My best advice for young health entrepreneurs – Fredrik Debong, co-founder of mySugr (4 min read)
Fredrik Debong, a digital health pioneer and Sandoz HACk judge, reveals what’s essential for young people starting their own business, and explains what is special about the healthcare industry. His advice.
Feb 24, 2017
Attention #SandozHack followers. Great advice from @fdebong on dos and don’ts for start-ups in #healthtech.
“It’s the combination of different backgrounds and perspectives, united under a common mission, that yields new ways of thinking and new results.”
Our first app was called “mySugr Companion,“ and we soon had about 200 users. Back then, that was a big deal. In 2010, when people heard of apps and healthcare, they just laughed. One of the companies we approached even called the idea ‘cute.’ Luckily, a big med-tech company understood our purpose and became our customer, even though the app wasn’t completely finished. Now, the landscape is changing. We’re no longer running door-to-door to get someone to listen to a digital health idea.
Right from the start, we had a great mix of talents. Our four founders had different backgrounds: business, computer science, design, and quality management. Yet we shared a common passion – or at least an understanding of each other’s passion. In our case, it was the struggle with diabetes. So we had common ground, but we approached it from different directions, and that is what made mySugr into what it is today. I think that really big innovations emerge from the intersection of at least two fields. It’s the combination of different backgrounds and perspectives that yields new ways of thinking and new results. We, for example, mixed diabetology, the science of managing diabetes, with psychology, data science, and mobile technology. This approach worked for us, and I think it will work for other start-ups as well.
“Above all, solving the problem matters.”
Of course, even with all of our combined knowledge, we still had a lot to learn. We had no background in the medical or pharmaceutical industries, and we were not prepared for the fact that processes would take such a long time. We also had to learn that when you build a company, you shouldn’t hire for skill, but for passion and culture. By culture, I mean how you work in a company, and what your priorities are. You can always learn skills, but you can’t learn passion. You can’t learn culture. If you get passion and culture right, you will eventually realize that, as a company founder, you do not really matter anymore. The company matters, the mission matters and, above all, solving the problem matters. You become less important.
As you build your company, you must also realize that it’s going to take time to achieve results. Endurance is one of the most important qualities founders can have. You’re going to have fantastic highs and lows, and it’s going to be an unbelievable roller coaster ride. But without endurance, you will bail ship.
This brings me back to the place where the ride of creating a start-up begins: Having a great idea, getting support, and turning it into a business that helps solve a problem. That’s exactly what the Sandoz HACk is all about, and that’s why I wanted to be a part of the program. I believe that people who have problems, and who see problems, are the best candidates to come up with real solutions. These are people who can have a significant impact, and often they just need a bit of advice and support to make a real difference in the world. That’s why it is an honor to be a Sandoz HACk judge, support the program’s mission and share my knowledge and insights.
The Sandoz HACk – Healthcare Access Challenge – is a global competition to help tackle pressing healthcare access problems. Nearly 150 entrants from around the world have suggested innovative ways to use mobile technology to connect people to better health. The finalists come from the Philippines, Pakistan (2), Ghana, as well as South Africa, Pakistan, Maldives. Three winners will be chosen at the WIREDHealth conference in London on March 9, 2017.
The Sandoz HACk judging panel includes:
Richard Francis: Division Head and CEO of Sandoz since 2014, Richard is a member of the Executive Committee of Novartis. He joined Novartis from Biogen Idec, where he held global and country leadership positions during his 13-year career with the company. Most recently, he was senior vice president of the company’s United States commercial organization. From 1998 to 2001, he was at Sanofi in the United Kingdom, and held various marketing roles across the company’s urology, analgesics and cardiovascular products. He also held sales and marketing positions at Lorex Synthélabo and Wyeth. “The HACk competition is supporting people who are trying to tackle the same challenges we are – helping provide access to medicine, medical information and sustainable healthcare. But these entrepreneurs do it from the bottom up.”
Harald Nusser: Head of Novartis Social Business, a unit that includes Novartis Access, the Novartis Malaria Initiative and the Novartis Healthy Family programs. Together, Novartis Social Business supports expanded access to medicines in low- and lower-middle income countries. The unit is operationally managed by Sandoz.
Roberto Ascione: Roberto is a serial entrepreneur and global thought leader in digital health. He had 20 years of experience focusing on marketing and communications, business transformation and innovation in health and wellness. He is passionate for medicine, computer science, and human-technology interactions. He believes strongly that digital innovations and technologies will be the most impactful drivers of change in the healthcare industry.
Fredrik Debong: In 1984, Fredrik was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, which led him to become one of the cofounders of mySugr, with the goal of making diabetes therapy more fun and engaging. The diabetes management system he helped develop is one of the first apps in the AppStore that is a stand-alone “medical device.” mySugr carries the CE mark, and has been developed in accordance to European and US medical device guidelines and laws.
Rowland Manthorpe: Health Editor at Wired magazine, his writing has been published in The Guardian, The Observer, The Sunday Telegraph, The Atlantic and The Spectator. Rowland studied History at Cambridge and Political Theory at the London School of Economics, and has been awarded the Ben Pimlott Prize for Political Writing by The Guardian and the Fabian Society.