The Sound Horizon and Newsquare Team up for Groundbreaking Diabetes Innovation Programme

July 12th, 2016

We say: “Effective solutions to global health challenges such as Diabetes need cross-industry collaboration and innovation. We’re aiming to play a part in driving that forward.”

Diabetes is a growing and undeniable threat to the world’s health.
Some 422 million adults across the world have diabetes. In the UK alone, the cost to the NHGlucofocus 7-7-16S is £10 billion per year, accounting for 10% of the total NHS budget.

Consensus is building that this growing threat can only be addressed through sustained and integrated treatment and prevention programmes. Efforts to address the crisis have been ambitious, but remain sporadic, fragmented, localised and disconnected.

That’s why we’re partnering with innovation agency Newsquare and their partners Food Tech Week London and Dotforge to deliver GlucoFocus, a multi-strand innovation programme which will bring together payers, clinicians, patients, entrepreneurs, corporations and academics to address the challenge.

DP_2009-12-19-4 copy 3really really lowDominic Pride, CEO and Client Partner of The Sound Horizon says “through our consulting work for life sciences clients, we’ve seen a wide range of initiatives from plucky startups, health authorities, pharmaceutical giants and stakeholders in food, retail and wellness. While each of these initiatives can make an impact, we believe there is more to be gained by collaborating and sharing viewpoints, insights and ideas around this complex health challenge.”

Tobias Stone, CEO of Newsquare says: “we’ve partnered with The Sound Horizon because of their deep understanding of healthcare innovation and the associated business models emerging around Toby Stonechronic conditions. Their work at both ends of the scale – from pharma giants to seed funded startups – gives them an unrivalled viewpoint from which to deliver the kind of programme which is needed to innovate around diabetes.”

Newsquare has already initiated and delivered EyeFocus, a successful innovation programme around eye care, bringing in a wide range of stakeholders such as Bayer, Zeiss and Bosch to address complex challenges within eye disease and blindness. Newsquare will bring learnings and methodology such as Idea Hacks, early and late stage accelerators from this successful programme to GlucoFocus, while The Sound Horizon will bring knowledge of digital services and business model innovation to the programme.

GlucoFocus is recruiting foundation partners by September 1 2016 for a nine-month programme which will begin during early 2017. To find out more, please get in touch.

Dispatches from the Innovation Frontline – Rewiring Insurance with Armin Molla

July 6th, 2016


This is the first in an occasional series of interviews, “Dispatches From the Innovation Frontline” where we speak to individuals or organisations driving forward new business and service models within start-ups, scale-ups and corporates.  This week we profile Armin Molla of Virado and talk about innovation inside and outside of an insurance behemoth.

If ever there was a sector where there’s hidden value to be unlocked through rewiring business models
Virado_Armin-Molla_Printit’s in insurance. On the supply side there are archaic legacy practices dating back centuries and monolithic IT systems. Meanwhile there’s strong demand from buyers for cost reductions.  So it’s no surprise that the insurance business is an easy target for disruptive startups.

Yet what happens when you try and disrupt such a sector from the inside? Corporate innovation programmes are always challenging, with the status quo and the inevitability of business as usual hanging like a Sword of Damocles over them. In such a conservative and heavily regulated business as insurance, it’s even more challenging.

These were some of the challenges faced by Armin Molla as he set about delivering products in one of Germany’s largest insurers, Ergo.  Armin is now founder and CEO of Virado, a platform enabling brokers to sell relatively low-ticket policies through tablets and smartphones.  We caught up with him after his presentation at the Lean Startup Summit in London and talked to him about his experiences innovating inside and outside a corporate.

Armin, tell us about Virado

It’s a service which enables insurance brokers to offer a section of insurance products on one platform. There are around 120 different products, mainly for niche policies, for example smartphones and bikes. The kind of premiums for these products are around €50 per year. They’re the kind of policy that don’t really provide a profit but are great for brokers to build relationships with clients that can grow.

They were the kind of policy which has previously been sold through retailers. No-one has brought this together before.

Where did you get the idea from? 

I saw the problem when I was working at Ergo [one of Germany’s largest health and legal expense insurers and part of Munich Re].  If a small partner comes with an innovative idea such as this, then the big insurers can’t co-operate with them.

If they want to integrate these kind of products, then IT and portfolio management would need between two and four years. Two years would be fast! And there is no difference between the large insurance companies in terms of speed here. There is market potential for a lot of products but no underwriters for many of them.

That’s not such a great environment for innovation, who’s doing well in this space? 

Hartford Steam Boiler (US-based B2B insurer, also part of Munich Re) is doing great here. They are working iteratively and developing projects  [The company has a number of innovation strands including the “plug and play” incubator in San Francisco and a Venture Fund which invested $500,000 in IOT app Waygum last year]

You have experience of innovation in Germany, a landscape dominated by corporates. What innovation strategies are you seeing there? 

It’s difficult to go fast in a corporate. Bayer and others are building lots of “speedboat” opportunities. That enables them to go faster to solve a problem, but they are not receiving direct investment. We see a lot of “labs, incubators, speedboat” type operations with multiple strategies.  No-one is then executing on these opportunities at the level of, say $1bn. Instead they are buying startups or launching their own projects.

What’s the culture of the insurance business and how does it handle innovation? 

The culture is still very much driven by the business side, driven by the numbers. The technocrats are still in power. When they talk about cultural change, they are going to Shoreditch, or Silicon Valley or Berlin and going to the new innovation hubs – they’re seen by management as “a lot of fun.” It’s the start of culture change. But realistically, with labs and incubators you’re talking about 3-7 years to see the results.  It’s really a marathon effort to change culture.

And then, at the end of the day they have to do M&A to get the companies they need. To get the speed and numbers they simply have to do acquisitions.

Who’s doing innovation right in Germany? 

Outside of insurance, Axel Springer has a fantastic approach. For example, they bought [international job portal] Stepstone and now can spend €1bn or more per year on acquisition fund. They’ve been doing that now for ten years  – most of the other media companies did not learn [Springer last year acquired US digital news site Business Insider]. Contrast that with Neckermann [catalogue company which become insolvent in 2014} which could not change its business model in response to Amazon. When a big traditional company like that from the “Wirtschaftswunder” [Germany’s post-war economic miracle] disappears it sends shockwaves. Yet in other businesses keep on saying “we see the change but we’re still doing good numbers. If they get too big we’ll buy them”

But once the patterns of digital disruption touch your business, even if you’re losing just 1% of your sales to those forces that’s too late to react. In Germany now there are 150 companies targeting insurance.

Acquisition seems to be a very defensive tactic. Is there another way? What did you learn at Ergo?

Growing through M&A is defensive and also takes time to see results. If you want the company you buy to survive, you need to have the follow-up. You have to slow down to integrate it.

There is a different way.  You can build a privileged project inside the organisation.  That has to run on different KPIs from the standard ones which are usually around efficiency. You simply can’t operate at maximum efficiency in innovation.

Unlike the labs or incubators, you should be running maximum three projects, ideally two. You also need to deliver very fast results. In a standard organisation you can expect to deliver in two years. We needed to show that inside 9 months.

It’s about hiring the right people, and engaging the gatekeepers and stakeholders. You have to have C-level support, otherwise it won’t work.

You also need to have budget and the ability to spend it. Normally when it’s outside “business as usual” the CFO is told “if he tries to spend it, question it”  You need to be able to spend as you need to. Quite often you see the shareholders want a digital strategy, the major stakeholders want one but in the end you can’t execute because of this.

And, above all, be positive. You are selling internally like a startup. It’s a new business and needs your energy and positivity.

Lastly, tell us about failing. You can’t innovate without it. Where have you failed? 

When we were looking at selling bike insurance , we looked at high-end customers. We assumed that the owners with bikes costing €2,000-10,000 would want the full insurance with GPS trackers, so we geared our site to these customers. We found they were not taking the insurance because the tracker spoiled the look and feel of the bike. Looks were more important to them than tracking. Instead we learned and focused on those with bikes costing €700-€1,500.

We had another fail with printers at Virado for our POS solution. We thought that we would provide a tablet interface and also a printer, so we provided high-end printers to be able to print and sign contracts at retail. We realised that they already had a printer and didn’t have room for a second one.

The only way you can learn these things is by talking to people and learning.


In a Nutshell

  • Insurance is mainly being disrupted by forces outside the traditional business such as customer enablement through smart devices.
  • Core operations pursuit of “business as usual” and technocracy stifle new ideas and innovation
  • Internal innovation can provide a valuable alternative to both M&A and incubators
  • Different metrics must apply to the unit
  • It needs engagement, focus on 2-3 projects only, hiring smart, internal sales and top-level sponsorship
  • Failure is part of the process and needs to be embraced
  • Read the rest of this entry »

Thoughts from Digital Catapult Wearables Session – How to Find Your Route To Market

June 29th, 2016

Dominic Pride

At Digital Catapult’s Digital Health Festival earlier this month, Dominic Pride spoke on a panel giving his views on “Execution and Taking Your Product To Market.” Below is a summary of his thoughts.

Imagine you’ve developed a wearable or other piece of technology which can deliver significant medical benefits. Chances are you’re now looking to get this in the hands of users as quickly as possible.CmHfzpQWMAAfOmG
Standing before you in the UK are two potential routes to market.  You have the choice of spending your
limited time and energy trying to get to procured by the NHS, or choosing to go “direct” to consumer.

Access to public sector trials, funding, acceleration and decision-makers is improving thanks to programmes such as ‘NHS Testbeds’, the ‘NHS Innovation Accelerator’ and initiatives such as the ‘Digital Health London.’ Access is becoming more transparent but still remains challenging for small companies.

By contrast, going direct to consumer is something of a misnomer, as you will need commercial distribution channels.  If you’re looking to speak to insurers, retailers and private health companies, a quick search of LinkedIn can easily provide you with a first point of contact and even a picture of your contact.  These companies are also increasingly engaging with UK startups through accelerators and innovation programmes.

The challenge we’ve identified for most companies at this stage is not securing the first meeting.  It’s what to say in that first meeting that will guarantee that you’re invited back for the second.

A breakthrough in the wearables market will undoubtedly rely heavily on the team’s knowledge of medicine,
engineering and industrial product design.  Getting to a prototype or a commercially viable product will have required the team to develop a high degree of definition in these areas.

No surprise then, that when it comes to discussing strategic partnerships or commercial collaboration, there is a knowledge gap around how to move conversations with these companies forward.
It’s tempting at this point to “hand everything over to a suit” and hire a business development exec. While such a hire will be a natural consequence of commercial success, it is also a time-consuming and high-risk approach before you bag your first deal.

Instead, you can also equip yourself and your team with the necessary skill sets to succeed. To do this you can borrow some tools from scientific research and product development.  Here are some low-cost and no-cost tools which you can employ to increase your chance of success.

  1. Build an evidence base. Understand and know the company you are talking to. Find out what motivates them and what their current priorities are, especially around digital initiatives.  Research the person you are speaking to, what they have previously written about and what motivates them on a personal and professional level.
  2. Have a value hypothesis. Be prepared to talk about how your product can create value in financial terms for one part of the organisation you are talking to.  Will it ultimately result in lower claims premiums, fewer re-admissions for a hospital trust or store traffic for a retailer?  Use free tools such as Dr. Paul Marsden’s Client Empathy Map to imagine your arguments.
  3. Plan for an outcome. A successful meeting will have an outcome, either in terms of a decision to progress, to refer to another part of the business, or to evaluate the suitability (or not) of your product.  Use tools such as Andrew Abela’s Think / Do Matrix to plan for what how want your potential partner to act after meeting you.

We have found that equipping teams with the skills and self-belief to approach commercial conversations can deliver significant advantages in the short-term.  The process of finding, hiring and briefing an effective commercial exec takes valuable time, mental effort and emotional investment, and is more appropriate for a well-funded operation which is scaling.

At seed stage, empowering the team which developed the product to speak with authenticity and confidence in a commercial context is more likely to deliver an effective meeting which will lead to your technology ending up in the hands of (or on the wrists of) your target users.

Dominic Pride is Founder and Chief Instigator of The Sound Horizon, a market and service development consultancy working with pharmaceutical companies, digital services and wearables providers.



This article originally featured on The Digital Catapult Blog.

Why We’re Ditching Strategy – And Taking Up Business Hacking

June 14th, 2016

We Say: “Our Upstart programme trashes traditional growth planning and uses an agile model for business planning.”

We’ve had enough.

No, really. It’s 2016. We’ve all seen how value is now being created outside of traditional industrial structures in high-growth companies using business models which are enabled by digital.

But theUpstart LOGO 0 01 copy process of planning for this growth hasn’t moved on.

If you’re taking iron ore and creating steel, or finished product such as cars, yes you need a strategic five year plan. Capacity and resources are all planned on an industrial scale. But what happens in the post industrial age when you want to scale up a digital product or service? Upstart Strategy Dead

Models such as Uber and Airb’n’b rely on extracting meaning from data, not extracting raw materials from the ground.

Planning in the knowledge economy is uncertain at best and at worst impossible. When you have no proof that the market even needs your product before it’s been conceived, you shouldn’t ever be planning in a traditional business planning way.

And when success does come, there’s little or nothing in the management textbooks about how to handle that exponential growth which digital services see when they hit the sweet spot of product / market fit.

So what to do?

Where does the start-up or scale-up business leader go for tools and frameworks?

Through our experience, we’ve learned from growth stage companies who are creating services rapidly. We implicitly understand their agility and ability to iterate and pivot quickly.

We see them applying the Build > Measure > Learn cycle to create services in a short space of time. And we’ve found that you can use the same approach for creating and iterating your strategy.

And that’s what Upstart is about.Product_Strategies

Working with small companies in different areas we’ve evolved a model which turns traditional strategy consulting on its head. Fundamental to this approach is breaking down the business of strategy into individual problems. And then solving them. One by one.

We believe this change in approach is as revolutionary to the development of high-growth companies as the application of agile tools has been to product development.

In coming weeks we’ll be sharing how we use low-cost and no-cost tools and techniques to create and reveal value. And how Lean Startup author Eric Ries views our approach.

When Being Digital Is Not Enough

March 1st, 2016

Associate Director at The Sound Horizon Jessica Sandin shares her perspective on re-setting our expectations of what digital technology can deliver.

The World Bank’s 2016 World Development Report “Digital Dividends” Phone Imagetakes a close look at the reality of digital impact across the world. It concludes that there have been significant positive outcomes, but that in aggregate, benefits have fallen short and are not evenly distributed.

A key pillar of the argument is that digital in itself is not enough. The context – what the authors call “analogue complements” – has to be right to enable digital to thrive. While digital solutions have brought development and opportunity to some areas, there is currently a risk that digital may widen rather than reduce the gap between the world’s haves and have-nots.

It’s a timely call to action. Beyond the obvious need for affordable internet access for all, the report stresses the need for regulation, competition and skills to support digital deployments. Looking more broadly at “analogue complements”, however, the message can be taken far beyond development, which is the main thrust of the report.

It’s not unusual to find a rather blinkered faith in the ability of a digital solution or idea to transform an industry or the world in and of itself, because it ‘would work better’ or ‘is smarter’. That’s typically not enough.  It is essential to understand the context you’re launching something into, so you can address any obstacles rather than stumble into them too late. That’s just as true for digital disruptors as for anybody else.

Without an understanding of the context, you’re far less likely to get anywhere. You are, for example, unlikely to successfully launch a digital solution that could ‘save the NHS’ without knowing how that structure works, where budget- and purchase decisions are made, and what obstacles and opportunities you face in getting staff and patients to use your solution. This remains true if you’re launching into a rather less complex environment.

On the other hand, you’ll be a good step ahead if you gain that knowledge and have the humility to adapt your solution so that it works, both for the organisation and for the people who are your intended users.

That’s not to say that those behind new digital solutions shouldn’t challenge the status quo. The challenge is just much more likely to be successful if it’s backed by solid insight and knowledge.

This guest post is from JesJessica Sandinsica Sandin, Associate Director of The Sound Horizon and principal of SAND, a strategy and innovation consultancy. Jessica is the co-founder of Thrive With Digital – an initiative dedicated to helping us enhance our relationship with digital devices.