Nick Freer: Optimistic prognosis for Scotland's health tech

The inaugural Scottish Start-up Survey by Informatics Ventures, University of Edinburgh Business School and my own consultancy found that over 10 per cent of Scotland's start-up scene now classify themselves in the health technology space, often abbreviated to 'health tech' or 'health 2.0'.
The vital signs are strong in Scotland's health tech sector, writes Nick Freer. Picture: ContributedThe vital signs are strong in Scotland's health tech sector, writes Nick Freer. Picture: Contributed
The vital signs are strong in Scotland's health tech sector, writes Nick Freer. Picture: Contributed

What is most encouraging, more than the quantity coming through, is the quality of some of our early-stage health tech start-ups.

Glasgow-based MindMate and Edinburgh-headquartered snap40 and Care Sourcer are three of our most promising prospects in the space, with a real chance to scale into a global digital health market forecast to near £200 billion by 2020.

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The mobile health market is the key driver, with start-up growth fuelled by escalating costs of healthcare, the whole area of wellness, doctor shortages and prevention and management of chronic conditions.

MindMate is an app created for the “baby boomer” generation, underpinned by intelligent software that can distinguish between cognitively healthy individuals and those with cognitive decline. CEO and co-founder Susanne Mitschke talks about how the App Store is filled with fitness and nutrition apps, illustrating a market trend where individuals are taking greater responsibility for their personal health and wellbeing.

In terms of the ecosystem building in Scotland, Mitschke has a lot of time for organisations like Converge Challenge who are encouraging highly skilled university staff to discover their entrepreneurial side. On the downside, one of our most impressive young founders views the NHS as being slow to adopt new technologies.

Christopher McCann founded snap40, which last year raised Scotland’s largest-ever angel investment round, a start-up that deploys artificial intelligence (AI) to prioritise patients who need care most. McCann, who left his medical degree to concentrate efforts on launching snap40, thinks that for too long founders have avoided starting tech companies in the healthcare space – somewhat incongruous when it’s arguably the industry most in need of technological disruption.

I got to spend a bit of time with a couple of inspiring Scottish health tech founders last week at the FutureX-Entrepreneurial Scotland Berlin Summit.

James McIlroy is the kind of individual who could make Hercules feel inadequate on a bad day. As well as being an award-winning medical student who hits the gym at 5.30am every day, James doubles up as the CEO of EnteroBiotix, a biotech start-up that raised around £500,000 of seed investment earlier this summer.

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City banker turned founder Nadeem Sarwar runs Organised Health Technologies and, like snap40, has a compelling AI play, in Organised Health’s case around partnering with pharmacies to dispense medicines by utilising machine learning, robotics and, very possibly, autonomous vehicles. Both on show at EIE17 back in May, these most definitely come under the “ones to watch” category.

Over at CodeBase in Edinburgh, Scottish health tech start-up Relaymed recently signed a deal with the healthcare unit of Siemens that will see its latest software – which eases the administrative tasks of physicians – rolled out across North America.

However, it is another start-up at the UK’s largest incubator that is quickly becoming the most touted of all on Scotland’s health tech scene. Care Sourcer is the UK’s first care comparison and matching website for both care homes and care-at-home services. Founded by Andrew McGinley and Andrew Parfery at the end of 2015, it addresses the challenges around an ageing population.

Care Sourcer recently secured investment from two of the UK’s most highly rated venture capitalists (VCs) in their first-ever Scottish start-up investment. The word is that a senior executive from FanDuel is also about to join the fold.