MassDevice.com is blogging on the topic of building innovative medical technology for the developing world, featuring some of the leading minds in the field.
This feature will continue up through May 17th and the first annual World Health Medical Technology Conference at Boston University.
The World Health Medical Technology Conference is a one-day workshop dedicated to exploring the opportunities and challenges of designing, building and funding medical technologies for the developing world. It’s a way to bring together stakeholders from the medical technology industry with the leading minds in the Global Health movement. To find out more about the conference, visit the conference’s website for an agenda, registration information and a list of speakers.
This installment features Aaron Sandoski, founder and senior partner at Norwich Ventures, a Waltham, Mass.-based VC firm that specializes in medical technologies. The firm recently backed Daktari Diagnostics, an Arlington, Mass.-based startup working to develop a quick and easy-to-use device to test for HIV/AIDS. The company announced a $2.8 million funding round last September, attracting investors not only from a wide swath of wealthy individuals in the region, but significant corporate and venture capital support as well.
Sandoski took a few moments to talk about his investment in Daktari, pot stocks, and investing in the developing world in general.
“My involvement in Daktari Diagnostics has opened my eyes to how you can make great companies in the developing world, particularly in global health. We’re not a firm that’s out there looking to make global health investments primarily, we’re interested in making investments in medical device companies that have the potential to be great companies, that have the potential for great returns. But what’s interesting is Daktari was the first time that I had seen that situation in global health, so needless to say it piqued my interest in the whole topic in global health.
“If you look at the impact one can in terms of any sort of patient metrics — lives saved, disease progression, returning healthy workforces — there are so many metrics that you can look at where the impact a venture investment can have is particularly profound in the developing world. If you think of putting $10 to $20 million to work in a company that is doing work in the developing world, that patient impact is dramatically higher than anything you can do in the U.S. and Europe.
“It’s extremely hard to come across an [investable idea] in the developing world. There are no well-developed markets, there are no well-developed GDPs at that level, so you have to take the context of investing in countries that can’t afford modern medical technologies and accept that fact.
“You look at investing in a company in the developing world very differently. When I look at an opportunity in global health, to me there need to be four things that exist in order for it to be a good investment. First, you have to solve a core problem, and that may be elusive and hard to get your hands on unless you’re on the street there. An example is the baby incubator out of Toyota parts. There you have a problem of babies that are born early who are dying because they can’t stay warm. But the issue wasn’t just with the machinery, it was maintaining the machinery. So the core problem was, how do you create incubators that are easy to maintain? That’s a problem with almost any kind of capital equipment in the developing world. What made that a successful solution was the fact that a car mechanic could keep that piece of capital equipment maintained. That’s what I mean by focusing on the core problem.
“The second thing you need, which applies to all investments, is that you need to have a unique defensible technology. There are probably some great business models out there where you can become a distributor or sell medical products to the developing world more cheaply, but that’s hard for an investor to get behind with capital. It’s something that should be bootstrapped from the region. If you want to raise capital, you need have to have some unique technology that’s defensible and is suited to environment of developing world.
“The third thing is you have to prove who’s going to pay for it, which is not trivial by any sense.
“The fourth thing is that you have to have a real sales and distribution channel. One of the real problems plaguing the developing world is if you have a product, how do you get it out there to your customers? Are there corruption challenges, transportation challenges? It’s not a trivial thing to solve. To me, someone needs to walk in and have addressed all four of those key issues, then you can take it seriously as an investment. You have to start with those four or else you’re doomed to failure today. Maybe it will work in 10 years, but you’re doomed to failure today.”