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Clearing the path for healthtech innovators

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This article was published on 16 September 2020

Innovators operating in one of the country’s largest and most-promising specialist technology sectors are getting a helping hand to speed up and smooth out their path to success.

The HealthTech Activator, led by Callaghan Innovation, is a centralised, sector-wide initiative that connects resources and expertise, making it easier for NZ health technology (healthtech) companies to find and access essential support to turn their health innovations into successful businesses.

Aimed at early- to mid-stage companies, the HealthTech Activator draws together resources from across the healthtech ecosystem. The targeted and specialised resources cover a wide range of areas including capital education, market validation, reimbursement strategy, regulatory pathways and clinical validation.

Healthtech firms rank among NZ’s most globally successful businesses and the sector shows impressive growth potential: in 2019, healthtech firms accounted for 11% of our top 200 technology businesses, and demonstrated a five-year compound annual growth rate of 9.1%.

However, healthtech companies also face some complex and unique challenges on the path to market. These include long commercialisation pathways, stringent regulatory requirements and higher capital needs.

The HealthTech Activator has been developed by Callaghan Innovation in close collaboration with industry through its partnership with the MedTech Centre of Research Excellence (MedTech CoRE) and the Consortium for Medical Device Technologies (CMDT).

“We’ve consulted across the whole ecosystem to identify some of the common gaps, particularly for entrepreneur-led startups in health technology,” says Andrew Clews, Callaghan Innovation’s Head of Health Technology.

“That has helped us to really understand the specific challenges and pain points experienced by innovators, and where we can best support the ecosystem in speeding up and smoothing out the trajectory of early- to mid-stage healthtech companies.”

Clews says healthtech has been identified as the largest of NZ’s specialist technology industry sectors, delivering high-paying jobs and offering significant export opportunities.

“We also have a tremendous legacy in NZ in healthtech – from the invention of the disposable syringe, to the establishment of Glaxo, which became GSK, and Fisher & Paykel Healthcare – so there’s a tradition of NZ punching well above its weight in this sector.”

Healthtech encompasses areas as diverse as digital health, medical device technologies, therapeutics and pharmaceuticals. However each area, says Clews, has its own complexities, making it particularly difficult for healthtech companies to navigate their path to market.

As an example, Clews points to the issue of reimbursement: how healthtech companies are paid for their products or services. NZ has a relatively straightforward ‘single-payer’ healthcare market, where companies generally receive payment from a single source. Many other countries, however, have more complex systems involving reimbursement from multiple entities, such as insurance companies and public and private healthcare providers, This can affect how a firm positions its product or service and its overall market-entry strategy.

Adding to the sector’s complexity is that healthtech innovation can spring from many sources:from researchers and health professionals who could have little commercial experience, to entrepreneurs with a great idea but who may have limited healthcare background, through to companies that already have some experience in the sector.

Clews says by supporting innovators at crucial stages in their journey, the HealthTech Activator will strengthen the entire sector in New Zealand. Another of the HealthTech Activator’s functions, for example, will be to gather and organise data and sector intelligence via the Scale-Up NZ platform. 

“We think the HealthTech Activator is going to help build more capability across the entrepreneurial sector in healthtech and demystify some of the complexity,” says Clews.

“There is a huge amount of potential and through this initiative our goal is to help ‘rise the tide’ in the ecosystem so it can build upon itself.”

Learn more about the HealthTech Activator.