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Dr. Vishal Gulati

Venture Partner at Draper Esprit and Chairman of the Digital Health Forum

Dr. Vishal Gulati is one of Europe's leading digital healthcare investors and a venture partner at DFJ Esprit, a firm specializing in digital health that follows the style set by Silicon Valley. He has become a renowned promoter of investment in the emerging digital health sector and presides over the Digital Health Forum. Gulati has more than a decade of experience in VC. He is on the Board of Directors at Horizon Discovery PLC and EcoEos.

Lessons from the Forum of the BioRegion (Part 1): Digital Health


One of the main conclusions of the Forum of the BioRegion was the undeniable impact technology has on our relationship with healthcare, where the biopharma, medtech and digital health sectors have a great deal to say about, being the key sectors that we need to face. Dr. Vishal Gulati, speaker at the Forum of the BioRegion and one of the keynote speakers about the current state of digital health, shares with us inspiring points of view on the main trends and challenges on digital health. Spoiler alert: the days of uninformed patients are long gone.


During your talk at the Forum of the BioRegion you emphasize that healthcare evolution is facing an historic change. What is different this time?

If you look back in history, you'll see that people had a very different relationship with their illnesses. Today, thanks to the Internet, before seeing a doctor, we already know a lot about what is happening to us. We might be right or wrong, but the relationship has changed forever: it's more equal. The availability of information has completely changed our relationship with healthcare and it's going to change how we build new products, taking patients’ needs into account more. The real user of the product will have a say in what the future of healthcare will be: patients are more empowered.


Which current and future challenges in digital health would you highlight?

The challenges in terms of distance that only remained in healthcare are starting to be resolved as well on a telematics level. There will be an Amazon of healthcare, a Skype of healthcare,... A lot of companies are successful in a B2C (business to consumer) space. You can bridge certain gaps that exist in the system. You order your prescription online and you get it from a courier, so you don't have to go to the pharmacy.


But, from a patient point of view, we associate healthcare with the added value of human contact. Aren't we losing this with the system you describe? 

If the choice was between having a truthful encounter with a doctor looking after you and receiving advice over the phone, that would absolutely be true. But that's not what we are getting. The average number of minutes a doctor spends with each patient is going down every year. Of course, if we had an endless healthcare system with an amazing budget we could get that, but we don't have it.


Are there some future challenges that you foresee?

We need to get better at predicting. The healthcare system tends to be reactive. Instead of having healthcare systems, we have "sickcare" systems: we wait for people to get sick and then we give them care. If we focus our efforts on the things we all know are good for us, we will be saving money very early on. Now there are smartphone apps teaching you to do that and there are all these various ways that allow you to interact with users at a very low cost. We have to leverage this technology and make it more widely available.


As a digital health investor, which characteristics do you look for in your investments?

First, a very large market. You should not limit your ambitions to one city or one country because there are people in other parts of the world with the same issues. I also like companies that are addressing big problems. If you're going to make a change in people's lives, you want it to be big. And then, I like the products that are addressing people before they get sick.


Do you prefer B2B business or B2C?

I do both, my portfolio is about half and half. I think I'll continue to do that but there's a lot of opportunities on the B2C market right now because it's not addressed by pharma companies. They don't want to interact directly with patients so there's a great opportunity for companies to become the front-end for users.


So, there's a big step these companies need to take towards users in terms of their image.

Yes. Branding products these days is about developing an affinity with users. Apple is a great example. People don't just like their products, they fall in love with them. That's the challenge for the future because a lot of companies don't think about their users, no one falls in love with Pfizer or GSK, so there's a lot to learn.


One of the main trends is the convergence of sectors. Frontiers are blurred between pharma, biotech, medtech and digital health. Are we moving away from M&As and more towards strategic partnerships?

There's both of them. M&A happens when companies already have access to users and they are looking for a new product. But strategic collaborations seem to be happening in sectors where companies get lost during the development process. For example, there's a recent collaboration on diabetes between Sanofi and Google. Sanofi knows a lot about diabetes but they don't know anything about users, so they are trying to harness Google's ability to look at large data sets.


What are the main mistakes digital health entrepreneurs make?

The lack of a global dimension or their belief that a direct-to-consumer product isn’t valuable. They also tend to launch products too quickly. If you have a drug, you can't launch it until it has gone through different phases. But if it's a digital product, you need feedback from users as well. Don't be embarrassed to launch something that's not ready yet, launch it in Beta and get feedback.


What attributes would your perfect digital health start-up have?

The best teams are ones that have experience from other digital industries. The founder of one of my companies, Lifesum, used to work for Spotify.


Can you name three digital health startups that are transforming healthcare delivery?

I'm tempted to talk about companies that are a part of my portfolio: PushDoctor, a UK based service. Thousands of people are using this app and seeing a doctor. The average wait time is six minutes. They never thought that they could just go to a smartphone, see a doctor, talk to them, get guidance and have the prescription sent to the nearest pharmacy.

Lifesum is a subscription app that helps you live a healthier life, exercise more, eat better quality food. Millions of users around the world are benefiting from it and it's all related to what we've been talking about.

The third one is My recovery, an app that puts surgeons in contact with patients who are about to have orthopedic surgery. The first time they see the doctor, they are introduced to the app. Then it follows the whole journey of their surgery, giving them guidance on what to do, answers to their questions and remote follow-up from the surgeon on the exercises they need to do.


Related interview:


Presentation of Vishal Gulati at the Forum of the BioRegion 2016:

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