Realities of med-tech success

The other day I went to a talk by an investor at MD Start. Considering our ever-increasing reliance on med tech the average clinician would be forgiven to think that investment in med tech is booming. Although potentially millions can be made if your invention makes it this doesn’t mean that there are people lining up round the corner to invest in your idea. In reality, venture capital in med tech is declining and the competition has gotten more aggressive over the years. This is happening in Europe and the USA with USA firms coming over to Europe to compete for investors. The speaker revealed that the main aim for a med tech start-up was to get to a point where a med tech giant could buy you out. This is also getting harder as med tech companies have been merging. Because of this, they now require much more than just proof of concept. They want clinical trials that show benefit and protective intellectual property. Before this they were happy with ideas and proof of concept. Because of this, accelerators like MD start take on ideas and prototypes and help the company with paper work and regulations in order to get them to market…. Sounds good right? Well there’s another kick coming.

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Of the thousands of applications that they reviewed, they backed nine. She didn’t go into the reasons as to what commonly came up in the applications that were rejected but she did talk about the ones they did back. The ones that were backed all solved a well-established problem, better heart pump, ultrasound guided blood vessel bypass kits etc. The physiology surrounding the start-ups was very basic and could be explained to someone with no medical background within hours. The impressive innovation was the engineering solutions to these problems. A bit of comfort could be found in the fact that MD start, due to it being an accelerator, accepted ideas and proof of concepts which in-turn, they helped develop into viable sales to med tech giants. This means that there is no doubt that a fair number of applications were merely ideas. To what percentage we will never know. Even the slides on investment cycles had confidential statements on them. But in competition, these are easy to overcome.

We have to remember that ideas by themselves are fairly worthless. Ok we need to have a good idea to complete the recipe but it’s one of the smallest parts of the development process. An extreme example I use to illustrate this is time travel. We could use a time travel device to go back and prevent the cardiac arrest. However, 99.9999% of the hurdle is developing the time travel device. There is also a clinical need for curing cancer, however, the reward is for the people who solve the technicalities of curing cancer. The same goes for most other things. Technical problem solving is where you add real value. I’ve lost count of how many doctors have contacted me with an idea. However, they have no technical skill or knowledge to even make this a reality. Now not knowing everything about the process isn’t a deal breaker. It’s understandable that some people want some advice and direction before going down a particular path. The annoyance is when they expect to take on none of the technical problem solving or admin work whilst expecting to have a large slice of the pie. The icing on the annoyance cake is when they talk to you in secret and are very protective of their idea, ramping up the hostility if they think that you’re going to work on it without them. Below are some of the ideas that I have heard from multiple doctors:

Staff rostering

referral pathways

locum agencies

idea sharing platforms

social networks

And the list goes on. The thing is that none of these ideas are hard to come up with and there are already multiple versions already out there. Even with more general concepts like social network, and email, there are multiple providers. Some dominate others because they have more elegant technical solutions and outperform competitors. From my own personal experience, I have little doubt that MD start’s high rejection rate I due to multiple clinicians knocking on their door saying “I have an idea” with no real idea on how to make it a reality.

It’s not all doom and gloom, all I am saying is that you need to have a least a desire to take on some technical problems. When Shubz and I started building myGPevents Shubz was a GP with little to no technical ability. However, he started learning to code in HTML and CSS and made large technical contributions to the development of the site. In fact, it most probably wouldn’t have been built without his contributions. If you’re a clinician who has an idea, spend a few hours googling what technicalities have to be crossed in order to make it a reality. For instance, if you want to make a website knowing what a coding framework, a server, and the way data is stored will put you above 90% of the clinicians I’ve met who want to start a website. This will take roughly 2 hours of your time. Whilst you don’t have to be an expert knowing something about the technicalities is a must.





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