Healthcare bootcamp brings self-testing a step closer

Would you like to test yourself for STDs at home? Monitor your own risk of developing diabetes or heart failure? It might sound like science fiction but if Bart Geers has anything to do with it, it will soon become reality. As the co-founder of Antelope Diagnostics, he attended our ‘Accelerating your healthcare start-up’ programme. This intensive bootcamp has taken his pitch to a higher level, ready to convince investors to come on board.

European collaboration

The bootcamp is organised in conjunction with Imperial College London and is sponsored by Johnson & Johnson and UCB. It forms part of a range of programmes developed by the Health Sciences & Business Institute which was set up last year. This is a collaboration between the Vlerick Healthcare Management Center and the Leuvens Instituut voor Gezondheidszorgbeleid (Leuven Institute of Healthcare Policy) at the University of Leuven. This range of programmes receives financial support from EIT Health, a European partnership of care institutions, companies and universities—including the University of Leuven and Imperial College London—which aim to encourage research, education and innovation in the healthcare sector.

Targeted theory and customised coaching

The bootcamp consists of two 4-day modules, in Leuven and London, and ends with a pitch in front of a jury of experts in the style of Dragon’s Den. Although the participants are taught targeted theoretical concepts, the bootcamp's biggest strength lies in the customised coaching, says Senior Learning & Development Consultant Rein Robberecht: “You want the expertise of the coaches to tie in with the participants and their field as closely as possible. As Vlerick and Imperial College both have a comprehensive network, we managed to bring the right coaches together. It is also important for people to be able to participate in the bootcamp as a team, so that all the team members speak the same language from the outset. This is exactly what Antelope Diagnostics did. In addition to Bart, two of his colleagues (Liselotte Hardy and Jan-Willem Hoste) also attended the bootcamp.

A palm-sized clinical lab

Antelope Diagnostics is one of UGent's spin-off incubation projects. “We develop labs-on-a-chip which allow anyone to test themselves for certain STDs such as chlamydia, hepatitis C or HIV and monitor the risk of developing other conditions such as diabetes and heart failure, by means of a simple blood, saliva or urine test”, explains Bart. “The aim is to give consumers and patients access to the performance of a specialist clinical laboratory, with the ease of use of a pregnancy test. This lab-on-a-chip is a disposable cartridge which is so small that it fits into your hand. The test results are sent to your smartphone by means of a secure connection. It could hardly be any simpler”.

Bart Geers - Antelope Diagnostics

“At the moment, our technology platform is mainly suitable for detecting protein biomarkers. These are biomarkers consisting of proteins which are secreted by bacteria and viruses, among other things. As well as proteins, which are large molecules, we can also detect small molecules such as cholesterol or drugs”.

Wanted: business skills

Why did he decide to attend the bootcamp? “At Antelope Diagnostics, we all have technical and scientific profiles, so we were looking for ways to hone our business skills to put us in a stronger position when talking to investors. This brought us into contact with professor Walter Van Dyck and from what he told us about the bootcamp, it seemed a perfect fit”.

Hands-on

Bart briefly outlines the structure of the bootcamp: “We were given theoretical background knowledge on how to develop business cases and value propositions, but there was mainly time to develop your own project hands-on, under the supervision of professors from Vlerick and Imperial College as well as various experts. The aim is for you to gradually optimise your pitch on the basis of their feedback”.

“In London, we also tested our pitch in the Performance Simulator at the Imperial Impact Lab™”, he continues. “Here, your presentation is recorded on video and analysed by a performance psychologist who examines your stage presence, how you formulate your message and how you could improve various aspects. This focus on cognitive and psychological aspects was very rewarding and not only contributed to the development of our business case but also to our own personal self-development”.

It's not about your technology!

“You know what it is?”, he says, smiling. “As scientists and technicians, we tend to spend a lot of time thinking about how to create a high-tech product which is disruptive. But this doesn't necessarily translate into a viable business case or meaningful opportunity. The bootcamp makes it clear that you need to focus on a solution to a problem. In the first instance, it's not about your innovative technology but about whether it can resolve an issue which nobody else can fix. And for us, that was a total revelation. The bootcamp helped us to cast a critical eye over our story, check the extent to which our product satisfies a need, and then incorporate this insight into a good pitch”.

Exceptional level

Since the bootcamp, Bart has already been able to put his pitch to good use with several potential investors. However, he feels that the added value of the bootcamp does not just lie in the polished pitch: “You also gain invaluable insights which help you to convince investors to come on board”. And he adds enthusiastically: “There are very few high-quality training opportunities for start-ups in the healthcare sector. The level of the bootcamp is truly exceptional”.

A helping hand for start-ups

Bart is not the only person who appreciates the programme. “The feedback from the participants and experts was unanimously positive”, says Rein. “As a result, we have already planned a second edition in September”.

In Bart's opinion, who should certainly consider attending the second edition? “Anyone who doesn't have enough business experience to put together a good pitch. If your project has reached a certain level of maturity, the bootcamp could raise it to a higher level and/or give you that final little push you need, giving you the confidence to approach investors”.

Graduated range for the entire ecosystem
“Our graduated range of programmes focuses on all the players in the healthcare ecosystem, in various phases of their development”, says Senior Learning & Development Consultant Rein Robberecht, who facilitated the bootcamp module in Leuven. “For individuals and organisations who are hatching an innovative idea, we have the open, online programme 'From idea to Health Business' which you can follow at your own pace and helps you to refine your idea. The bootcamp 'Accelerating your healthcare start-up'  is a customised programme which allows start-ups to elaborate their concept so that they can present it to investors. For scale-ups, young organisations which are preparing for a next step such as internationalisation, we offer an extra customised programme '. Finally, there is the 'Leading Innovation in Healthcare' programme for established organisations such as hospitals, pharmaceutical companies and the government which, in contrast to the other three, does not focus on entrepreneurship but on building bridges between the various players with the ultimate aim of stimulating and supporting successful innovation in the healthcare sector”.

Would you like to find out more?
Antelope Diagnostics was one of the six participating organisations in the first edition of the bootcamp. You can also read ‘Identifying the Right Drivers for Change in Health Innovation’ which tells the story of Michael Morgan-Curran, European General Manager at Valera Health, which develops software for mental healthcare. 

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