By Dr Marcus Tan, HealthEngine
With the potential to contribute as much as $109bn (4% of GDP) or 540,000 jobs to the economy by 2033, startups will play a huge role in shaping tomorrow’s Australia.
Already, startup led disruption is seeing big businesses lose their monopolies. The once impenetrable threat of size is no longer a roadblock, as passionate, hungry ideas grow to surpass even the most established enterprises. This new playing field, where almost anything is possible, is spurring on local business growth, shifting industries, and creating new economic prosperity where customer-centricity rules.
Yet despite the promise that startups will revolutionise the local economy, there’s no silver bullet to success. To ensure Australia reaches its innovation potential, tenacity and determination are key. With so much to be gained, where does one start? And how do you overcome the typical barriers to growth?
In 2009 I acquired a health-tech startup in one of Australia’s smaller major cities. While we faced several speed bumps, like location and a typically slow to move industry (health), our growth came by looking beyond what was immediately in front of us, to the problem we were trying to solve.
Here’s how we tackled our hurdles to become Australia's largest online health marketplace.
Build a local startup ecosystem
The Australian innovation boom isn’t confined to more powerful east coast cities. In fact, a recent report by Commonwealth Bank found that Western Australia (WA) not only ranks equal-second in Australia for being ‘truly innovation active’, but that the value of untapped innovation in the state could contribute approximately $37 billion to the WA economy.
In Perth alone, 8,400 people are already building and working for technology companies, and between 2010 to 2015, established technology companies in WA attracted more than $651 million in funding.
I believe there is a lot to be said about starting up in your local community, particularly if that community hasn’t seen much startup action before. It’s hard, but opening the startup door paves the way for others to follow suit. At HealthEngine, now that we’re scaling up, we’re paying forward the support we received by investing back into WA to fuel further state-born innovation.
Location should never be a deterrent, and if a support community doesn’t already exist to get things moving, build one. We’re now creating an innovation hub in WA that strengthens our local economy. Part of this is encouraging other local businesses to join the cause, in addition to ensuring local startups have the resources and opportunity they need to flourish.
Embrace the challenges and opportunities of your sector
Of course, as much as we value our role in helping build a local startup ecosystem, at HealthEngine, we’re focused our sector too. The healthcare sector is the largest employer in Australia, and it’s still growing. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that the industry added 33,000 new jobs between May 2016- May 2017, bringing the total number of workers to 1.6 million.
Despite the almost unique reach and impact of the healthcare sector, it remains largely cautious when considering the uptake of new technologies and innovation, particularly compared to other industries. Today many practices still rely on paper records and fax machines.
My experience as a general practitioner gives me insight into where this resistance to change comes from. In an industry where the consequences of something going wrong can be incredibly serious, it’s often safer to go with what you know, and what has been shown to work previously, than something new and relatively untested.
We listen to our industry to understand where change is really needed and will be accepted. This deep industry knowledge has taught us not to chase disruption for the sake of change. Instead we are looking at what will improve the lives of our users, without going against their foundations.
Don’t limit your thinking
While HealthEngine was founded to overcome the frustrations experienced by both the patient and the practitioner when trying to navigate the complex Australian healthcare system, it didn’t originally look like it does today. In fact, in the beginning it was a referral portal for doctors.
Like any smart startup, our products and services evolved as the market matured and the need for change became more apparent. Today, our goal is to enhance the patient-practitioner relationship and create better health outcomes through innovative technology; a mission that’s similar to our original purpose, but more established.
The HealthEngine platform increases efficiencies for both patients and practices by simplifying the often frustrating and time consuming process of booking appointments and managing your health journey. This not only alleviates administration and time pressures on a practitioner and practice, but also offers patients more control over their health, while making channels of communication more efficient, transparent and accessible. We learnt this by listening to our users, and learning from what they did.
One eye on the future is crucial to success. Don’t limit your thinking and always ask: what does tomorrow’s audience need? To succeed at shaping the future Australian economy, the startup community must embrace these challenges and innovate without fear.
About Dr Marcus Tan
As the Founder and CEO of HealthEngine, Australia’s largest online healthcare marketplace, Marcus is an active contributor to innovation in the Australian health-tech industry and a strong supporter of the local startup ecosystem. He has grown HealthEngine from 2 developers out of his lounge room to over 150 staff in 3 offices nationally since 2010.
Most notably, Marcus has personally raised nearly $50 million in private funding for HealthEngine thus far including their most recent Series C funding round of $26.7 million, led by global VC heavyweight Sequoia Capital, early investors in numerous iconic technology companies including Apple, Google and Airbnb. Sequoia joins Telstra Ventures and Seven West Media as cornerstone investors in HealthEngine.