Why is it that women and people from diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds are underrepresented in our health tech entrepreneurs? This big and far-reaching question was the focus of a stimulating panel discussion we were delighted to be part of at the start of October. The question was inspired by Prof Tony Young, National Clinical Director for Innovation at NHSEI, who asked One Health Tech how we might help broaden the appeal of the national clinical entrepreneur programme to a wider audience.
Our very diverse panel, comprised of Tony, the angel investor and Judge Business School lecturer Pam Garside, Jennifer Neff Co-founder of Elemental, Nicholas Kelly CEO of Axela, and Mariam Toye, founder Oumissa Inspire Health and Literacy, offered up not only their own inspiring stories, but really practical suggestions on what might make entrepreneurs’ journeys easier. Five key themes emerged.
Young people. We need to inspire young people while they are still at school - offering opportunities to hear about what it’s like to found a startup, chances to shadow health leaders, and reassurance that this is within their grasp, if it’s what they want to do. School is where’s best to work on initial confidence-building and leadership skills, as well as capturing students’ imagination. This is an area where we at One Health Tech, can get more involved.
Networks. Too many individuals’ success stories remain on fortuitous introductions to a key individual within a magic circle. We enjoyed hearing Mariam’s experience from Nigeria on the power of networks - be they international, national or l
ocal - and her recommendations for the UK. As an example, Mariam talked of how through the simple power of WhatsApp, new connections could be bridged and entrepreneurs supported through navigating the mindfield of angels, accelerators, AHSNs… The trick will be how we can create networks that reach into unusual places so we’re constantly drawing diverse perspectives, ideas and people in.
Seed Funding. Relatively small sums of money are needed to get going - the so-called ‘friends & family’ raise, before taking on formal investors. However this creates barriers to access. Grants are available if you can get the right help to write them, or are aware they exist. Pam talked about the work she has been doing in Cambridge to promote more diverse investing among the angel community, challenging the unconscious biases of investor panels, and her personal commitment to promoting new products and unexpected founders, such as in femtech.
Meritocracy. Tony spoke about how as the national clinical entrepreneur programme entered its fourth year, they were constantly evolving the selection process to ensure there was no unintended bias. Traditional formats involving pitches can favour those more confident and with more experience powerpoint skills - not necessarily those with the best idea or grit.
Resilience. All three founders on the panel spoke passionately about the importance of their families, parents and partners in particular, in supporting them on their journey. Nick spoke of the amazing support from his mum and Jennifer of the reassurance she got from her co-founder Le-Anne. Having someone with you, in the trenches, offering reassurance, perspective and a sounding board, was key to persevering.
On reflection, we left with questions about what it would take to make the environment in which health tech entrepreneurs, or those simply with ideas and passion, much more inviting and supportive… Through the One Health Tech community we can start to address some of these themes, and we are each going to be thinking about how the Cambridge and Manchester hubs can actively offer outreach, networking and mutual support to enable each successive generation of health tech entrepreneurs to be more diverse than the last.
Alejandra Hernandez, OHT Manchester
Catherine Pollard, OHT Cambridge