Posts Tagged ‘Innovation’

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

Tuesday, 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

Wednesday, 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
  • (more…)

Falling Cats, Black Swans and The Perils of Believing Your Own Hype

Friday, June 26th, 2015

We say:

“Our brains are trained to ignore the evidence we can not see. This bias has huge implications for your business.”

This post is adapted from a keynote presentation made by Dominic Pride to D:Health’s Partnering and Opportunity in Digital Health Conference June 9. The Slideshare is here

As I move deeper into life sciences and consulting to health organisations, I’m often challenged on how my experience in music and digital services qualifies me to talk about anything to do with patients.

This onslaught usually gets a double-barrelled response. Firstly, my colleagues and I bring the digital service expertise, not the medical knowledge. Secondly, working with music has allowed me to witness first hand what happens to the canary in the coal mine of digital disruption.

And while every medic has a horror story from their early days in A&E, we’ve seen some very different kinds of casualties along the way. Here ‘s a picture of the place where I came from – the music business. And you don’t have to be a domain expert to tell just how well this particular patient is doing from the chart.

This graph shows US recorded music sales around the turn of the century. It was a story pretty much repeated worldwide and as you can see, this patient has been in terminal decline since Napster arrived on the scene in 1999.
150609 TheSoundHorizon DHealth 03Flat 007
Peer-to-peer file sharing was the single biggest shock to the system that this business had seen in the 100 years since Edison invented the phonograph. It was more disruptive than any other technology which had been used by the business. Today, many executives are still in denial about what happened to their product-based business when digital turned up.

150609 TheSoundHorizon DHealth 03Flat 008The arrival of this disruptive technology was unexpected and catastrophic. It was in fact a classic black swan event.

150609 TheSoundHorizon DHealth 03Flat 009It was the Scottish thinker David Hume who first addressed the challenge of the Black Swan. You can see his exact words are in the illustration here, but to paraphrase his 18th century English, “just because all swans you’ve seen are white, that doesn’t mean that black swans don’t exist.”

This idea of the random, unseen, rare yet possible occurrence was developed and popularised more recently by Nasim Nicholas Taleb in his 2008 book The Black Swan. Taleb looked at the impact of these events on global financial markets and how most were blind to the possibility of

150609 TheSoundHorizon DHealth 03Flat 010We can summarise his conclusions as “just because rare events haven’t happened yet, that doesn’t mean they’re not possible.”

150609 TheSoundHorizon DHealth 03Flat 011Taleb lays out quite clearly why Black Swan events have such a catastrophic impact. It ‘s not the frequency of these events which is important. It’s the magnitude of the outcome.

Yet as humans we heavily discount the possibility of a black swan existing because we have not yet seen one.

Our minds are biased towards what we know and experience, and we discount what we have not experienced.

The effect of these biases features heavily in Taleb’s second book, Fooled by Randomness.

In this,he argues that the stock market traders who remain in position are not necessarily successful because of skill or judgement. They are as lucky as the single ape from the infinite pool of typing monkeys who just happens to clatter out an exact replica of Homer’s Ilead.

150609 TheSoundHorizon DHealth 03Flat 012They are, he argues, Acute Lucky Randomness Fools. These people have survived simply because their trading style happens to have fitted the bent of the market, not through any superior skill or judgment.

In fact, their continued presence in the market represents no more than survivorship bias in action.

What do we mean by survivorship bias, , it’s the the logical error of concentrating on the people or things that “survived” and overlooking those that didn’t because they are no longer visible.

Let me explain the concept with an example. If you’re a cat lover, skip a couple of paragraphs.

150609 TheSoundHorizon DHealth 03Flat 013A study in 1987 found that cats who fall from less than six stories, and are still alive, have greater injuries than cats who fall from higher than six stories. The theory is that cats reach terminal velocity after righting themselves at about five stories, and after this point they relax.

So the higher falling cats have less severe injuries. On the basis of evidene in front of us, it’s simple.

Yet this is a classic case of survivorship bias in action. The cats surveyed are the ones who sustained injuries and survived. Cats which die in falls are unlikely to turn up in a vet’s surgery, so the cats killed in falls from even higher buildings didn’t even show up in the study.

Let’s think about that for a minute. The fact that a cat, or a trader, or a digital health startup makes it through to the statistics means that they’ve survived to be counted and noticed. The ones who didn’t make it aren’t seen or counted.

This is a clear and evident cognitive bias in the way we see things. Our minds are trained to deal with only the information in front of us, and not what we don’t see.

So why is this blindness dangerous ?

Firstly, survivorship bias can lead to over-optimism because we ignore the failure which we can not see.

Worse still, it can also lead to the false belief that the successes in a particular group can be assigned to some special property rather than just good fortune like our lucky chimp in the typing pool who happened to bang out a classic.

This leads us to look for patterns and traits – maybe an upbringing, an exercise regime or process – which we believe can be extracted and used to our benefit.

150609 TheSoundHorizon DHealth 03Flat 014In doing so we make the common mistake of confusing causation and correlation.

But being neither stock market traders or leaping cats, what does all this mean for everyone in digital health, or in any business today?

It means first of all that when looking at success – whether your own or someone else’s – be aware that there’s an inherent bias present in the way you are looking at the evidence. Like the cats that didn’t survive the fall, the traders who blew up and are now insurance salesmen, the digital health companies who didn’t make it are, by default, not present in the market.

Secondly, the fact that you have been successful so far does not equip you to be successful in the future. Dominant market share and powerful distribution did not equip the leading record companies to deal with Napster.

In digital health we have no excuse. What’s happening to health provision is less random and more predictable than a run on the currency or Napster turning up.

With 16 years of hindsight, we can predict with certainty that digital disruption, which appeared as a black swan event in the music business is going to directly impact health. Quite how, remains to be seen, but it is no longer unexpected.

150609 TheSoundHorizon DHealth 03Flat 015Better still, we can learn from other industries which believed that their success was assured by their ownership of some unique asset such as content, real estate or banking licences. Music was disrupted by Napster then transformed by iTunes and then Spotify. Taxi drivers worldwide are up in arms about Uber, while AirBnB disrupts the accommodation industry. Peer to Peer Lending is disrupting anyone with a banking license. Healthcare will be no different.

So being around in one year or five years time might be less to do with what’s made us successful so far, and more to do with how we are planning to address the uncertainty of the future.

Taleb has some good news for people like us; “The things that come with little help from luck are more resistant to randomness.”

As an organisation you can make your own luck, and set yourself up to be resilient to so called unforeseen events by introducing some behavioural paradigms:
150609 TheSoundHorizon DHealth 03Flat 016

*First of all as we’re doing today partnering, learning and sharing success and failure

*Experience failure by encouraging it internally. Find a sandboxed way to get your own failure in house, acknowledge, confront and learn from it.

*Crucially, above all, don’t ever be prone to the cognitive bias and assume your past performance will guarantee your future success.

In short, we’re all out there pitching and selling. But don’t for one second believe the power of your own hype.

Innovation Hub or a Glimpse of Banking’s Future?

Thursday, May 21st, 2015

We say:

“For innovation to flourish in a corporate, it requires a delicate combination of access, protection and empowerment. Barclays is setting the right conditions.”

How Barclays London Accelerator is plugging FinTech startups into its mainstream business

What is there to link these three diverse business challenges?

*authenticating diamonds
*sharing virtual construction plans
*anticipating quantum computing-powered fraud

On the face of it, not much.

Yet when you take startups who are working away at these problems, co-locate them with seven other entrepreneurs who are finding and exploiting particular niches, add a global banking player, and throw in a leading accelerator ecosystem to the mix, it becomes a lot clearer.

Blocktrace, Basestone and Postquantum are three of the ten startups on the current Barclays London Accelerator programme who are addressing those challenges. The programme is housed in Mile End, east London, somewhere between the throng of Tech City and Barclays HQ in Canary Wharf. It’s co-manged by Techstars, who provide both VC-backed funding and mentorship from VCs as well as retail and finch entrepreneurs, design and product experts.

Beyond Banking

The diversity of the problems the startups are solving is striking – as is the ambition behind the companies being accelerated.

And once you put these ten together, they begin to build a picture of what the future of a bank might look like in the future.
Ten FinTech Startups find a home for 13 weeks
Rather than a monolithic institution, you get a glimpse of a bank becoming a platform, enabling access to customers and transactions with third parties empowered to provide innovative B2B and B2C services via APIs and marketing collaboration. The bank’s divisions span retail personal and corporate banking, wealth management, card services and investment, enabling a wide range of use cases to be enabled.

Barclays is certainly not playing it safe with its choice of startups. “Our aim is to attract most disruptive and innovative services” says Baljit Bamrah, Director of Partnerships for Barclays. “We want them to change the game with us.” It’s impressive that three out of the current out of 10 are using Bitcoin and Blockchain, which many traditional banks and exchanges are regarding as a potential threat to their existence.

Access, Story and Traction

The accelerator may be housed at a reassuring distance from the corporate mothership, but the startups get access to relevant teams at Barclays, including C-Suite and domain experts. As well as people, the startups have preferential access to a suite of Barclays APIs, enabling them to build on key banking and trading functions. Greg Rogers, Managing Director of TechStars, says this is a vital component of the mix: “They get mentorship from Barclays and also other successful FinTech company CEOs. They get traction with Barclays which is a huge differentiator. And they get the story, which means telling it in a succinct fashion.”

Startups are accelerated for a 13-week period, and this is the second cohort. Previous alumni include financial wellbeing service Squirrel , credit scoring service Aire and predictive analytics platform Market IQ. The London Accelerator takes startups from anywhere – the current crop includes homegrown startups as well as entrants from Stockholm, San Francisco and New York. Competition is fierce and the number applying speaks volumes about the number of FinTech startups. No less than 550 startups applied in cohort, which was whittled down to 60 and then the final 10.

Plugging into the HQ

It would be easy to dismiss programmes such as the Accelerator as a CSR box-ticking exercise. However, it’s clear that the degree of access the startups appear to be getting and the evident synergies can add clear value to Barclays divisions. Basestone, for example is drastically reducing risk in the construction arena and has a clear value to the insurance and real estate sectors.

At a recent showcase co-hosted by the Mobile Ecosystem Forum, nine out of the 10 startups were present to be able to tell their story in a snappy way and clearly articulate the problem being solved.

Below are the full 10 and a little about the solutions to problems they’ve uncovered. You can read more at the MEF Minute.

Basestone Tablet and web-based collaboration tool for the construction industry. Its founders come from the drawing review industry and were approached by HS2, the UK’s High Speed Rail link being built, and have now moved onto London’s east / west link Crossrail.

Everledger Everledger aims to bring trust & transparently to the worldwide diamond industry where certificates are open to forgery. The platform writes to Blockchain to provide an immutable ledger for diamond identification and transaction verification.

Godesic The founders of Godesic were frustrated by the limitations of delivering large scale projects such as the UK launch of 4G mobile with desktop tools. The company provides project management software for minute-by-minute tracking of transition into operations for large IT programmes, something which has a direct value for Barclays.

LiquidLandscape addresses the challenge of traders being deluged with data and overloaded at the time that critical decisions are made. This company provides “instant replay” for trading, and data visualization engine for creating linked, immersive data exploration environments with live time series data – in 2D, 3D, and VR.

With Origin, Barclays is truly looking to disrupt itself – the founders want to disrupt investment banking by transforming the banks’ involvement in the bond issue process. Origin is a “Lending Club” for large corporations and institutional investors, using technology to facilitate corporate debt issuance.

PQSolutions. The advent of quantum computing to banking operations will create a step change in processing. It will also open up new horizons in fraud. Founder Anderson Cheng is anticipating this world, and Post-Quantum provides cyber security solutions using innovative encryption and authentication techniques to counter quantum computer attacks.

CEO Martin Sweeney and two other of the founders of Ravelin worked at taxi upstart app Hailo and were able to identify the potential for fraud using stolen credit card data. Their solution combines data science and machine learning with a merchant’s fraud profile to deliver pin-point accurate online fraud detection.

Safello The ambition of this startup aims to bridge the 2.2 billion worldwide who hold bank accounts with the 2.7billion unbanked via Bitcoin. The solution is a Europe-focused Bitcoin exchange with plans to expand into Bitcoin payments.

Stockfuse addresses a key recruitment challenge for banks and is aiming to bypass or augment the process of using resumés / cvs. With this gaming platform which uses live stock data, users and potential trading candidates can demonstrate their actual ability to trade the markets.

See also: MEF Minute: The startups of tomorrow.

10 Things you need to know about Barclays Accelerator

For startups and innovators, time can never be money

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015

“Hurry up. Time is money!” We hear the phrase so often in business that we believe it must be true. 

It’s been accepted as true since the industrial revolution transformed work. Until then, in the agrarian economy, work was done when the field was ploughed or the corn was gathered.  Working time was recognised and transacted, but also was bound up with societal and communal obligations.

Does not equal

From the 18th Century, thanks to clockmaker John Harrison, we could effectively measure time, so in the 19th century, industrialists could then pay workers by the hours that they were now able to accurately measure and control. So time became money.

Fast forward to the 21st century and if you’re paying – or being paid – by the hour, then time still equates money. We only have to look at the predictable headlines in the wake of every snowstorm or flood,  bemoaning the loss of productivity measured in millions or billions of pounds or dollars. Lost time equals lost money.

We are in the Connection Economy

Yet if we believe marketing guru Seth Godin, we are now moving into the connection economy, a post-industrial era when thanks to the internet and the economics of abundance, success is determined by creating  unique offerings and connecting with as many people as possible. Being first to create the new thing is of paramount importance, whether it’s Humans of New York or Uber. 
If you’re a startup, an innovator or entrepreneur you’re in that connection economy. You’re in the business of creating something new and connecting. For you, time is not and never can be money – it’s something much more precious.

In his book The Lean Startup, Eric Ries describes a startup as “an organization dedicated to creating something new under conditions of extreme uncertainty.”  The goal for a startup (whether inside a FTSE 100 company or a garage) is to validate that the market exists for a particular service, and the objective is to gain as much validated learning as quickly as possible.

You can’t buy lost opportunity like overtime

So for startups, every hour is a race against time to define and own their niche, and to uncover more about customer needs which are not yet known. Coming second can be catastrophic, and the cost of lost time and delay is far greater than the man hours spent on the team going in the wrong direction. Time lost can never be recovered or made up by buying overtime.

Money is a convenient method of measuring the worth of goods and services. Money flows two ways – a credit here will always equals a debit there.  Transfers of funds go into and out of accounts, lost money can be borrowed and an empty account filled again with funds begged, borrowed or even stolen.

By contrast, time only ever flows one way.  Once the hour, day or month is spent it’s gone forever and can’t be recharged in the same way that a bank account or a mobile top-up can.

Lose the industrial mindset

For entrepreneurs and startups it’s imperative to lose the industrial mindset and ditch the time=money equation.  The goal of a production line is to produce high-quality products at scale. The goal of a startup is to establish product / market fit and do it in the shortest possible time.

Yes, time is valuable and yes, people cost money. But lost time means lost opportunity cost, something which can never be bought back. So if innovation is your business, time can never be money. It’s far more valuable that that.

Image: © Stepan Popov |