Passion and firm conviction are key elements of successful entrepreneurship, a theme recurrently highlighted during “Our Entrepreneurial Journeys: MedTech Startups”, a panel discussion organized by Biotech Connection Singapore on March 30, 2017. The event was sponsored by A*StartCentral and Morgan Lewis Stamford LLP, and graced by Mrs Lee Suet-Fern, Managing Partner at Morgan Lewis Stamford LLP.
In the panel discussion moderated by Dr. Jeffrey Mann (Partner and Life Science IP Attorney at Morgan Lewis Bockius LLP), the three panelists shared their trials and tribulations and dished out personal advice for aspiring entrepreneurs during the 75-minute discussion. The desire to do social good resounded through their recounts of the early days. Mr. Nawal Roy, CEO and Founder of Holmusk, started out as a financier who was fascinated by the magnitude of deaths due to chronic diseases. This motivated him to move into healthcare where he and his company are working on the prevention and management of diabetes using Big Data analytics. Dr. James K. Rappel, CEO and Co-founder of Digital Surgicals Pte Ltd, launched his startup after affirmations by clinicians and investors about the value of his technology. Previously an academic, Dr Rosemary Tan traded stability for freedom and purposeful work to found Veredus Laboratories Pte Ltd (where she is the CEO), donating all the profits of her company’s first two licensed technologies to charity.
Despite their lofty aspirations, the panelists have remained grounded in their product design. They repeatedly emphasized the pragmatism and necessity of understanding market demands, and tailoring the products according to customer feedback. While marketing and selling diagnostic chips for detecting individual strains of influenza virus, Dr Tan realized through conversations with her clients the value of a rapid diagnostic kit that could identify a range of influenza viruses agnostically, which led to one of the flagship products of Veredus, VereFlu™.
Similarly, Dr Rappel’s needs-driven innovation was a result of his frequent interactions with the surgeons and an intimate perspective of the clinical workflow as he was embedded in the hospital, right where his target clientele was. Dr Rappel also cautioned scientists to watch out for the perfectionist in them because neverending improvements could delay product launch, and thus deprive startups of the much-needed early revenue.To propel local medtech and health tech ecosystem, the panelists encouraged investors to take on higher risk appetites as such companies either have inherently long gestation times, or are exploring uncharted territories. While these risk factors are not trivial, investors should also appraise the potentially high reward (both financial and social) when the company succeeds and avoid benchmarking against established investments with more guaranteed returns.
Undoubtedly, entrepreneurship is not for everyone, and “it is not a rational choice,” said Mr Roy. Nonetheless, Dr Rappel urged everyone to give entrepreneurship a try at least once in their lifetime. Given the right combination of grit, innovative thinking and “fire”, as Dr Tan put it, potential entrepreneurs-to-be can be nurtured with the right mentorship and environment – one with freedom to explore ideas, and a flat hierarchy.
Dr Mann remarked how the panelists’ journeys vary from those seen in Silicon Valley, the mecca of startups, underscoring the importance of charting one’s own entrepreneurial journey in the existing environment for success.
Following the panel discussion and a lively Q&A session, participants were invited to a networking session with refreshments courtesy of the sponsors.
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