My five top tips for taking a healthcare innovation to market
Earlier in February, I was delighted to be asked to share my experiences of commercialising a healthcare technology at the West of England Academic Health Science Network Connection Event, hosted by SETsquared.
The room was full of aspiring healthcare entrepreneurs and innovators, so I hope my story has inspired them to take their ideas forward.
I came up with the concept for my company Hydrate for Health in 2007, following a lengthy stay in hospital for a serious back operation. During my stay I had great difficulty in easily getting a drink, due to the fact that the fluids were out of reach on the bedside table and nursing staff often had too little time to help when help was needed.
An idea came to me as a result of this experience. I was sure that my experience wasn’t unique and that dehydration was a potentially widespread problem during hospital stay.
My idea was very simple. A drinking system that clips on to beds, wheelchairs and chairs, called The Hydrant, which enables quick and easy access to fluids without the need to call for assistance. The result is much less chance of dehydration and vastly increased independence for the user.
The NHS has now taken on the Hydrant and an independent study in a hospital using it has shown a 20% reduction in length of stay, a 97% reduction in incidence of dehydration and a 100% reduction in hospital acquired infections. If replicated nationally it could save the NHS £5 bn per year.
During this process, I left my job in the corporate world and whilst it was definitely the right decision to risk everything for something I passionately believe in, it wasn’t always a smooth and easy path.
So, here are my top five tips for anyone looking to bring a healthcare technology to market.
1. Do your research and get evidence
Google is your friend. There is so much information out there that you can access free of charge. This is your first port of call. Once you’ve exhausted this source, you then need to find industry experts. Find out who they are and don’t be afraid to knock on doors.
2. Understand the size of the opportunity
Breakdown your potential markets. For my business that was hospitals, care homes and people requiring care at home. Once you identified these markets in as much detail as possible you can start doing the Math.
3. Build a strong business case
This is the easy part. If you’ve identified a gap in the market, done your research and designed and built a good product – you should have a compelling business case.
4. Know your customer
This is particularly important in for healthcare, as the NHS is a highly complex and fragmented market. Even if you’re technology is adopted in one hospital, it can be difficult to achieve consistency of use in just that one hospital. Ideally, you would start a business around something you know but I started with a completely blank sheet. I knew nothing about the NHS, manufacturing or design, so it’s been an incredibly steep learning curve. Through understanding and refining our markets we are now focusing on community based care.
5. Speak to influencers and access support – get CHAMPIONS on board to help make it all happen
Many doors have opened simply because I’ve never been scared to talk to people. It’s generally human nature to want to help others and the more you talk to people, you get a spiral effect and generate more useful leads and contacts. There is support out there - so access everything that is available. I would highly recommend that healthcare innovators in the South of England get involved in SETsquared's Healthcare Innovation Programme. Alongside the Academic Health Science Network, they are working with entrepreneurs to help accelerate the development of innovation within healthcare.
Never, ever, give up!!!
Have a vision in your mind of ultimately where you want to get to and if you’re determined enough you will get there.