DigitalHealth.London Insider – Searching for Unicorns

Yinka Makinde
Yinka Makinde is Programme Director for DigitalHealth.London

The Week – 27th June –  1st July, 

In other digital sectors such as transportation (e.g. Uber), business software (e.g. slack), cloud storage (e.g. Dropbox), mobile payments (e.g. Stripe), productivity (e.g. Evernote) and ticketing (e.g. Eventbrite), we have a concept known as ‘Unicorns’. These are private companies valued at $1 billion or more, backed by a bull market and a new generation of disruptive technology.  Most of these companies are US success stories.

Does health tech/digital health in Europe have the potential to create ‘Unicorns’? The trend in thinking is that a series of trade sales and consolidations are more likely to happen than the creation of Unicorns, for a number of reasons. The focus on reimbursement that defines the UK health system has implications on the business models that can feasibly work for digital health companies. Furthermore, despite having a National Health Service, the landscape is in fact quite fragmented, with over 200 individual ‘customers’, with relatively high barriers to entry. If at all, the emergence of ‘Unicorns’ are more likely to be seen in the US rather than in UK and Europe.

Nonetheless, in the UK we have a number of examples of digital health companies beginning to emerge with ‘Star Quality’ status, which may only scratch the surface of ‘Unicorn potential’, who knows, but are proving to deliver attractive benefits for the health system and its patient populations.

Babylon Health and Health Unlocked are two great examples of British companies emerging with this start quality status. I’m looking forward to meeting these companies to explore their stories, in due course. DeepMind is another (recently acquired by Google in 2014, to form Google DeepMind). I was fortunate to hear Mustafa Suleyman, Co-founder & Head of Applied AI, speak with such conviction at the Kings Fund Digital Health & Care Congress, about their ambitions for artificial intelligence in healthcare. But let’s talk more about that in my next blog.

Alivecor is a great example of a US based digital health company with emergent star quality.  A mobile heart monitor, which could help to prevent hospital admissions and deaths linked to Atrial Fibrillation related Stroke, while saving the NHS money by reducing the need for expensive Anticoagulation treatment. I had the pleasure of meeting Michael Morgan-Curran, International Sales Director who shared the incredible story of Alivecor’s journey from incubator 3 years ago to having delivered 8 million ECG’s globally, with the CEO of NHS England publically endorsing the product and committing to reimbursement of the solution if locally commissioned and prescribed.

That’s a great start!

I heard a panelist once say at a conference that “Disruption” in healthcare is where patients are disrupting the health system – discovering demand as opposed to creating demand. Perhaps once we start seeing innovations that can achieve that, then we are more likely to see the emergence of even more star quality companies and maybe the potential for one or two ‘Unicorns’.

Yinka Makinde