LONDON - In this CNCS blogpost we are pleased to introduce MedCity. In this series we speak to innovative and expanding businesses as they reveal their highlights and challenges, in addition to providing some top tips for success. This series tells the stories of of bright thinkers who leveraged their creativity to revolutionise the world as we know it.
This week Sarah Haywood, CEO of MedCity, tells us about the "cluster organisation for life sciences and healthcare for England’s greater south east".
What does MedCity do?
We are the cluster organisation for life sciences and healthcare for England’s greater south east. We focus on building economic growth through the life sciences and healthcare sector, across the region. We help join up all parts of the ecosystem in order to support the growth of companies, encourage collaborations, and signpost people to investment, infrastructure and expertise. We were founded in 2014 as a joint partnership between the Mayor of London and a set of organisations called Academic Health Science Centres, which are made up of leading academic institutions and NHS organisations.
Sarah Haywood, CEO of MedCity
How have the founders of the company come up with this business idea?
The idea for MedCity came through two pieces of work. One of them was produced by the Mayor of London and it identified life sciences and healthcare as a priority sector for London. The other one came through academic institutions such as Imperial College London, King’s College London, UCL, and Queen Mary University of London. These leading institutions wanted to help London be regarded as a global centre for biomedical research and for life sciences. The idea was to set up an organisation that could help us sell our sector-specific capabilities across London, Oxford and Cambridge, in addition to supporting companies to locate and grow in this region.
How hard was it to get your idea off the ground? What have you found most challenging?
As we are delivering on behalf of the government for London and on behalf of universities, I would say the first challenge was around bringing together the money. We do some work that generates income but we’re actually delivering on behalf of the owners of the company.
The other challenge is that there are so many things that we could do to enable the success of the cluster. There’s a challenge around picking what we should focus on and around making sure we do the right things. There are lots of opportunities and challenges. We are a team of about 13 people and we do a huge amount, but we cannot do everything, unfortunately.
What have you learned from the process?
When we set up MedCity we pretty much had a blank sheet of paper in terms of how to organise the company, what skills we needed and what would be the things we’d focus on. We knew the problems we were trying to solve but not necessarily what the solutions were. We learnt one has to try different things: some things work really well and some things are not so successful. It’s about learning from one’s mistakes.
What are the highlights of your expansion?
We run an angel investing programme for life sciences and healthcare companies, called Angels in MedCity. We are growing a community of business angels that understand both the industry and the kind of companies that operate in the sector. This allows us to help companies find angels that could be interested in investing with them. We additionally run a number of pitching events every year. We feel this has been very successful, as companies have succeeded in obtaining investment through this programme, with over £14m invested so far.
We also do a lot of work with digital health companies in order to apply their technology into the healthcare system. We have set up an accelerator programme called the DigitalHealth.London Accelerator, that supports around 30 companies per year to connect with the NHS. This is already proving successful with the first cohort achieving 50 new pilots and contracts across London.
We continue to be very focussed on helping international companies see what the opportunities are if they decide to operate in the southeast of England. We help them work through the issues they are faced with and connect them with the right people. This makes the process of coming into the UK easier. A big task for us involves helping businesses engage not only with the NHS base but also with the academic base. We’ve got fantastic universities here in the UK, world-renowned dcentres of excellence. Sometimes, however, companies don’t know that universities are very open to working with them and don’t know how to approach them. We have the expertise to help them with that.
The MedCity Team
What advice would you give to other startup founders?
My focus is on healthcare and life sciences start-ups. There are lots and lots of different organisations and different parts of both the academic and the NHS environments that are there to help businesses connect to capability and expertise. Unfortunately, many people do not know about them. One of the things that we do is help people access the right advice and guidance. More generally, the first thing I would say is: don’t be afraid to ask for help. In my experience, people are very generous with their time and in sharing their knowledge. The second tip I’d give is always try things out to see if they work. There are risks associated with that, but sometimes you just have to give things a go. Finally, relationships are everything. We are an organisation built on relationships: relationships with the academic base, relationships with the NHS, relationships with businesses, relationships with government. Don’t underestimate the importance of building your network and of telling others what you’re doing.
Why are you here at Cocoon? How has this environment contributed to the growth of your company?
This is our third location since we launched. As we have developed and grown, we have needed a larger space. We are a publicly-funded organisation so we need to make sure we are using our money wisely. We wanted value-for-money and a cost-effective office solution, and somewhere that was central and with good transport links, as we spend a lot of time meeting all sorts of different organisations in London, Oxford and Cambridge. In addition, as we hold a lot of meetings with clients, partners and stakeholders, we wanted a space that would create a good environment to meet people. We liked the combination of access to meeting rooms and to informal spaces here at Cocoon Networks. We also hold quite a lot of events so a real attraction for us has been the Events Space and the fact that we could hold some of our events here. Overall, it’s a nice environment and this is key for a business like ours. If you have people coming to meet you, you want to leave a good impression. You want them to see you are a professional organisation and the environment you work in is part of creating that. Last, but not least, the focus of Cocoon Networks is around innovation and small companies: this certainly fits with our ethos in terms of what we are about.
Eliot Forster, Chair of MedCity
What are your plans for the future?
In order to do our job well we need to really understand the region we work in and all of the different parts of the local system. There’s a geographical limit, as the bigger the geography becomes, the harder it is to develop the understanding and the relationships allowing us to do our job. What for us is important is supporting entrepreneurialism and, for this reason, we are always interested in developing new projects and programmes that encourage that. Part of what we’re about is sending the message out internationally that London and the southeast of England is open for business, for healthcare and life sciences. Thus, in our case, growth would mean engaging with new markets. We’ve had a lot of focus on North America, Japan and the rest of Europe, but we would like to strengthen our links to China. We want investors and entrepreneurs to know that this is a great region to do science, a great place to do business, and a great place to start and grow a company.