Innovation & Entrepreneurship

Innovation & Entrepreneurship

Overcoming innovation challenges on the journey from concept to creation: the Sim&Cure story


Mathieu Sanchez, CEO of Montpellier-based startup Sim&Cure, talks about overcoming the innovation challenges on his personal journey from concept to creation

innovation challenges

‘Sim&Cure develops and sells medical software devices to secure cerebral endovascular treatment, combining computer simulation with medical expertise. Our software is a kind of Google Maps for neuro-radiologists in terms of helping them to find the best type, position and size of medical device for each patient.

‘Sim&Cure launched in August 2014, and we won three innovation competitions in France between May 2014 and June 2015 (securing €210,000). In December 2015, IT-Translation invested €300,000 in our startup. Our company currently has six full-time employees and two interns, and we plan to grow to eight permanent staff before the end of the year.

‘Our software will start its trial period this month, and we hope to sell our first licences before the end of the year. But there are, of course, innovation challenges. From my point of view, the biggest challenge for innovators is to transform an idea into a minimal viable product (MVP). During this period, you face many obstacles, the first is building a complementary team where people have the same vision and goal. This is crucial – you need competent people you can trust. And it’s a mandatory prerequisite for the next step – finding financing.

Team dynamics

‘Whether seeking money through innovative startup competitions or investment funds, the team is the centrepiece to your endeavours. Basically, you bet on a team and then on the innovation. But without money, it’s impossible to perform the research and development and marketing needed to obtain a MVP. You will inevitably spend a lot of time writing proposals, drafting files and preparing presentations to defend your project during the regulatory hearings.

‘To convince decision-makers to trust you, you have to know your potential market inside out. To justify investment, your innovation must meet a need or solve a problem. And while you, as project leader, will spend most of your time sorting all of this out, your team will continue developing your prototype.

‘This period also gives you a chance to compare your vision with those of relevant experts who can help you adjust your plan or vision: what is the problem you’re solving, who will you sell to, and how? This is a very difficult stage because you won’t have a clear picture of the future, but this work is important nevertheless, and it’s also a very exciting and exhilarating time. It’s when everything will start to make real sense and your team will begin to take shape.

‘If you manage to find funding, things will start moving very fast, which can be a bit frightening. You may feel like you don’t know where to turn. Don’t worry, this feeling is normal. The project is growing and now that you have money in the coffers, you must get to market as soon as possible and start targeting potential users.

When is finished really finished?

‘Soon, a question will arise: when should I stop developing my product?

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This is critical, and very difficult to answer. One thing is certain – the perfect product doesn’t exist! You have to explain this point to your R&D team, and it’s not always easy to get the message across. You must define what essential features answer the challenge you set out to solve. Once you’ve done that, you’ll soon reach your goal – the MVP.

Regulatory requirements

‘Then another adventure begins: regulation (CE mark, FDA approval, etc).

You are obliged, in medtech, to be certified in order to sell your product. After all, we can’t play with patients’ health.

‘To meet regulatory requirements, you have to change the way you work with your team. To apply and integrate the relevant requirements, you need a period of adaptation. Frustratingly, you will probably feel that your startup is idling and that you’re losing valuable time. But it’s not really so, because this time-consuming process, in my experience, will eventually improve the structure and efficiency of your startup. Now that everything is in working order, you just need to sell your fully approved MVP.

Penetrating the market

‘But how do you actually go about selling it? And to whom? Welcome to the world of marketing! You will have to identify your “early adopters”, who will then allow you to penetrate your target market. What arguments should you put forward? How do you seek out these early adopters? There’s no single answer – you’ll have to do your research thoroughly. This is the crucial information that will enable you to find the perfect niche for your product. It isn’t merely a “nice-to-have” but a “must-have” – it’s essential to know how you will approach these early adopters.

‘This positioning information will also directly impact on your selling price. Everyone wants to sell the ultimate “vital” device but, unfortunately, this may not be the case every time. Don’t try to oversell your product; sooner or later your customers will realise the real value of your product, and if an impression of having been “cheated” is left, it will be harmful for your future business. Conversely, an innovation must be sold at a relatively high price because, by definition, it is something new, which has taken a long time to develop and will make a positive change to customers. This is another paradox that you are bound to face. But, paradoxes and obstacles aside, I’m happy to say that ultimately the adventure in innovation is really worthwhile.’

About the author

Mathieu Sanchez Ph.D is the co-founder of award-winning endovascular treatment software Sim&Cure. He has previously led a post-doctoral research team in the biomechanical study of cerebral aneurysm treatment at the National Centre for Scientific Research in Montpellier, France.

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