Programme Director of BlueChilli, Seow Hui Hong shares with us what the HealthTech start-ups will be experiencing in the BlueChilli HealthTech Accelerator programme and qualities that they look for during the selection process.
The bustling HealthTech start-up ecosystem in the Asia Pacific region has seen a generous flow of investments and growth in the past years. Within the first half of 2019 the Asia Pacific HealthTech ecosystem had a total funding of US$ 2.5 billion over 140 deals.1 In 2018, Singapore garnered an 11 percent ecosystem share within the Asia Pacific region and a total deal value of US$105 million. Building on its advantage as a biomedical sciences hub for R&D competence, Singapore has maintained public investment within the sector of S$4 billion from 2015 to 2020. As the fastest growing HealthTech start-up ecosystem of more than 170 HealthTech start-ups it is no wonder Singapore will be a choice location for expansion of start-ups.2
BlueChilli is an Australian start-up accelerator with a portfolio valued at over S$761 million has since seen the success of over 140 start-ups. With the aim of empowering start-ups to gain traction in building their first products, BlueChilli provides the opportunity for aspiring entrepreneurs to connect with industry leaders. In May 2019, BlueChilli partnered with Enterprise Singapore to become Singapore’s first HealthTech accelerator and together with that they launched a HealthTech accelerator programme.
“Our flagship programme for Southeast Asia now is HealthTech as we see that healthcare is a domain where there is deep concern to the agenda of countries in the Southeast Asian region. One of which is the rise in healthcare costs with research showing costs expected to increase by 80 percent, over the next seven years.” Said Seow Hui Hong, Programme Director of BlueChilli.
“The conditions in Southeast Asia make it such that governments, stakeholders, and consumers are all keen to find solutions to make healthcare more affordable, accessible, and transparent in helping ndividuals in improving health outcomes.” Added Hui Hong.
The programme was designed specifically for start-ups who are developing tools for improving and solving healthcare challenges in the Asia Pacific region using innovative technologies. After a gruelling 3 months of searching, BlueChilli successfully selected four start-ups out of over 150 applications across Asia Pacific and the 30 who attended its bootcamp. Announced in October 2019, the four start-ups include, Safe Space, Advanx Health, Xenomites, and Reemedy. Following the selection these companies will go through the BlueChilli Accelerator Program as its first cohort to commercialise their innovative solutions to tackle healthcare challenges in Asia Pacific.
To enlighten us on the process is Programme Director of BlueChilli, Seow Hui Hong, who gave us the privilege and shared with us qualities they look for in start-ups and how these HealthTech start-ups are important components in meeting healthcare needs in Asia Pacific.
Could you share with us about past successes of BlueChilli in helping start-ups?
To date, BlueChilli has helped about 140 start-ups. We have helped them in launching of their first commercially viable product, acquiring their first customers and helping them with their first investments as well as on-boarding of their first team. This way we see them through the initial stage of growth, from a very early stage company to pre-seed and seed stage company. We operate largely in Australia though the start-ups operate in different markets. However, in May this year we have entered into Southeast Asia with Singapore as the regional headquarters.
Would this be BlueChilli’s first accelerator programme outside of Australia?
Yes, it is our first accelerator programme company outside of Australia. As a company we like to refer ourselves as a venture studio where start-up acceleration is one of the types of products that we provide. As a venture studio, BlueChilli is in the business of developing new ventures, or business models as well as developing the technology to support these new business models.
What do you feel are the key points that will drive these start-ups to select BlueChilli?
One thing that separates us from a lot of competition in the market is that we have in-house tech capabilities. We are able to provide engineering, software development, and design capabilities which is why we are one of the largest accelerator in Australia. Typically for accelerator programmes they are single programmes with a manpower of one to two people as compared to BlueChilli we have a team of 30 to 40 and majority of them are to support with tech capabilities.
How is Singapore a good ecosystem for BlueChilli especially as a HealthTech start-up accelerator to place its Southeast Asian headquarters?
Singapore has always traditionally been a facilitator or a conduit for innovation largely due to our small domestic market. We constantly see companies of all sizes from start-ups to MNCs (Multi-National Companies) willing to locate its headquarters or regional offices to Singapore because of the density of connections that we have here. In Singapore you’ll be able to find the most diverse backgrounds and industry players, quoting from an industry partner, Singapore is the “most convenient convening point for decision makers”. Singapore is an aggregator of venture capitals and more importantly also an aggregator of the different ecosystem players required to grow the HealthTech sector in Southeast Asia. The presence of decision makers and drivers anchored in Singapore is the reason why we are bringing the start-ups to Singapore and at the same time keeping the operations within their domestic markets.
What did BlueChilli look out for when selecting the start-ups for the HealthTech Accelerator programme?
The first thing we look at is the “problem-founder fit” and determine whether the founder has enough understanding of the problem, either through professional or personal experience. Some of them have been medical or healthcare professionals. Those not within the health domain but have made considerable investment to work in their space to try and test different solutions and find traction with customers and even speak to their potential customers that they will be supporting. In doing so they have demonstrated either through their profession or commitment and efforts to have a deep understanding of the healthcare problem they want to solve. At BlueChilli, we are focussed on looking for a viable problem to solve, as we share always share with the start-ups that according to market research the number one reason why start-ups fail is that there is no real market. Which is why we will start with the right problem and the founder to tackle this problem.
Following that we will look at the “problem to market fit” whether is there a large enough viable market in the region. Next, would be to assess their approach to solving the problem is potentially scalable with at least 10 times in returns on investment. Then finally “founder-program fit” is essential for BlueChilli as the founders have to be coachable and able to embrace our process in taking a market validation problem focussed approach to developing their solutions.
Could you share with us what was the application process like for the founders?
We had founders from about six to seven different countries in Asia who applied and out of those applicants 30 founders attended our boot camp. These founders were mainly from Malaysia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, and Singapore. It was a two-week boot camp the provided them with immersion to the tools for problem validation and solution validation. They were given mentorship and follow-up assignments for two weeks for them to conduct customer interviews and test their assumptions. At the end of the process the founders went through pitch day where BlueChilli invited industry experts to assess the candidates based on the four criteria outlined previously. That is why we are able to get a sense of the founder’s resourcefulness and resilience. This process will stress test the founders and determine the “founder-problem fit”. At the end of it we selected 10 founders from four different start-ups.
What activities during the accelerator programme are specifically catered to the healthcare sector?
One example would be during our first immersion where we had the CEO from CSIRO e-health centre to share about the future global standards and emerging trends involved in health. This will provide the founders awareness when looking at the scalability of their health solutions.
Other advisors that we have brought in such as Mercer and Resmed did presentations and dedicated engagements to help the founders. They will also share the different ways that they are exploring in relation to digital health and other types of solutions. Their backgrounds in health is very valuable and helpful in talking the start-ups through, for example providing advise on payment models across different markets. Through this will provide network access to the founders as well as knowledge transfer from different individuals and organizations who are also looking to roll out health innovation in Southeast Asia.
What challenges do you foresee the founders will go through during the programme?
The first would be looking for the right customer segment to invest their resources. The understanding of the tension between customer acquisition costs and customer lifetime value is essential. The founders need to test their products early and conduct small experiments that is cost efficient enough to identify the channels and segments they can tap into for growth. Another challenge would be to figure out the right payment model whether it is through reimbursement, or out-of-pocket. Finally, after finding the right customer base and payment model the next challenge would be to navigate the healthcare specific regulations in the markets they would like to break through.
One challenge that is quite unique to Southeast Asia is the lack of a unified healthcare data system, the lack of data interoperability will hamper the growth of their healthcare innovations making it a significant barrier to entry for many HealthTech start-ups. This is especially so when conducting tests for these innovative healthcare solutions.
In terms of the values and characteristics of the founders themselves, what do you feel is needed for a start-up to succeed and gain traction in the end?
Many venture capitals are now shifting from investing in businesses to investing in founders. This is especially important when it comes to start-ups at series A or earlier where the business is inherently still unstable and uncertain. The best way is to bet on the people behind the business to have the right attitude, mindset and capabilities to figure out how to make the right decisions to make the right “product-market fit”. For BlueChilli, we believe in looking for founders who are curious which demonstrates their open-mindedness to be willing to test their assumptions and validate them according to the market. We also look for people who are committed to the problem that they are trying to solve and their mission. Therefore, its their willingness to work harder than required. Being a start-up, you will have the odds against you, so the level of commitment to the problem and solving it is essential. Founders who have a certain degree of resourcefulness and resilience is also what we look for especially when they hit roadblocks. [APBN]
- Galen Grown Asia, (2019), HealthTech Investment Landscape. Retrieved from: https://galengrowth.asia/research/
- Galen Grown Asia, (2019, Aug), Singapore’s HealthTech Ecosystem: An Overview. Retrieved from: https://galengrowth.asia/research/
About the Interviewee
Seow Hui Hong is, Seow Hui Hong is the Programme Director of BlueChilli, where she drives the delivery of the BlueChilli HealthTech Accelerator in Southeast Asia. She pulls together various stakeholders in the ecosystem and BlueChilli’s in-house capabilities to see to a successful programme – building globally scalable HealthTech startups with founders and partners who are deeply relevant to problems worth solving.