At a time when healthcare is never far from the news headlines both in Ireland and the UK, the race is well and truly on to find solutions that save money, streamline services, and ultimately make healthcare more accessible and cost-effective for patients. Leading the way is an innovative Irish start-up company, Wellola, whose Dublin-based founders believe only the sickest of the sick should be hospitalised and that the future of healthcare is preventative, community-based and supported by digital tools. Their B2B SaaS product is communications portal that includes video consultation and secure messaging software and it can work directly from a clinic’s own site; the patient downloads the app for free.
What is the idea behind your project / product and how did you come up with it?
Wellola’s co-founder, Sonia Neary, is a physiotherapist who worked in clinical practice for 15 years, gaining unique insights into the needs of patients and practitioners in today’s digital age. Herself and her co-founder, Dr Greg Martin, saw first-hand that there was a great deal of avoidable waste of resources in the healthcare systems of developed countries. The NHS spent £100 million on post last year and lost nearly £1B in missed out patient appointments- a significant figure in such an overstretched healthcare system; the financial implications of which are catastrophic. Think of the staff one could hire, or essential medications one could provide?
“Much of this is to do with miscommunication – letters not reaching patients on time, patients not being able to get in contact with clinics via telephone to reschedule and so on,” says Sonia. “The current system is cumbersome, slow and costly – ultimately, our aim is to disrupt the way communication and scheduling is done in the healthcare industry and to make it more efficient and streamlined. Wellola could offer cost savings of £1 for every appointment letter, bill, receipt or other correspondence that doesn't need to be posted. Almost £120 is saved for every appointment that is attended to as opposed to missed (as a direct result of the auto-reminder system) or re-filled via our real-time self-scheduling system”.
When did all start and do you have other members in your team?
The company is running for just over two years and we are now a team of eight.
How long did it take you to be where you are now?
We soft launched a very loose iteration of the software approximately 18 months ago. We went out and spoke with over 850 clinics across Ireland and the UK over the course of the year, reiterated and finessed our platform based on their feedback. We now have a subscription (software as a service) version for smaller healthcare clinics, officially launched the Wellola white-labelled enterprise solution in Q1 2019 and the Wellola Communicare app followed in Q3.
What was the biggest obstacle?
Getting started and leaving the day job! I have had the idea for Wellola about a year prior, but held on to a steady clinical job far longer than I intended, simply because I wanted a family and it was just too challenging from a maternity leave (there is minimal support for the self-employed in Ireland) and childcare perspective. Female entrepreneurs are frequently juggling running a business and family in parallel. They often require additional support in order to realise their vision. Thankfully I found my tribe with the support offered by Enterprise Ireland and the European Institute of Innovation & Technology.
What are your biggest achievements to date?
The Wellola SaaS product is currently being used by over 150 clinics on the ground level in the UK & Ireland.
We have secured a seed round just shy of €500K
We have secured two technical partnerships in the UK
We’ve launched via a reseller into Italy this quarter
We secured a place on the NHS digital marketplace, to be part of the framework for suppliers to the NHS.
What are the challenges of being an entrepreneur in the niche you are in? How about being a female founder / entrepreneur?
See a little on this above; taking the first step was the hardest for sure.
What are your projects you are currently working on?
Optimising our technical partners programme
Enhancing our integration capabilities with hardware/ wearables
Optimising the accessibility of the platform for patients with differing physical requirements
Is #WomenInTech movement important to you and if yes, why?
I’m an equalist...which is why I’m hugely in favor of the #WomenInTech movement to balance the scales in favor of diversity and gender diversity. We know that, in business, greater diversity lends itself to greater innovation and commercial success for both the company and the economy as a whole. I was invited to be part of a panel of women recently to discuss the issues that face women entrepreneurs, and many were saying they didn’t want to be singled out as a woman, but the truth is that we have different needs, we shouldn’t be afraid to acknowledge that and support those needs. For instance, I had the idea for Wellola, but held onto a steady clinical job far longer than I intended, simply because I wanted a family and it was just too challenging from a maternity leave (there is minimal support for the self-employed) and childcare perspective.
What is the most important piece of advice you can give to all female founders and female entrepreneurs out there?
Exhaust market exploration before you spend a penny.
Determine the needs of your users before you build a solution.
Work with people as consultants before you commit to hiring them as employees.
Be honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses and try to build a team that compliment your skill sets.
Know the boundaries between work and play- make plenty of time for the latter.
Warren Buffet recently said “busy is the new stupid”…. I couldn’t agree more and am a huge fan of making sure that you preserve personal time. After all you can’t pour from an empty cup.
What will be the key trends in the health tech industry in the next 5 years and where do you see it heading?
Artificial Intelligence and its capacity to support clinical decision-making
The Hospital at Home model- particularly in supporting the older person in the community with telemedicine and Internet of Things
Predictive Analytics in the elimination of preventable disease such as Polio
Who are your 3 inspirational women in health tech?
Ciara Clancy - Beats Medical
Avril Copeland - Hacka Health
Shona D’Arcy - Kids Speech Labs
This interview was conducted by Marija Butkovic, Digital Marketing and PR strategist, founder and CEO of Women of Wearables. She regularly writes and speaks on topics of wearable tech, fashion tech, IoT, entrepreneurship and diversity. Visit marijabutkovic.co.uk or follow Marija on Twitter @MarijaButkovic.