Just like in the fairy tale when Jack sows his magic beans, medtech entrepreneurs have to plant their seed of an idea not knowing whether it will lead them to the goose that lays the golden egg or a ‘giant’ hole (in their finances or confidence). Janice Morton talks to some brave medtech startups who hope their ventures are going to really grow
One company that’s on its way up is London-based Cupris Health, winner of the Seedling category (for medtech startups at prototype stage) in the recent Beanstalks competition. Organised by GIANT, The Global Innovation and New Technology health event, the competition aims to identify and nurture the best entrepreneurs creating innovative answers to everyday healthcare problems. Cupris was one of 50 finalists to pitch to a panel of distinguished clinicians, entrepreneurs and investors at GIANT’s London conference in November.
‘Winning has been a big boost for our team’s morale and motivation,’ says Mike Pallett, Cupris’ CEO. ‘And it’s great to raise awareness of our products and achievements so far.’ As part of its prize, Cupris will receive support from expert clinicians and entrepreneurs to move the business to the next stage.
Dr Odeh Odeh, a trauma and orthopaedic surgeon at London’s Barts Health NHS Trust and Director of the Beanstalks competition explains what the judges were looking for. ‘The first question was whether there was a real need for the solution? Was there a sizeable problem to address? Secondly, the solution had to be realistic. Thirdly, the product had to create value and be protectable. Finally, novel ideas are not enough – a company needs a clear, viable revenue stream. Investors ultimately need to see a return on their investments.’ The consensus among the judges was that Cupris’ simple, efficient and cost-effective solution more than met these criteria.
‘The seed of the idea came from our co-founder Julian Hamann, an NHS consultant ENT surgeon. He felt that a significant proportion of patients he saw in clinic could be better cared for remotely, saving time, money and unnecessary hospital trips as well as freeing up time for patients who need care most,’ explains Pallett. It’s estimated that 65 per cent of all UK outpatient hospital consultations could be avoided by using remote consultations – saving the NHS £6 billion annually.
The company’s solution is Cupris Health Platform, which enables doctors to remotely diagnose and monitor conditions using clinical images and video captured by smartphone-connected devices. The secure app and web-based platform allows physicians to communicate with patients, share cases with colleagues, and add information from questionnaires and audio recordings. Connected devices developed by Cupris so far include an otoscope, TYM, which was launched recently. Improving on standard otoscopes, TYM offers better quality images and videos, which can be shared and stored so conditions can be monitored over time.
‘Other products in our pipeline include an ophthalmoscope and dermatoscope,’ adds Pallett. ‘Our software platform is “agnostic”, so it can be used for remote consultation of a wide range of health complaints.’ The team is also working on machine learning algorithms to assist in the diagnosis of patient conditions. This will be an important aspect of the company’s value proposition in future.
In addition to clinical trials with the Medway NHS Foundation Trust, GP practices and care homes in Kent, the company trialled its platform and otoscope in rural Nepal – a country where 16 per cent of the population have an ear disease – with good results. ‘We also have a device in use in Malawi and are planning further trials in India and East Africa. Equal access to healthcare for everyone wherever they are, no matter how remote is an essential step in the future of healthcare,’ Pallett adds. With the international online medical consultation market currently worth $60 billion for developed countries, this opens up a world of possibilities for Cupris.
‘Equal access to healthcare for everyone wherever they are, no matter how remote is an essential step in the future of healthcare,’ Mike Pallett
None of this would have been possible, of course, without funding, which has come from a variety of sources. ‘Finding funding has been hard and taken up a lot of time, although we did outsource our grant writing to professionals – we recognised it wasn’t a skillset we had in our small team,’ Pallett explains. Initial funding came from Innovation RCA incubator, Innovate UK and an angel investor. ‘That money enabled us to develop the otoscope and a basic software platform to test it – and to work with clinicians to get the product right and better understand the market.’ But the real game changer for Cupris was the Small Business Research Initiative funding. ‘Phase 1 was a six-month proof-of-concept project, during which we carried out testing with patients and consulted healthcare professionals on our device and software platform. We used this feedback to refine our product and demonstrate its commercial value for the healthcare industry. Phase 2 funding helped us build our team, conduct clinical trials, attract private investment and get ready to launch within the NHS.’
The company also went down the crowdfunding route, closing its Crowdcube campaign in September after raising £548,000. ‘Crowdfunding worked for us as we had a compelling proposition that was easily understood – with a potential market in developing countries and in the NHS. Plus we’d raised a proportion of the funding round up front, which is essential to drive its completion.’
And other challenges? ‘Developing the hardware,’ Pallett explains. ‘On the surface, our devices look relatively simple but they involve a huge amount of R&D and raise a lot of design issues; I lost count of the prototypes,’ he jokes. ‘Also operating within healthcare is difficult for a small company of seven plus a larger team of consultants working with us. Complying with all the regulations has been a real headache for us, but now I think it’s one of our business’ strengths.
‘Although we have had traction in the NHS through SBRI Healthcare funding, NHS practitioners using our products and our membership of the DigitalHealth.London accelerator, I still see adoption by the NHS at scale as our major challenge,’ Pallet continues. ‘We have a three-pronged strategy to tackle this. We are selling devices directly to healthcare professionals, trying to get adoption of our software communication platform for free – to get clinicians buy in and ensure we have a product that is really valued by them. We are also integrating with existing patient management systems, initially, targeting GP management systems such as EMIS and SystmOne. We see this as generating further adoption of our products. And we are continuing to gather as much evidence as possible on the health economic benefit of our platform through further pilots and clinical trials. Cracking the NHS is still a work in progress for us.’
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