Setting up successful life science start-ups (part two)

“The ageing population and lack of capacity in traditional care settings means that significant changes in the way we care for people need to happen.

— Setting up successful life science start-ups (part two)

Following on from the previous post where Accelerator lead, Colin Roberts introduced us to the programme, part two introduces opportunities for start-ups and the current state of the Life Science industry.

New opportunities for start-ups

Many of the innovations that BioCity helps to develop impact healthcare, like Kirsten Lord’s business PhysioMedics. Her company produces self-assessment triage software that matches patients suffering from muscle and joint problems, like back pain, to recommended treatments. After graduating from the DEVELOP programme, PhysioMedics has gone on to raise over £1M of private sector investment.

PhysioMedics wanted to initially sell their software to GPs but their customer discovery work showed that GPs don’t have a problem with back pain triage. However, this is a problem for businesses that provide health insurance to companies. So, now their software helps private insurance providers identify the right treatment at the right time. They ran a successful pilot project with this newly identified customer segment which helped them secure their first round of investment.

PhysioMedics is just one example of the role start-ups are playing in healthcare. Changes in healthcare are opening up new opportunities startups can take advantage of.

Colin said: “Traditionally, a lot of innovation in healthcare has come from big pharma, medical device manufacturers and big biotech companies.”

 

“They are very slow moving and not able to keep up with the pace of change in society and technology. They are restricted in terms of innovation as they have an established business model, which may not allow for the level of risk required for a step change in approach. On the other hand, small companies can innovate at speed and have more focus than big companies providing huge opportunities for start-up companies to disrupt the traditional healthcare market.”

Data science underpins a lot of the innovations coming through because it can help understand conditions better. Digital health is also on the rise as more medical devices are being connected to software and sensors. Such innovations are changing how healthcare can be delivered.

Colin said: “Hospitals are not a very safe place to be for long periods because of the risk of infection and the problems of institutionalisation. By using technology, patients can be monitored in non-hospital settings, which is better for the healthcare provider and better for the patients, this provides the opportunity for new business models to be discovered and it’s an exciting part of the current market.”

But there is still a lot of untapped potential in this area. Colin explains that the technology used for telecare for example is still analogue rather than digital.

“The ageing population and lack of capacity in traditional care settings means that significant changes in the way we care for people need to happen. Increasingly, people will remain in their homes supported by new technologies. Current telecare technology, for example, is still based on analogue phone lines and was developed decades ago, so it’s an area ripe for disruption given the advances in sensor, mobile and digital technologies in the last decade,” he said.

Innovation in this area is not all about commercial success, although it is important.

“Most of the companies we work with are driven by a passion for doing good at the end of the day. Lots of people want to improve the lives of patients suffering life changing conditions. We are very conscious of this throughout the journey they take with us,” Colin said.

 

Scotland’s life science industry on the up

According to BioCity’s latest UK Life Science Start-Up Report, the growth in start-ups and investment may indicate the industry in the UK is in a golden era.

Scotland is one of the regions that showed the biggest increase in investment for the period 2012 to 2016. They were beaten only by regions in the ‘golden triangle’ – London, the South East and the East. Colin gave his thoughts on what makes the region favourable for life science start-ups.

“It’s a great place for life science start-ups. It’s a very supportive environment.

 

“The Life Sciences sector has been recognised by the government as a key driver for future economic development and a life science strategy with ambitious aims has been published.

“Public sector funding for young companies in the life sciences sector is generous compared to other areas in the UK and there is an active and engaged local venture capital and angel investment community.”

“We have five world class universities which are all very close together and there’s also a program for funding innovation coming out of academia, which has been in place for a number of years. In short, we have a great environment for company creation in the life science industry, which BioCity is excited to be part of.”

 

Tips for getting onto the accelerator programme

So, what are Colin’s tips for getting onto the highly competitive DEVELOP programme? He recommends starting the process of talking to customers, gathering evidence and identifying the problem you are trying to solve early on. BioCity’s Spark events are designed to help people do just this. Attending one of these workshops gives people the skills they need to get a head start, so they have a better chance of securing a place on the main accelerator programme. It also means they are likely to get more out of the programme and be closer to the point where they can get investment when they finish. There are currently two SPARK events a year but there are likely to be more in the future.

Colin also encourages people to simply pick up the phone and talk to the BioCity team about the idea and how best to engage with the BioCity network. You can even ask to be put in touch with others who have been through the programme. You can search the events calendar on the BioCity website for upcoming programmes.