How Innovation Is Changing Healthcare Around the World #153

How Innovation Is Changing Healthcare Around the World #153


Welcome to StartUp Health NOW. We are with serial entrepreneur extraordinaire
Roberto Ascione, CEO and founder of Healthware International. Great to have you here. Just in from Italy. Yeah, yeah. So, welcome. You know, to kick off the conversation. We met years ago. Part of the early adopter crew in digital
health and health innovation. Let’s learn a little bit about you. Who are you, what do you care about, what
drives you? Cool. So, I mean that sounds new to you, given we,
you know, go a long way back, but I studied as a physician and I grew up with two passions. On one side, you know, kind of healthcare,
so being a physician, family left and right, mom’s, dad’s, all physicians, grandson,
grandfather’s al physicians. So, basically, I grew up with that and with
the computer science passion. So, I started to do my early coding back I
was like, 12, 13 years old, whatever. We did logo by MIT, the total kind of language. So, growing up with that I was like, Forward
10, right 90, Exactly. Maybe make a square by the end of it. And guess what the first thing is I was kind
of programming the software to draw, where the heart and kind of, bones, and stuff that
I was hearing from my parents, you know? As a, in the field of healthcare. So, you know, growing up I decided to go to
the medical school and given that everything was analog, which to some extent we could
argue still is, I started to try to figure out how to combine these, my two passions. All of the sudden I started to say if I will
become a great physician I’ll have an impact on several thousand people. But if I write code for physician’s software,
then the impact might be much bigger. That was like my kind of moment of kind of
fruit and the vision. I said.”Okay, so that’s what I will do. I’ll combine this two things.” Then I suddenly realized there was no job
for that 20 years ago. And so, I founded Healthware, out of healthcare
software. So, we just write software to address, you
know, healthcare issues. And where did you found? That was Naples, Italy. In Naples. South of Italy. And, people thought I was crazy. Much better to just be a regular physician,
you know, just like that. We started to gather traction, you know. You can imagine back then it was more like
medical records, a little bit of workflow management, and that kind of stuff. Then we discovered the web. ‘97, ‘98. We started to create what today we would call
disease management programs and business awareness websites and stuff like that. It was super early on, so there was all kind
of discovery. So, we quickly started to get traction, really,
in 1999. We were like in San Fran and other places,
you know, all over Europe. Started to do our first project. The company kept growing and, you know, we
basically, you know, unfolded into the company that it is today, and this July, 2017 it’s
20 years. 20 years, congratulations. Thank you. So, tell us about, you know, how’s the company
now. It’s obviously evolved in extraordinary ways
over the past 20 years. You’re doing things all over the world, all
over Europe. Tell us about where you are now. Yeah. So, basically, what would really happen is
that we spot the digital technologists as a great way to interact and engage with physicians
and with consumers and patients early on. So, we started to do all these, kind of, programs
that quickly started to get adopted into the clients where in our, mainly, kind of, life
sciences, pharma companies, medical device companies. So, we’ve been always pioneering these things. So, when the iPhone came out we had the first
apps, and then iPads. And so, we applied all of this to you, mainly
to, in the beginning to literally digital transformation of the industry. So, it was mainly about how to engage with
audiences, how to provide new ways to do medical education, and patient engagement, and so
forth. But, given where we were coming from, back
in 2007, 2008, when we started to meet to the first times this whole concept that then,
you know, kind of bubbled up into the, kind of, digital health was starting to come up. And for us it was a kind of a, almost an immediate
kind of click. You know? So, we said, cool, so if a website can make
people more aware of a certain condition that empowers, you know, people to take a more
kind of responsibility, that is probably more than just communication and marketing. That is an healthcare intervention as now
we, kind of, you know, are all in agreement with. So, we started to look at things in that way
and as more technology were coming up and, kind of, wearables, and more, kind of, data-driven
things, and more, kind of, open APIs, you know, that kind of stuff, we started to constantly
add elements within that program. So, while on one side that draw massive digital
transformation for these big clients that we enjoy and we are still enjoying to service,
kind of, globally to really reach audiences in a much more meaningful way, take action,
and gram sophisticated programs in disease management, or patient support, or clinical
trial, and so on so forth, we started to really evolve these programs into real interventions. So, all the concepts of the day of, kind of,
digital therapies or digital biomarkers, predictive analytics, about behavioral modification programs,
all of that is, it came very natural to us. You know? So, we started to do more and more work into
the digital innovation space until we launched a couple years ago a vertical within our team,
Healthware Labs, that is an innovation agency. Right. So, works both for innovation teams and large
scale companies to help them with your innovation needs. Whatever they could be. And more recently, but with a lot of traction
for startups at different stages, as they basically embrace more the needs of, kind
of, real companies, you know? And need to take care of the many different
aspects that we are helping with. Yeah. I wanted to ask you about that, because I
know we’re gonna be doing some work together to help Health Transformers at different stages,
through really leveraging these types of services and solutions to get them ready for the market. Maybe, just touch on that a little. Sure. Because I think it’s very important, the packaging
of these early companies, the storytelling component, the branding component is so key
at the early stages of getting off the ground. Yeah. I think there are a couple of aspects to it
that we just, kind of, number one, didn’t predict. And we, kind of, learn by just hanging out
with founders. Because we are super founder friendly, you
know, coming from the same, kind of, background. And of course, you know, being seen as you
are, very kind of old, you know, in the space because we have been there since the beginning. I feel old. I feel so old. And it’s still the beginning, by the way. But, we’ll touch base on that later. So, there’s a clearly a, you know, a vast,
you know, community of people that, you know, kind of, you interact with and ask advice
and so on. So, what we learned is that until a certain
stage of the company, your product is the pitch and your customer is the, basically,
you know, investor, right? And at some point you either start to get
traction, or you get funding, but whatever, at some point you need to go back to the product,
the real one, and which value are you are adding and the audience might be, you know,
patients, consumers, physician, doesn’t matter. But, you know, the real customers of what
you are doing. And when that happens then you start to deal
with how I’m reaching them how I’m, you know, kind of, you know, getting more traction and
To really go back and refine, revise Yeah. You communicate and what you’re, you know,
if you want to say it properly, what’s your messaging branded platform? What are the added values and how you communicate
in a way that is, kind of, concise and clear. What the added values are. So, when you start to deal with that, that
is called marketing and then you need a ton of design and you need to create your experiences
and when it comes to that, it’s not different than any other company. Of course, you know, the way you’re working
is different. We want, we don’t work with with a startup
company with founders as we would work for a large scale company, because needs are different. But the kind of intervention is going to be
very, very important, because basically accelerates, you know? We know a lot is about time and speed. So, that kind of service has helped through
that phase. And that, you know, can happen say, you know,
B+ round. When your company is more mature. And so, you have an approach which is more
like this. And, we also do a lot of work super early
stage when we see something that is super, super important and we, with our experience
and the reach and, you know, the market access skills, the ability to deal with physicians,
we are able to reach the MVP much faster. So, we are really growing in this space with
more mature startups on one side and super early stage on the other side. Which is quite fascinating. And, you know, it’s indicative of where the
market is today. I think globally, which is there’s this wave
of very early-stage stuff and we’re starting to see now that we’re a cycle into this wave
of digital health innovation that there are maturing companies and solutions and it’s
very exciting to see that. What are some of the things that you’re seeing? Really, what I’m most interested in is the
lessons learned. Advice that you would share to other entrepreneurs. Things that are working or not working, things
that they should be doing and thinking about at the very early stage. That’s a great question. I think, you know, I give it a lot of thought
this and discuss about it. I think, you know, there’s one key thing in
the early stage that I believe is important, is to have a good problem to solve. So, there are a lot of things that are doing
something, but are not solving important problems. And important doesn’t mean it’s like a huge
one or is a super complex one. It’s something that is real. Is real for the target audience you are, you
know, referring to. So, it could be true for patients, for caregivers,
for physicians. Doesn’t matter. For, you know, multiple audiences. But is solving something that it is not working
well, or as you should be, you know? I always like to think, you know, we have
a wealth of technology to, kind of, book travels to you, transfer money, to transportation,
all sort of things. But when it comes to healthcare, we still
have, the patient is a system integrator within the system, the healthcare system, so transport
the data are all around and booking is a challenge. Finding the right, you know, solution for
your problem is a challenge. Understanding which problem do have is another
challenge, you know. There’s all of that, that you know well. So, the thing is I think in the early stage
it’s very important to have a good problem to solve. Whether it’s disease specific, whether it’s
process specific, it doesn’t really matter. And once the problem is right, then the company,
there are a number of them, executional steps, kind of, that need to happen along the journey,
but I think you are very much set up for success. If you try to bend a piece of technology to
find a problem afterwards, I think it’s less of a, you know, a winner. If you say, “hey, I have this, this”. Even a great team then will figure out something. I don’t think it’s the right way to go. So, I think having a good problem is really
like the key thing in the early stage. Wonderful. I wanted to talk briefly about Frontiers. Frontiers Health. In Berlin. Yeah. We’re gonna, in November, going to be doing,
StartUp Health’s gonna be bringing a bunch of Health Transformers there. Tell us about Frontiers. What’s special about it? What’s going on in Berlin in November? Cool. So, Frontiers Health is one of the latest,
crazy things that I embarked on, as a few friends said. Honestly, like, that was probably at three
years ago, more or less, we really felt that we had some good conference platforms in Europe
already, but there was something, kind of, missing, you know? There was something that we felt was complementary
to the others which we’ve been always working with. Something that was, number one about the ecosystem
altogether. So, kind of, startups, insurance companies,
pharma, device, all together. Institutions, why not? Last year we had the DMEA for the first time,
kind of, joining. And so, we said we need that and also we need
something that is an experience. So, two days where everyone can just hang
out with speakers. It’s not something that is in and out and
and you can, just like, not too big, so it’s kept it to 400 people, so you can really,
kind of, mingle. There’s a plenty of networking time. And it’s designed in a way that a third is
startups, a third is industry, and a third is everything else, including, you know, venture
capital, and consultancy, and so and so forth. So, Healthware is the host of the of the conference. I’m serving as a chairman with a great student
committee. And what happens is, basically, we celebrate
the transformational healthcare, bringing the ecosystem all together, and really fostering
connections. So, last year was spectacular. A lot of great things happened out of last
year’s event, and this year we are super excited to have you and, you know, the army. Yes. Of the Transformers with you and I think that
will be great, great moment. Very much looking forward to it. Only sorry I can’t be at your twenty year
party. Was it July 4th? It was July 4th. It’s that day that the company was founded. Very cool. So, last question. What do you do? You’re traveling all over. What do you do to stay healthy? It’s hard as a serial entrepreneur doing many
different things, traveling different time zones. How do you stay healthy? I would say that I don’t like the extremes. So, I don’t do that diet or that other exercise
that thing I tried to be like, you know. I like to practice moderation. So, doing some physical activity, but not
crazy stuff that I’m not capable of, or not have the time for. But eating, you know, with moderation as well
and drinking the same way. So, I’m trying to stay balanced, but I have
to say that I issued a serious pledge a week ago, because I was, there was a few friends
from work and we got together and we had a little bit of a two-on-two basketball play. Okay And I was not performing exactly as ten
years ago. Practice. Get in shape. So, the challenge is in a year time, we will
be back on the same court. Okay And around the Amalfi Coast and we’ll
play longer. Okay. I’ll come visit you on the Amalfi Coast in
a year and and hold you to that, make sure you’re playing ball and fit as a fiddle. Thank you so much. It’s great to do more together. It’s great to spend time with you here in
New York. Looking forward to seeing you in Europe and
looking forward to celebrating your 20 year birthday from afar. So, thank you. Fantastic. Thank you for having me.

Daniel Yohans

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