating Australia’s healthcare ecosystem, idea validation, intellectual property, pitching, professional development, and funding for early-stage ventures.
The MedTech Actuator Menzies Scholarship is supported by the Menzies Foundation as part of their Entrepreneurship in Science mission.
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The way in which humans solve and navigate healthcare problems has progressed immensely over the past century. From penicillin to AI-driven medical imaging, health innovations have enabled humans to flourish in ways never imagined possible.
Often, the foundations of innovation begin with research, and the commercialisation of research plays a large role in the ability of innovation to get to market. When produced at scale, these breakthroughs can save lives and improve health outcomes. But it isn’t always an easy path for innovators and researchers. The journey to successfully commercialise research is fraught with hurdles and unforeseen challenges.
At the Talking HealthTech Autumn Summit, MedTech Actuator’s Head of Programs, Maria Pelipas, joined Siew Joo Beh, CEO and Co-founder of HatiSens, and Greg Miner, CEO and Co-founder of Evidentli, to discuss translating research and the challenges of commercialisation. Here, we reflect on this discussion and highlight some common speed bumps along the journey.
Taking the first steps
Protecting your idea might seem like an important first step, and it is vital to consider, but none of it matters if there is no market interest in the innovation itself. The number one tip from Siew and Greg was simple – get out there and validate your idea with users, clinicians, experts and the healthcare community.
“At HatiSens, we should have spoken to more clinicians from the start. When we did finally meet with them, we were met with so many questions, such as why are you doing this? What makes us different? We had to adopt and adapt to feedback quickly and include it in our proof of concept ”– Siew Joo Beh, CEO and Co-founder of HatiSens.
Speaking to customers isn’t a one-and-done job. Much like researchers, founders are constantly testing assumptions over and over again. This moulds the product during its development and clarifies which features need to be prioritized, or not needed at all.
Beyond validation, it comes back to the opportunity presenting itself and how you communicate it. Moving away from technical language and learning how to communicate what you’re building is crucial. Throw developing a business case into the mix and you’re easily looking at the first 12 months of work.
“When Evidentli first started out, the team had to figure out if there was a market and how we could get to it, as well as who our customers are, how we reach them and how we talk to them. And market acceptance is slow, especially in health. When you’re spinning something out, be ready for that.” Greg Miner, CEO and Co-founder of Evidentli.
Strategic teams and support networks
The timeline from idea to market for medical devices can be well over seven years, so it is vital to surround yourself with the right team and ensure that you’re all on the same page. For HatiSens, commercialisation was an opportunity for Siew to continue her Ph.D., whilst for the other Co-founders, it was about shaking up senior careers.
“The team at HatiSens were all at different stages of our careers, so the opportunity to commercialise was really appealing… We didn’t know what we were doing at first, but we had a common interest in changing the pace of our work.” – Siew Joo Beh, CEO and Co-Founder of HatiSens.
However, building the right team is no easy feat. The team can be a major hurdle to overcome and, often, team dynamic can be the make or break element for a promising research project.
“At MedTech Actuator, we often talk about the complementarity of skills of co-founders, referencing Jim and Spock (from StarTrek) as two unique characters with drastically different approaches, visions and work styles… From our experience, four to six co-founders can enable teams to navigate the ups and downs of a startup journey while maintaining their sanity. We even have a team of 11 Co-founders – somehow they make it work really well.” – Maria Pelipas, Head of Programs at Medtech Actuator.
Furthermore, internal capabilities should always be strengthened by strong networks of support. Subject-matter experts, research institutions and universities can all provide vital resources at different points in time.
When it comes to validation, the connections of research institutions can be instrumental for tapping into customer or user groups and building relationships with advisors and KOLs. For Evidentli, subject-matter experts even became investors down the line. So finding, establishing and nurturing these relationships is essential and you never know where they might lead.
In the first few weeks or months of building a startup, funding can be scarce and delaying the use of personal funds is always preferred. Early costs, such as incorporating as a company, building a brand, consulting with IP lawyers, and developing prototypes, can add up as you try to get closer to market.
Unfortunately, it can be really hard to convince people to take a chance on something that’s never been done before, especially in the early stages. You need proof that it works and you need money to do that, but you also need to prove that it works in order to get that money. This can be particularly tricky for specialised innovations where the technology is complex.
“Finding funds is really hard. Often, investors don’t understand what you do. If you’ve got a piece of research, you’re most likely the expert. What worked for us was finding deep subject-matter experts who were willing to invest” – Greg Miner, CEO and Co-founder of Evidentli.
Greg from Evidentli recommends this alternative pathway that provides a double benefit. Even if the group of experts is smaller and more niche than traditional startup investors, it can help you build credibility. For example, if you are working on a very technical cardiovascular device, go to cardiologists first. It helps with market validation, innovation and team credibility, and can even result in a cheque, alleviating some of those early-stage risks. Once you’ve made headway here, others will jump on board.
Final words of advice
Learning about Siew and Greg’s experiences, it was clear that persistence, resilience and passion are essential ingredients in any commercialisation journey. Going all-in on a startup idea is the only way forward. You’ll be closer to success by making sure there is a market opportunity presenting itself, a strong team and support network behind you, and enough funds to provide you with a viable runway.
Apply for the MedTech Actuator Menzies Scholarship 2022
If you’re interested in learning more about the commercialisation journey, apply for the MedTech Actuator Menzies Scholarship 2022.
Each year, MedTech Actuator and the Menzies Foundation award ten high-potential health, medical and biotechnology researchers with the MedTech Actuator Menzies Scholarships, supporting them to develop a career that fuses science, research, and entrepreneurship.
Recipients embark on a four-month scholarship, where they gain knowledge from leading industry experts, work alongside Australia’s emerging healthcare entrepreneurs, and receive mentorship from MedTech Actuator.
When it comes to healthcare and entrepreneurship, there is no such thing as a founder journey without challenges, hurdles, difficulties or dilemmas. That said, across the system, it is often the case that female-identifying and diverse individuals face particular and specific barriers that are not always faced by their counterparts.
At the MedTech Actuator, we’re for founders. And this means really understanding the diversity of experiences of entrepreneurs from all corners of the system, and from multiple backgrounds and contexts. The MedTech Actuator is creating opportunities so more women can learn about and participate in the healthcare innovation ecosystem.
In this blog, we’re sharing key tips from the expert panel at the recent MedTech Actuator Women who lunch. And keep reading to check out more ecosystem opportunities and to sign up for upcoming MedTech Actuator events near you.
Women Who Raise | MedTech, BioTech and HealthTech
Last month, the MedTech Actuator hosted Lunch Chats: Women Who Raise – MedTech, BioTech, and HealthTech, putting female founders at the helm of the conversation to talk about capital raising.
Dr Anabela Correia – CEO and Managing Director at LiVac, Rachel Yang – Partner at Giant Leap, and Tanisha Banaszczyk – Principal at Folklore Ventures joined the panel and provided a broad overview of the investment experience in Australia. We’ve wrapped up the panels’ key tips and tricks for navigating fundraising for MedTech, BioTech, and HealthTech startups.
Tips and tricks for successfully raising capital
1. Prepare, prepare some more, then go back and prepare again.
“I’ve learned to prepare and I can’t overemphasise – prepare! It takes us about three months to get ready for a capital raise and to set up a really detailed data room. We pride ourselves on (the fact) that if an investor asks us a question we can answer it straight away. There is no hesitation. That helps to keep the conversation moving… It is all about preparation,” – Dr Anabela Correia,CEO and Managing Director at LiVac.
2. Understand the path you’re taking before you even begin. Start by reading Venture Deals or watching some of Startup Vic panel discussions (recommended by Rachel Yang – Partner at Giant Leap).
3. Know who you’re pitching to and know your investor’s mandate. There is no point speaking to an investor who doesn’t invest in early-stage startups if that is what you are. Do your research.
4. Getting noticed by investors can be hard. Accelerator programs like the MedTech Actuator Accelerator can get you in front of potential investors. And ecosystem partners such as Startup Vic, Fishburners and What the Health?! often run investment focused events where you can learn more and meet people.
“We really nurture our networks. We’re constantly updating investors on our progress, at least once a month, and we often stop by for coffee. They’re part of the LiVac family. These relationships are really important to us,” – Dr Anabela Correia,CEO and Managing Director at LiVac
5. If this is your first time seeking investment, talk to others who have been there before. Use your founder network as a support group, a sounding board, and a pathway for warm introductions.
6. A lot can happen before that first meeting. Investors will want a pitch deck, some market context and even anecdotal evidence from a trusted community member. Don’t be alarmed if they perform their own due diligence too. Be ready to answer any questions and send over all requested documents before you sit down for the first conversation.
7. In the early stages, it is all about the founders and the team.
“It is very much a people game… really we want to know that the people behind the business are there doing their life’s work, growing the business and that they’re executors – they can get the things done that they need to get done and also attract a strong team around them,” – Rachel Yang, Partner at Giant Leap.
8. Impact has to come from within and it has to be woven into the very fabric of what you’re building. Be prepared to start measuring impact potential.
“(Giant Leap) looks for impact embedded in the business model. So what that means if for every dollar invested, there is a unit of impact… In the healthcare space, it is things like improved health outcomes, healthcare savings to the broader system,” – Rachel Yang, Partner at Giant Leap.
9. The ecosystem is optimistic about digital health and its impact on healthcare, so there has never been a better time to dive into healthcare startups, especially if you’re a female founder.
“When you think about what opportunities are out there and where there is the most potential for innovation in a space, it is about what problems can be solved. (Investors) are really optimistic about… the digital health space and digital therapeutics. The ability to solve these (healthcare) problems at scale is really exciting.” – Rachel Yang, Partner at Giant Leap.
There are many opportunities for you to explore entrepreneurship across the healthcare innovation ecosystem. Join the MedTech Actuator at an upcoming event near you:
Morning with Women in Health Entrepreneurship – Join the MedTech Actuator and partners for a morning exploring what it takes to be an entrepreneur in the healthcare ecosystem. This event will speak to the hurdles and challenges often faced by female-identifying and diverse individuals in healthcare. Anyone interested in healthcare entrepreneurship is welcome to attend. Reserve your seat today.
The MedTech Actuator Menzies Scholarship – if you’re an early-stage researcher or post-graduate student interested in innovating in human health then the Menzies Scholarship is perfect for you. Applications open soon. Register your interest here.
The MedTech Actuator Office Hours – we’ve opened up our calendars and would love to sit down with emerging female and diverse founders. From friendly intros to questions about programs to soundboard, Makenzie would love to chat with you. Book a call today!
The MedTech Actuator is actively opening and fostering an inclusive MedTech innovation ecosystem. We strongly encourage individuals from diverse backgrounds to engage with our community and apply to our programs.
This post was created by Makenzie Thomas, Program and Community Coordinator, and, Simran Jain, Marketing Coordinator, at MedTech Actuator
Project Officer Shanna Lam works with the MedTech Actuator team to organise and provide project management support for the MedTech Actuator programs, including the flagship 12-month MedTech Actuator Accelerator, the idea-stage innovation competition Origin, Menzies Scholarship and Fellowship and its community across Australia and the Asia-Pacific.
As a recent graduate from the University of Melbourne with a Master of Biomedical Engineering, Shanna brings project management skills along with STEM knowledge to the role. During her final year at the university, Shanna undertook Biodesign Innovation as a capstone subject, which introduced her to the world of MedTech innovation. During the unit, Shanna and her Team – Venosense – applied the interdisciplinary concepts to design an innovative medical device.
Her team’s project was focused on transforming peripheral intravenous visualisation through the use of a 3D imaging system that would help improve the accuracy of cannulation procedures. Cannulation is one of the most widely performed invasive procedures in medicine, and their invention had the potential to make a significant difference to the patient experience and quality of healthcare. This experience inspired her to get involved in the startup community.
“I love learning new things and being challenged, so I’m very excited to join Medtech Actuator”, says Shanna.
The opportunity to help MedTech Actuator programs run as smoothly as possible to help new founders make an impact with their innovative technologies is what drives her.
Shanna is inspired by how much Medtech Actuator has already achieved in just a few years, and is now looking forward to more accomplishments in the future.
“I can’t wait to work with all the new startups making a difference in Medtech”.
Outside of work, Shanna likes to travel, play board games, and sew.
Meet our team
More on how the MedTech Actuator team is supporting Asia Pacific’s next wave of health innovators – meet:
Commercial and Partnership Director Matt Frith works with the MedTech Actuator team to develop and drive the execution of strategies to ensure the long term growth of the MedTech Actuator, and its programs such as MedTech Actuator Accelerator, Origin, Menzies Scholarship and Fellowship, and its ecosystem across Australia and the Asia-Pacific. This includes engaging with and supporting startup founders and developing and managing strategic relationships with key partners and stakeholders across public policy, health, and innovation ecosystems.
With an Executive MBA with Distinction from RMIT University, Matt is a successful and impact-driven senior leader with over 15 years of industry and innovation ecosystem experience leading and delivering complex commercial projects and partnerships to drive business and profit growth and social impact. His partnerships experience spans senior Sales & Marketing and Commercial roles in global manufacturing businesses with responsibility for managing teams, annual revenue budgets ranging from $40-$80 million, and strategic relationships with key partners across Australia, NZ and Asia.
Creating impact through innovation
Matt has built programs to support, and collaborated with inventors, researchers, and technical R&D experts to successfully commercialise and translate new innovations. He worked within RMIT’s Activator team to establish and implement the inaugural startup and innovation programs. And for the last 4 years, he has supported The University of Queensland with the commercial development and launch of evidence-based digital health intervention, BeUpstanding, which is being used by thousands of employees to improve their health at work.
With a passion for generating impact through innovation, Matt founded kin8 and over the last 7 years has delivered innovation commercialisation and change management projects for a network of diverse clients including RMIT University, The University of Queensland, JLL, Haworth, TALi Health, Fire Protection Association, Whitehorse City Council, LaunchVic, Defence Innovation Hub, The Victorian Government, and the Shared Value Project.
“I’m looking forward to building on the solid foundation of existing relationships, networks, and diverse MedTech Actuator partners, and developing new collaborations that create mutual value”, says Matt.
Matt is super excited with the momentum and the ambitious growth plans that are in motion to further scale MedTech Actuator in the Asia Pacific region. With this, he can support an even greater number of founders to successfully commercialise innovative new technologies that will change the face of healthcare. He is passionate about the MedTech, HealthTech, and BioTech innovations leading to more personalised health care and a future where we can better understand, prevent, and treat mental health conditions.
“I’m driven to rapidly expand MedTech Actuator’s impact even further, and I’m inspired by founders that have the courage to take on the challenge of developing an innovative MedTech, HealthTech or BioTech startup.”
Meet our team
More on how the MedTech Actuator team is supporting Asia Pacific’s next wave of health innovators – meet:
Synchron founders and inaugural MedTech Actuator Origin alumni Associate Professor Thomas Oxley and Professor Nicholas Opie spoke with us recently about their journey to unlock the natural highways of the brain.
For startups who may be struggling with funding, technology and doors closing, Thomas and Nicholas’ story shows that curiosity, resilience, drive and friendship are key to success in the long road of MedTech innovation.
On consciousness and Astro Boy
Tracing early childhood’s influence on life-changing innovation.
Thomas:As a boy growing up, conversations with my father got me thinking about wanting to do new things. I think innovation is a curiosity, or wanting to change the way that things are into something new. And from a very young age I was fascinated with things that we didn’t understand, or things that we didn’t know.
“My conversations with my father about philosophy and space kept pushing me towards the areas of the unknown.”
I remember deciding quite early on as a teenager that there were three big mysteries that were worth chasing in life: the brain, the ocean, and outer space. I was exposed to things around the brain when I was quite young and it was this big black box mystery to me.
A lot of people go into medicine because they have an experience in their family, or they want to be healers. I went into medicine with a fascination around what was not known. I was drawn to solving mysteries around what the brain is, and what consciousness is.
When I finished medicine, I was first exposed to brain computer interfaces (BCI) on night shift in 2008. I saw a scientific piece about the first human implant with a BCI. And it just set off my imagination with what it could mean and where it could go.
And this was all, I think, the origin of my person.
Nicholas: For me it was a little bit different. My fascination came from cartoons: Inspector Gadget, Astro Boy. I watched those cartoons as a kid and said, “I want to do that. I want to build robotic devices that people can use.” And this has stemmed throughout my career.
I did science and engineering at university and then continued on that passion, developing prosthetic devices and bionic eyes.
“I tried to find ways that I could make technology using my hands, and help people who didn’t have any other option.”
I did a lot of research and academic work, and solved a lot of interesting problems. But in academia, at least from my perspective, there was this continual cycle of, “There’s a new problem – you solve it. There’s a new problem – you solve it.”
Sure, we found new knowledge and that was great. But it didn’t seem to make a big impact on the community at large.
It was really only when meeting Tom, and we came up with the idea of making a technology that goes inside blood vessels as a novel way to access the brain and learn the information contained within, that we really had the chance and opportunity to say:
“It’s now up to us. Do we want to continue this cycle of learning? Or is there a way that we can really push this forward and make sure it gets to the people that need it.”
Tom and I were well aligned early on that this was the path we wanted to take. And this started progressing with the MedTech Actuator Origin (then known as MedTech’s Got Talent) helping us along the way, showing us what it means to turn from academia or research into a commercial company.
“Hello World” – the first direct-thought tweet
When Philip communicated with the world through thought.
Thomas: The first patient was implanted with the Synchron brain computer interface back in August 2019. He had his first system and was using WhatsApp within a few weeks of having turned the system on.
Then the idea for direct-thought tweets came about at the end of 2021, as a feel-good Christmas story. A patient that we work with, Philip O’Keefe, [voice cracks a little with emotion] is an amazing guy and just full of energy. Philip is 62 years old, and has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
“Philip is facing this horrible illness and his mortality with this enthusiasm and understanding that what he is working on is hopefully going to help people in his position in years to come after him.”
It was very stressful for Philip, with a thirty minute take-over period for him to tweet directly from my twitter account using his thoughts. His whole family was there with him.
But he had his 16-year-old daughter there and his wife and the family. There were tears, it was incredible. It was a life affirming moment for Philip, and an inspiration for his family. It was really special.
no need for keystrokes or voices. I created this tweet just by thinking it. #helloworldbci
Phil created these tweets from Thomas’ account using direct-thought
Building the team behind a groundbreaking technology
And the ecosystem behind the team.
Nicholas: People can learn what they need to learn. But it’s very hard to change who you are. I really go into a lot of the interviews and try to find people that I gel with, that I think are enthusiastic and have the same values, and really want to make a difference.
If they don’t have particular skills, if they’re good enough and they want it enough – which becomes apparent when you’re speaking with them – they’ll be able to learn those skills, for the most part.
I don’t really use the skills that I learnt in my engineering degree any more, because they’re not the ones that I’m passionate about. And I think the same goes the other way around.
“If you’re really passionate about something then you can learn anything.”
So largely, it’s been about getting the right people – not necessarily the right skills. Skills are certainly important, you don’t want to be too far away. But we look for the right people to form a team and to form a culture of excellence, people who are enthusiastic about driving forward the mission that we have.
Thomas: Going back to really key leadership positions that we had to put in place – research and development, clinical, regulatory, and product. You also have to sell a vision – it’s not just a job now. This is a generational chance to make a contribution to something that’s going to change the world. And to do that you have to take risks, because everyone has taken a pay cut to come to the company, because there are other rewards. And so that plays into what Nick was talking about.
“We’re looking for the risk-taking, entrepreneurial, full of life people who are willing to find ways to make it work.”
I think entrepreneurship is growing in Australia. I did notice when I moved over to the US, the cultural norm of a startup is more at the forefront of psychology there. It’s more talked about, the language is there, the words are there, there’s more of an understanding of it. And I think it’s growing now in Australia too, and that takes time.
Nicholas: I think it also comes from the education sector. When I finished my PhD along with others, we handed in our thesis, and off we went. We were done. And we didn’t know what to do next. There was no pathway.
“But at a lot of American institutions, you have to do a final year in your PhD, whether you’re successful or not, and try to start a business out of what you’ve made.”
So you’re already in the mindset of doing this [PhD] for the purpose of taking it further. And you’re guided – but not only guided, you’re mandated – to do that and to get that experience.
I think it would be great to have this in Australia. To get everyone to start thinking about, ‘why am I doing this?’, and ‘if I do it, how can I take it further’? Regardless of whether it works or not, that’s not the point.
It’s about getting in the mindset of not just doing things for the sake of doing things. But doing things because there’s a beneficial societal role that comes at the end.
On determination, resilience, and being uncrushable
Facing things not going your way, again and again.
Nicholas: I don’t know how many of those pitches you did, Tom. But you continued to do them, refining them, getting them better every time – even though it all kept shutting on you. To be able to continue doing that and then finally get to a point where someone says, ‘we’re ready to go’, that must have been a highlight for you. You put in a huge amount of effort and I don’t know how you were able to continue receiving the ‘nos’ – that’s amazing.
Thomas: Thanks Nick. I think we made contact with a particular investor in January 2019, and then the deal was done in 2021. So it took two years. And I think I counted that it was 200 engaged groups until we got the deal done and got to Series B. And now the trajectory is looking a bit different to where we were.
Nicholas: That’s a bit of a lesson for founders in MedTech Actuator programs and the innovation ecosystem more broadly. That you’ve got to have that resilience. You need to believe in yourself and your own technology. And you need to be able to face a whole lot of things not going your way, particularly in the pitching space.
And hopefully you’ll get lucky and the timing will be right, and it’ll kick off. But you know don’t stop after two or three or five or ten – or 200! [laughs] – negative ones, right? You’ve got to keep going. The position we are in today is because Tom has had the ability to keep going and to keep searching.
Thomas: Throughout our time working together, Nick has had this unending amount of enthusiasm and optimism that is uncrushable. A lot of people just give up or don’t have this sort of resilience.
What I’ve loved about working with Nick for all these years is that when I get a little bit flat or down, he’s always able to bounce us back up. Sometimes he misplaces his optimism and feels that everything isgoing to work out! But when it’s getting tough I really feed off Nick’s resilience.
On answering childhood curiosities
And the calling of Inspector Gadget.
Thomas: In terms of my childhood curiosity, I think the subconscious in the brain is a massively untouched area that still seems invisible. I’m probably going to die before we get the chance to really understand that. There’s so much to learn from the brain to understand what we’re manifesting.
Nicholas: I’ll never genuinely feel like Inspector Gadget. There’s always more tricks that he can pull out of his hat. That’s a never ending story that will keep going and keep getting better.
Learn more about Synchron, and read the Press Release announcing Philip O’Keefe’s ‘Hello World’ moment on 23 December 2021.
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