Digital Health: Women CEO’s, Africa, and the Elderly

May 31, 2013 1 Comment John Brownlee

It was a great pleasure to attend the Health XL Global Gathering yesterday in Dublin, Ireland.

Health XL is a European-based Digital Health Accelerator backed by IBM, GSK, Silicon Valley Bank, Cleveland Clinic, and others. They have just completed their first class of startups. The highlight of the day-long event were presentations from the seven startups to an audience of 350 investors, mentors, entrepreneurs, government representatives, healthcare providers and patient advocates.

While the focus of the day was rightfully on the participating startups and their futures, there was also a small group discussion led by Darren Hite from Aberdare Ventures on the current state of digital health investing, a visit from the Irish Prime Minister, Enda Kenny, a whole lot of networking and exchanging of ideas, and an after-party that ranged across Dublin until (if I recall correctly) around 4am.

The event was incredibly positive and inspiring. However, I took away three ideas that I think are worth including more into the conversation around digital health entrepreneurship. They have to do with women, developing countries, and the elderly.

Where are the women CEO’s?

I was honored to be asked to moderate a panel discussion called, “Where is the Silicon Valley of Healthcare?”. The panel included Abir Sen (Minneapolis-based digital health pioneer), Leslie Ziegler (co-founder of Rock Health), Vishal Gulati (Radient Capital), and Professor Mark Ferguson (Science Foundation Ireland).

During the panel Leslie Ziegler suggested that we need more women entrepreneurs in Digital Health. WIth women making the majority of health decisions for most families, it makes sense that their perspective be driving the innovations happening on their behalf. Duh, right? But as soon as she said it I turned to the large audience and it hit me that the room was about 95% male. Uh oh.

At our Chief Operating Officer is a woman and I probably take for granted the perspective she brings. But Leslie’s comment cannot be taken lightly, and organizations like Health XL, Rock Health, Blueprint Health, Healthbox, and others should take note and be intentional about encouraging women not just to participate, but to drive the innovation happening in the digital health space. Doing this will make for a better digital health ecosystem, and better solutions.

What About Africa?

For me, the most impressive presentation was from Africa. One of the Health XL startups – Claimsync – is attempting to solve the workflow and fraud/abuse problems that accompany the paper-based medical claims process in Africa. Claims processing may sound a bit dry, but CEO Seth Mawuse Akumani’s presentation made you want to quit your job and join him on his quest!

For me, Seth’s presentation raised the question of how investment in developing-world innovation is going to be facilitated. The health disparities between the developing world and the developed world are well documented, but digital technologies leveraging the expansive access to the internet can change this in a transformational way. Entreprenuers and investors like to say they want to “change the world”. Well?

We need an army of Seth Mawuse Akumani’s, and we need them to be well funded to solve some of the basic challenges being faced in the developing world. “Well done” to Health XL for recognizing this need and looking to Africa for one of the seven startups in their first class.

Digital Health for the Elderly?

One of the startups, a Finnish firm called NurseBuddy, presented their innovative solution for managing home care and communication between the elderly and their families. I was struck by these young, brilliant entrepreneurs from Finland who were focusing their innovation on an older population.

So much of the digital health innovation is being done by young designers, technologists, and entrepreneurs. However, many of the challenges faced by our healthcare systems around the world are with older populations. There is a massive misconception that “old people aren’t online”. It isn’t true today, it’s getting less true every day, and in the not-distant future it will be completely untrue.

I’m encouraged to see entrepreneurs and investors (like HealthXL) embrace technology-based solutions for older patients and their families. Young entrepreneurs should ignore the skeptics and not be afraid to develop and design solutions for older people!

One thought on “Digital Health: Women CEO’s, Africa, and the Elderly

  1. I get excited when I see Mest Tech start-ups excel in their endeavors wherever they find themselves. Indeed, Claimsync has chosen to resolve a very pressing challenge faced by health care sectors in developing nations such as mine, Ghana. And I second your call for support for Claimsync to resolve this problem with technology.

    Good job Seth.

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