The Good Science Co (musculoskeletal health research team from the University of Newcastle and Hunter New England Population Health) recently participated in the HCF Catalyst Accelerator program for health-tech startups. Here is a brief recount on their experience by Lauren Devine.
Flashback to December 2019 where I was waiting in the green room with Associate Professor Chris Williams, eager to pitch our team's chronic back pain program (HeLP) to the executive board of HCF and Slingshot. We were one of 40 startups pitching for a spot in the popular HCF Catalyst accelerator program. We had some solid competition including young entrepreneurs, founders of established companies and other research projects. We had five minutes to convince the panel of six to accept our idea. And they did.
Why? The panel saw beyond the science. They recognised that we had real passion, experience and the drive to truly make an impact on the health of Australians. Our vision has always been to see research out of academic journals and into the hands of people who need it most and this was our opportunity to kickstart this process.
For me, lean Startup methodologies and business building is familiar territory, but for Chris, this was unchartered waters. My background in innovation and Startups is vastly different to Chris’s career in research and academia, however these differences proved to be quite complimentary for this program, and at times the catalyst for healthy debate. Underpinning this though was our innate desire to challenge the status quo of health research to make sure our science helps as many people as possible.
With a complex, multi-faceted problem like pain, our biggest challenge heading into this program was “who are we going to serve?”. We have sufferers of back pain, their family, GP’s, surgeons, allied health providers and other health services, hospitals, insurers and workplaces - all with their own set of unique problems and opportunities. We spent three days unpacking these market segments using the Lean Canvas - a one page business model designed to identify the REAL problem you are solving and who you are actually solving it for. This method helped us narrow our focus on sufferers as they are the end-users of our program.
WHAT DID WE ACHIEVE IN THE ACCELERATOR?
Over the 12 weeks we were exposed to many Startup methodologies including growth hacking, pretotyping (quick online experiments to gauge consumer interest), sales techniques, financial modelling and how to create inspiring pitches to attract future investor interest; skills our team has implemented to drive innovation and research to support it.
A key takeaway was recognising the importance of these techniques in our work, particularly customer interviewing. In research, we aim to understand the effects of an intervention, however the adoption of the interventions or programs by people requires another layer of open conversations to really understand their problems. In our validation interviews we uncovered the emotional turmoil people suffering from pain feel, their confusion about conflicting health information, how much they are spending on care and exactly how the pain interferes with their daily life. These insights have allowed us to redesign our offering and communicate better with patients.
WHERE TO FROM HERE?
The accelerator has laid the foundation for our team to build a pipeline of programs and services that address our end-users problems. We are now working with a local practice to roll out our program and have created an e-course to trial directly with sufferers. We are also partnering with industry leading Startups to support our program.
Whilst our acceptance into the program was determined by HCF, our desire to participate came from a deep knowing that we can do more. For us, impact is more than publications or interventions. It’s about creating longevity in the work we do and distributing that to the people whose lives we know we can change.
I recognise there are barriers and complexities in research commercialisation however adopting some lean Startup methodologies within research is a catalyst for that pathway. If nothing else, it‘s likely to help researchers gain a greater understanding of why we do what we do and who we are doing it for. That can only be a positive thing.
For more information about the HCF Catalyst program, click here
Please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to hear more about our experience and how it can help you.