How Leeds could become a world leader in healthtech

Kane Fulton, February 7, 2018 4 min read

This article was originally posted on the Tech North website.

When it comes to healthtech and medtech, the Leeds City Region has, “all of the ingredients to become even more successful and powerful on the global stage.”

Those were the opening remarks by Bernard Ginns, director at Branksome partners, who yesterday moderated the NorthInvest Healthtech Investment Summit debate held at Bruntwood’s new tech hub, called Platform.

Healthtech is lifting the burden on UK health services facing the demands of an ageing population, Ginns said, while giving patients the tools needed to monitor the status of their health.

Taking action

The event was held to encourage firms in the sector to move to the region, while providing clarity around how to access finance from investors. It included speakers from NorthInvest; Calls9; Accelerated Digital Ventures; University of Leeds; IP Group and Edenbridge Healthcare.
Leeds City Region’s strong expertise in the sector was recognised throughout, but it was also made clear that action will need to be taken for it to realise its full potential.

Professor John Fisher, a board director of NorthInvest and professor of mechanical engineering at Leeds University, highlighted Leeds City Region’s healthtech muscle by quoting figures from the 2017 Medtech Science and Innovation Audit Report.

With five per cent of the UK’s population, the region has 22 per cent of its digital health jobs, 9 per cent of medical tech patents, and 8 per cent of research. However, Fisher issued a warning: “Present success does not determine future growth and innovation; in fact, it could be considered a barrier.”

Time to transform

The challenge for the sector, the professor added, is that it, “needs to transform”. New products and services in the future, he said, are going to be, “quite different to the ones that are being developed at the present time.”

For “transformation” to happen, Fisher said that action would need to be taken around five areas outlined by the report: Fiscal infrastructure; High-level skills (to both supply current industry and fuel future growth); Innovation support (allowing companies to progress to market); and Evidence and Evaluation (creating evidence to support the value proposition). Finally, the NHS was highlighted as a “major opportunity” for the region, but also a “significant barrier” to creating value.

Investment opportunity

Adam Roney, Co-founder and CEO of Calls9, said that Leeds has “found its identity” and is better-positioned to attract startups than when his company started six years ago.

“The region is more connected and understands its strengths better, and we’re shouting about it more, which is a positive thing,” he said, pointing to Leeds Digital Festival, which was attended by 10,000 people in 2017.

Roney, who said that his company is working with a “game-changing” healthtech startup, praised the efforts of investors like NorthInvest, which used the evening to announce that it has set up a tech hub for angel investors in Platform.

“Six years ago part of the investment scene was not here – it was perceived that if you wanted to raise big money you had to go somewhere else to do that,” he said. “That is no longer the case.”

Connecting up health

The Leeds City Region is home to various medical institutions including NHS Digital, TPP and EMIS, in addition to Bradford’s Digital Health Enterprise Zone (DHEZ) which is currently running the Ad:Venture-backed Northern Max accelerator for digital health startups.

Laura Bond, from investment house Accelerated Digital Ventures, said that the region is well-positioned to take advantage of its extensive networks within the sector. However, she warned that Leeds needs to better understand the needs of the market if it is to create economic value.

“Medical devices have been developed by people to solve a problem, but they’re not things that people necessarily want to spend money on,” she said. “Because of the population, hospitals and networks here, you’re in a great position to understand and really capitalise on that.”

Partnering with education

Collaboration between startups and education presents another opportunity for the sector to flourish. Leeds University is investing £40m in a new research centre called Nexus, which will act as a gateway between the university and partners, providing 50 healthtech and other startups with laboratories and office accommodation.

“We’re taking the commercialism of our research platform really seriously, helping our partners better understand what we’re doing while handholding and providing connectivity to resources at the point of need, at the right time,” said Dr. Ceri Williams, Director of Research and Innovation Development at the university.

According to NorthInvest’s Fisher, healthtech could potentially contribute a further £1bn a year to the Leeds City Region’s economy by 2025. Should the recommendations outlined today before followed, NorthInvest’s event gave the impression that it has every chance of becoming reality.

Opinion, Leeds, Yorkshire, Healthtech & Biotech