Founders Building a Stronger Healthcare System Post-COVID


Nicole McCallum

May 19, 2020

A summary of key themes from our recent founder event in collaboration with Innovation Bay.

In Innovation Bay’s recent VC x Founder panel discussion, Managing Partner, Alister Coleman talked with HealthMatch CEO, Manuri Gunawardena, and Swoop Aero CEO, Eric Peck, about adapting to a COVID climate, the future of healthcare innovation and investment into healthcare for the long term.

Check out the full conversation on the Innovation Bay YouTube channel.

Manuri on HealthMatch + COVID

  • Technology plays an increasingly critical role in clinical trials — from enabling digital trials and screening of patients against complex eligibility criteria, through to digitising how a clinical trial is run and the patient experience.
  • Historically, decision-making around drug discovery have been bets based on anecdotal data. The tides are shifting and Pharma is leveraging powerful AI technology like HealthMatch to gain access to real-world data, improve efficiency in the drug discovery process, and deliver insights on where to focus R&D efforts.
  • Pharma and biotech companies are at the forefront of COVID treatment development. To support these efforts, HealthMatch has:
  1. Developed a global clinical trial tracker to drive collaboration and transparency in trial data results across the medical community.
  2. Offered free patient recruitment to COVID researchers in order to streamline trial patient onboarding.
  • COVID has contextualised the desperation patients feel as they wait for a cure to their condition. Right now, the world waits anxiously for a COVID vaccine, and because the pain is universal, many (sick and healthy) are volunteering to participate in clinical trials. On its first day of launch, HealthMatch had 500 people register for trials.

Eric on the Future of Healthcare

  • People assume Swoop started operating in Africa first because it was easier to get aviation approvals, but that’s not the case. These developing nations are navigating healthcare crises every day, and are proactively looking for and receptive to trialling new technology solutions.
  • COVID now acts as a catalyst to accelerate this technology adoption in those developing countries but also all over the world.
  • Swoop has proven its ability to deploy aeromedical logistics networks. It now has an immediate opportunity to implement networks in supply chains in markets like Australia, to address both COVID and any future healthcare crisis that may erupt.
  • Swoop’s technology enables any healthcare system to move products on-demand while mitigating the spread of disease. Its everyday value-add in the healthcare supply chain is significant; in a pandemic, its ability to move product by air is a thousand times better than any other solution available today.
  • This isn’t the first global pandemic and it won’t be the last, significant long term investment into health tech innovation is a priority.

Alister on great founders

  • Eric and Manuri are two brilliant Aussie founders demonstrating the power of technology when you deploy it accurately. One with a team operating autonomous flying robots from Melbourne and NSW that delivers medical supplies on the other side of the world in Africa, and in HealthMatch’s case a company is rapidly matching people all over the world to drug trials and without ever meeting them in person.
  • What we notice with the best founders is that they mix a laser-guided ability to identify a problem, see the bigger opportunity clearly, and then develop a solution and a company ahead of anyone else.

On healthtech investing in Aus

  • Technology is an enabler for existing healthcare workflows and processes that haven’t been able to scale historically. Yet in Australia, outside of life sciences, there are a select few VCs investing in health tech at the early stage. It’s not enough as a base of investors with the market our size and the talented number of founders.
  • The opportunity in healthtech in Australia is to back founders who can build companies initially in niche markets in order to validate the customer need, before broadening that out to a much bigger global market.

Parting advice

  • “You need to have a bullish drive to build something that people say is impossible. When you take the leap you’re then committed to the problem. You’ll get feedback from people that you like and don’t like. Learn to soak it all in and get yourself over the hurdles.” — Eric
  • “Speak to as many people as you can in the startup ecosystem — particularly founders — whether it’s building your MVP or raising your first round of capital. The more people you surround yourself with who have had those experiences, the more you’ll avoid pitfalls along the way.” — Manuri
  • “Founders and investors need to understand that great founders don’t stop during difficult times, and customers still have needs that can be met. During those periods, if you find a valuable niche that gives you the ability to reach a really valuable goal — then you should step forward and start that company. Because it’s these companies that have a big vision and hack their way to a solution, and are great learners, that have the best chance of success.” — Alister

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