As HealthTech booms worldwide, so it is in Dublin. As well as spawning buzzed-about startups like Pharmapod and Nutritics, we also play home to HealthXL, which takes world-changing ideas for innovation and puts them into action with the help of industry leaders around the world.
Originally created with the Dublin arm of Startupbootcamp, and linked to IBM, HealthXL has branched out alone this last year and a half as a kind of independent match-maker and problem solver for healthcare, connecting startups with multinationals and hospitals to put innovation into action. Previously an accelerator with a set twelve-week programme, they now operate as a network connecting international giants and smaller, experimental startups.
I spoke to co-founder Tom Parsons about the company’s new mission. “We’ve changed a lot from the old accelerator format,” he says, “what we do now is focus on bringing big brands together to commercialise mutual areas of interest, and where there are opportunities to bring in smaller companies. Our partners are very active participants in what we do. The three key areas we’re looking at are big data, connected health, and behavior change.”
HealthXL is notable for its high-profile backers, including IBM, Novartis, Silicon Valley Bank and Enterprise Ireland, as well as partners like Cleveland Clinic, Becton Dickinson, ResMed, Partners HealthCare and Janssen Healthcare Innovation. They also oversee an ongoing series of ‘Moonshot‘ challenges, aimed to change healthcare for the better.
Ireland has a remarkably high concentration of pharma and MedTech companies on our small island – eighteen of the world’s top twenty pharmaceutical companies, and fifteen of the twenty-five world leaders in MedTech
“Once we set the Moonshots,” Parsons explained, “they’re obviously not going to be solved overnight. But it’s about what you find out along the way… One example is an Irish company, which I can’t name due to an NDA, but they’re a big industry player in healthcare – they put forward the idea of using data gathered from people who self-inject at home, to improve their situation. Pharmacists will often have no idea whether they’ve taken their medication or not, and there are a lot of problems – especially with sufferers of Type Two Diabetes – with people taking too little, or at the wrong time, at a huge cost to the healthcare system. It’s a difficult regime to manage.”
HealthXL were able to bring in pharmacies and their partner companies, as well as speaking to clinicians about the issue. Cleveland Clinic stepped forward as willing to trial a solution, and they were matched with an early stage Irish startup, Health Beacon, who were an ideal fit for the job. “They’re working with one of the top two hospitals in the world,” said Parsons, “so it’s very exciting to have an Irish company doing that.”
HealthXL launched in 2012, as Ireland’s first health tech accelerator, and they remain committed to giving early-stage companies a chance to trial and develop their ideas. The Moonshots programme works in stages: after a challenge is put forward by a partner, they’ll host the HealthXL Global Gathering (only involving Series A companies) to eventually determine which startup is the best candidate for the job. “There’s a host of issues that we’re working on,” says Parsons, “heart failure, COPD, infectious diseases… We want to really bring a level of testing and validation to healthcare that already exists in other markets. And Ireland is a very good environment for this.”
Dublin was chosen as HealthXL’s home for multiple reasons: we have a remarkably high concentration of pharma and MedTech companies on our small island – eighteen of the world’s top twenty pharmaceutical companies, and fifteen of the twenty-five world leaders in MedTech. They count ICON PLC, the Irish clinical research organisation, among their many prestigious multinational partners. “We’re a small Irish startup ourselves,” says Parsons. “There’s only four of us. But we’re growing – by the end of next month we’ll be up to sixteen partners, from only five a year ago.”
They now run events worldwide – the most recent one was in Boston, and they’ve travelled everywhere from Dubai to Texas to Las Vegas in recent times – while continuing to return to Dublin for their annual Global Gathering, the most recent one taking place in March. “It was great fun,” says Parsons. “We brought over a bunch of companies from the States, Canada and Europe.” The top prize was taken by Vital Connect, creators of a disposable, wearable biosensor. The flagship event places Dublin at the centre of a global network: “You can think of us like a web of interests across health. It’s very easy, within that platform, for someone to ask a question and engage and find a solution.”
World domination beckons, but Parsons stresses that promoting Ireland and Irish tech remains a big part of HealthXL’s mission. “We’ve stayed located here, even though most of the activities we’ve done have been in the US, because there’s a huge opportunity for companies coming here to validate their technologies. Our market is easier to get into than in the US. The standards of Irish hospitals are high, so research here is transferable. The more challenges we can set up with partners the better, and as HealthXL we can do our bit to attract companies to Ireland. We’re a global company, but we are also Irish, so we do try to fly the flag.”