What does the ‘Future of Health’ look like for Octopus Ventures?

Octopus Ventures’ internal structure is crafted to help pioneers change the world. The team’s expertise is focused through three pods: Future of Money, Future of Health and Future of Deep Tech. Here, Kamran Adle reveals the inner workings of the Future of Health pod.

Healthcare is on its way to becoming the world’s largest industry. By 2050, OECD countries will be devoting a quarter of their GDP to it. This won’t be a function of people getting sicker, it will be driven by the economics of technological advances in medicine increasing consumer expectations and demographic change. This step-change won’t just be a linear advance: the very shape and texture of the entire system will change. Early diagnoses and connected technology will mean our homes and our chosen devices will keep us healthier for longer, bringing us back to wellness more efficiently should illness occur. Far from a brave new world of drug-soaked passive patients, the future is more likely to contain populations of autonomous participants, active in their own individual health journeys and more concerned with maintenance than dealing with crises.

So how does this affect us in the entrepreneurial ecosystem? For founders and investors, where should we be deploying our attention and resources? The Future of Health ‘pod’ has been created to answer those questions. The decisions we make today will affect the landscape of the near and far future.

The Future of Health pod seeks the pioneers who are improving the way health systems work – ultimately improving and saving lives – in what will soon be the world’s biggest industry. These companies are doing this through the digitalisation of products and services, through hardware and software that support bodily and mental health and by openly tackling taboo issues previously hidden (and unhealthily thriving) in the shadows. The application of AI to diagnosis, for example, is already radically improving speed and accuracy such as Cancer diagnoses that will become quicker, cheaper and more reliable.

We know what these pioneering companies look like because we’re already fortunate enough to back and work with many of them: Elvie is leading the way in Femtech with its beautiful (yes, iPod beautiful) pelvic floor exerciser and breast pump; Big Health is helping people deal with anxiety and insomnia in ways that feel more like entertainment than medicine; Antidote is accelerating breakthroughs in life-saving treatments by connecting medical research with the people who need it and Medisafe is a personalised medication management platform tackling the global issue of poor drug adherance.

Healthcare taboos (as recently written about by by the Future of Health pod) are where many of the most exciting changes are emerging. Elvie, already mentioned, has blasted through the stigma of female incontinence and the hassle of breast pumping. The result is a bold and beautiful consumer brand that is making headlines in the Europe and the US. Male fertility and erectile dysfunction, teenage sexual health, depression and anxiety are just some of the other areas where founders are uncovering huge latent demand. Brazen, unapologetic problem-solving is going to be a winning formula for these startups and the positive side effect will be a re-engineering of cultural attitudes. Our Future of Health pod intends to be right along side them.

The opportunities are colossal, but so are the challenges. To build a medical device company, for example, is a really hard thing to do. A great product, an IP-rich proposition and a great vision could still fail to get into the hands of the people who could make good use of it. Regulations, sales cycles and a fragmented NHS (in the UK) require go-to-market strategies to be as imaginative and pragmatic as they are resilient.

Healthcare will be a land of giants: Google, Apple and Amazon are all publicly entering this space. So what will that mean for the plucky startups? If an Apple Watch will soon be monitoring your blood health, what’s the point in developing the next at-home diabetes tech innovation? And will an Amazon Echo that predicts an asthma attack before it happens demotivate ventures that tackle similar issues?

Understanding the way in which the ecosystem is developing is a key part of the Future of Health’s remit. Deep dives are cumulative and better our understanding, not only of the most embryonic developments out there, but also of the micro and macro challenges pioneers face in their respective fields.

The healthcare landscape is broad and this forces us to be open-minded as well as tightly focused. Creating rich networks into universities, angel investors and thought leaders is providing the bedrock on which our long term support for pioneers will be built. As with the other Octopus Ventures pods – Deep Tech and Future of Money – we want to be the most active presence possible in this world-changing space.

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