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.
Want to read more about HatiSens journey? Check out a full piece on the HatiSens team here.
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.
This piece was written by Makenzie Thomas, Program and Community Coordinator, and Shanna Lam, Project Officer, from MedTech Actuator