50% of start-ups fail according to data from Y-Combinator. That is an enormous amount of wasted time, capital and effort; so what’s going wrong? 

One year on as Programme Director of the DigitalHealth.London Accelerator and co-founder of HS., Dr James Somauroo has learned a great deal about what start-up success in health-tech looks like. Start-ups can be doomed to fail from day one unless they get the basics right, found and vest in the correct way, get set on the right path and receive appropriate early advice to avoid the inevitable mistakes that almost all start-ups make. While part of any early stage company is learning to pivot and failing fast it is important that founders and companies avoid mistakes that may be catastrophic in either the early or late stage of their growth.

Founders need to be hard-working, resilient and possess an unrelenting belief in their own ability to succeed; but they will get nowhere if they don’t have a good idea that solves a real problem that someone is willing to pay for.

Below are some of James' reflections from his time as director of the Digital Health.London accelerator and as a partner in HS.

Three questions you have to know the answers to in healthcare innovation are:

  • What problem do you solve?
  • Whose problem is it?
  • Have you asked them for feedback?

It surprises me how few can tell me what problem they solve, let alone in a single sentence, and much of the time I debate with them whether this is really a problem at all. Without being able to articulate the problem you solve, it’s then impossible to determine who your customer is and therefore whether or not your start-up will be successful. Each problem in healthcare has a different customer or key stakeholder, and to help you succeed, we need to figure out exactly who that is if you’re ever going to make a sale and, thus, create impact.

A key stakeholder is somebody with a pain point that your solution must address, and this person must have significant influence on the system. It could be anyone, from an associate nursing director to a CCG chair, a GP practice manager or a specific patient group, and un-unique to healthcare is the fact that the user of the product will also be different to the customer, so a plan must be made to capture both. 

So how does it work in the NHS?

Let’s say the nursing director of a Trust is your key stakeholder, you’d better make sure that the nurses love using the product, the senior sisters or charge nurses are seeing more efficient work and better patient experience, and that the CFO can clearly see the financial benefit behind a business model that means they don’t have to face a big up-front cost. Unfortunately, “saving clinicians’ time” doesn’t quite give the CFO the cash-in-hand savings they are looking for.

At HS., we’ve partnered with the NHS, private healthcare providers, insurers, technology companies and other corporates to create the HS. Build Programme. HS.Build is looking for the best PhDs, engineers, coders, clinicians, MBA graduates and serial entrepreneurs wanting to start their own companies and helps them find the perfect co-founder, get early customers and gain funding for their idea. Not all applicants need an idea, but they must show entrepreneurial spirit and founder characteristics during the interview process. Importantly, you do not need to quit your job or study to be part of the programme.

To apply as an individual or pre-seed business, click here.

The teams they build need to be proficient; but they also need to work well together and complement each other in skills, knowledge and even personality.

Finding a co-founder is tough work.

You could be a clinician envisioning the perfect app to solve a problem, but you need to find a coder to turn this into reality. You might be a patient who knows exactly what would make your chronic disease more manageable, but you need the mind of an engineer to build a prototype. You may be a PhD student in nanotechnology or artificial intelligence with ambitions to turn your research into something to help the lives of millions, but you need a chief medical officer with in-depth knowledge of the NHS to help you understand the market or a business or product expert to help you commercialise your research.

Until now, those worlds have not collided, and so many of these ideas will have sadly disappeared, with even those thinking of approaching the NHS being told it’s “too hard to break into.” Healthcare innovation so often gets left behind and clinicians will be told by those wholly unqualified to do so that their idea is far-fetched and/or can’t happen. Patients who know their disease inside-out have no way to actually impact others or turn their own expert ideas for innovation and improvement into an actual product.

At HS., we buck these trends. Applying to be part of our Build Programme will mean that you are entering a highly competitive process to be invited to a pool of future founders and pre-seed teams that have the ideas, skills and attitudes to succeed. You’ll be surrounded by likeminded people and experts in their fields. We have what we think are the best combinations, based on personality testing and skill-set matching, but we know that entrepreneurs thrive on freedom, so we’re not restrictive in who comes together to form the start-ups. And once you’re in the ecosystem, you’ll be supported for life.

Start-ups need experts to guide them, but they often don’t know where to turn, and can be badly mistaken in whom they choose for advice.

Recently, I’ve had conversations, read blogs and articles and had debates on the importance of various elements of a start-up. Clinical founders, coding founders, deep tech expert founders, PhD founders, MBA founders, experienced founders, inexperienced founders, the list goes on. You could argue the importance of each, but ultimately, a good start-up team will find the advice they need and decide on the best course of action to take themselves forward.

However, it is near impossible at times to know where to find that advice and who to trust. Without a clinical founder in the team, do you take advice from any clinician? Absolutely not, but you might not know that. If you’re trying to access the NHS, the DigitalHealth.London Accelerator or the NHS Innovation Accelerator might be right for you to access their list of mentors and contacts, or if you solve corporate problems, PwC, Pfizer or the BMJ Accelerators might be the best fit to open sales channels, but how do you know where to turn, how to put your best foot forward in your application, or even know if you’re ready to apply?

At HS., we guide you through every turn. We know the roadblocks that are up ahead. We offer our collective knowledge and experience for start-ups and individuals coming through our Build Programme, as well as guidance and support into the right accelerators for you when you are ready. Our mentors and advisors set you on the right path to success, from CCIOs of NHS trusts offering advice on your business model and pricing, to investors helping you get your pitch right for funding.

So how do you found the perfect health start-up?

If you’re an individual looking to co-found a healthcare start-up, or a pre-seed team looking to validate your idea, create an MVP and/or prepare for and raise investment, the HS.Build Programme is the solution to your problem.

Dr. James Somauroo is a Founding Partner of HS. and Programme Director of the DigitalHealth.London Accelerator.