In November last year the UK’s Digital Health Playbook 2023 Edition was published which features over 200 UK innovators and exporters. The aim of the playbook is to maximise the impact of British innovation in solving the biggest challenges facing healthcare globally:
“The UK is a genuine global leader in developing brand new digital health innovation and getting it to market, regulating it and then finally validating it at scale. It is one of the best places in the world to start a digital health company, with unparalleled support structures for innovation. Companies that prosper in the UK are well-prepared to scale abroad because they have succeeded in a challenging market and invested in their innovation. Global firms often use the UK as a launchpad into other markets, to find talent, test their ideas, get onto the radar of investors and to seek acquisition.”
The challenge for digital health companies
But expanding internationally is by no means an easy task for digital health companies and it can be difficult to know where to start. We know that healthcare is part of a global agenda and many of the challenges facing the NHS are also facing other countries. So how can we help the digital health innovations supporting our NHS to spread to other countries and help transform their health systems?
At DigitalHealth.London we aim to support companies on our programme who are interested in expanding to international markets and have previously hosted webinars and roundtables with experts on how to grow an innovation globally. 56 of the companies featured in the playbook are alumni of the DigitalHealth.London Accelerator or Launchpad programmes.
We’ve seen many Accelerator alumni already succeeding internationally; Babylon was on cohort two and is now live or going live in 17 countries; Cera Care on the first cohort back in 2016 just made its first international expansion to Germany in 2022; and Islacare who were on the most recent cohort of the Accelerator has already brought on its first international partner in Trinidad and Tobago.
But what was the key to their success?
We decided to diver deeper with some of our Accelerator alumni at different stages of their international growth, to talk about the challenges and successes they’ve experienced…
Sweatcoin was part of the fourth Accelerator cohort and is a mobile app which incentivises physical activity behaviour change. Sweatcoin has achieved enormous growth globally with over 140 million users of the app worldwide. Shaun Azam, COO of Sweatcoin, said, “Last year was a phenomenal year of growth and consolidation for Sweatcoin – entering a number of new markets and trebling our audience size. We ended the year as the most downloaded health and fitness app globally – a phenomenal achievement for a British tech company with a fraction of the funding one might expect from such a market-leading position. Most validating of all is the positive feedback from our users and the incredible early efficacy data we’re seeing in our health trials that demonstrate how users are tangibly improving their health as a result of the incentives and gamification we offer. We’re excited to expand upon this success with more data from expanded trials throughout 2023″.
Shaun highlighted another element of global growth around the benefits of remote working; “we have hugely benefited from this trend as it has enabled us to hire incredible talent across the globe – with team members now located across the world, speaking 22 languages (and with 20 dogs and 17 cats between us). We ensure we get everyone together at least one annually, plus run a host of online social and team-building activities”.
birdie was also on cohort four of the Accelerator and is a social care solution, using digital products to help the care home community deliver better care. Birdie’s growth to date has been centred in the UK where it has partnered with over 700 care businesses so far. It also kicked off a small number of partnerships in Europe in 2022, and now has its first paying European customers in 2023.
Max Parmentier, CEO at birdie, said: “As we embark on our journey of exporting birdie, we’ve needed to go back to basics to understand customer needs once again, and build parts of our product from the ground up to ensure it meets local needs. Alongside that, we need to ensure our platform meets local regulatory requirements to deliver care compliantly and also cultural norms and behaviours around care delivery for the elderly. We are also having to build trust and brand reputation in these new markets.”
Once again, the impact of the pandemic was highlighted: “Our team is now over 145 people, and since the pandemic, we moved to a remote friendly organisation, with team members spread internationally, as far away as Brazil, Nigeria and the US! We’re now actively seeking to grow our European presence, particularly in Germany.”
Lumeon was on the very first cohort of the Accelerator and is a digital health company that provides a cloud-based care orchestration platform that automates the tasks, workflow, activities, and events that occur during the process of coordinating care.
Robbie Hughes, Founder and CEO of Lumeon, said: “We have seen steady growth in the UK as we have expanded our solution portfolio and our number of clients here…Growth has been strong in the USA where we were able to take our experience of working in the UK market and transfer that to address the key issues of coordinating care which have become critical.”
“The company is over twice the size it was when we were on the Accelerator and we have expanded our team internationally, especially in the USA where we now have a similar number of people working there as we do in the UK. The US market is recognising the need to take action quickly to address the huge issues in healthcare – workforce challenges, cost reduction and revenue increase. They realise they cannot wait and need to transform their models of care and look at new ways of doing that.”
When asked about the challenges they’ve faced when exporting Lumeon, Hughes said: “We have had to show just how readily the technology could be used to address the challenges faced, but once we could prove the ROI [return on investment] from real cases, that has become easier. Having experienced local people who understand the nuances of the markets and understand our vision has been vital.”
Top tips for taking on the challenge of global expansion:
These examples show it is possible to achieve growth globally through taking the time to understand the local needs and market, building a global team and bringing the learnings from working in the UK to healthcare systems globally.
Michael C Duffin, Commercial Lead for UCLPartners, recently shared his top insights for companies navigating the international market:
- The NHS is well-known and respected internationally and this provides a unique selling point for UK innovators.
- New markets can open new and unexpected commercial opportunities for innovators, such as working with different organisations like insurance companies.
- Focus on local partnerships, and the global will look after itself – it is important to have partnerships on the ground who know the local infrastructure, and understand the governance and regulatory system.
If you want to hear from international experts and gain support in scaling your innovation, apply now to the DigitalHealth.London Accelerator.
Also check out our recent article: Beyond London: How DigitalHealth.London Accelerator companies have spread nationally.