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Why start-ups play a vital role in inclusive innovation

Philip Bolton
Jan 24 · 4 min read

When we look back at the 2010s, people will remember the decade for varying reasons. For some, it will be the period where social media reigned, when Brexit happened or avocado on toast became ubiquitous.

While the above are all true, for me, one of the defining characteristics of the past decade has been the increased drive for diversity and inclusion. This has come from politicians, business leaders, activists and global citizens, who are waking up to the numerous, significant advantages that greater diversity brings.

Working in consumer health, I see this from two sides. I see how our sector is placing new emphasis on meeting the unique requirements of specific groups, for example women or ethnic minorities. At the same time, and partly to progress the above, there’s a huge drive for diversity and inclusivity within healthcare innovation teams.

Innovating for all

During previous decades, the priority has been creating health solutions that are suitable for all — no matter their age, gender, ability or ethnicity. This fundamental objective has driven innovation in all areas of consumer health, from ingredients to packaging, and the development of a generation of invaluable solutions that are effective for, and accessible to, huge numbers of people.

Now though, we’re looking to the next frontier: personalisation. This means developing solutions that meet the specific needs of groups with common characteristics or, further into the future, individuals.

While this is a major focus for companies of all sizes, much of the immediate innovation in this space is coming from the start-up community — often where a founder’s health need has been unmet by existing solutions.

Over the past three years, we’ve witnessed astronomical growth in the fertility services market, for example, which is expected to reach $36 billion with a CAGR of 8.5% by 2023. Here we’re seeing numerous new entrants in the hardware, tracking and diagnostics spaces, often led by women who have struggled to conceive or had difficult pre/post-natal experiences themselves.

The above goes some way to explaining why start-ups are so important in, and successful at, health innovation. They are often led by someone who feels incredibly strongly about the issue they’re looking to solve and has the incomparable perspective of someone who has walked in their target consumers’ shoes.

Accessing the start-up mentality

The pursuit of this perspective is placing a greater emphasis on diversity and inclusion within innovation teams.

Larger organisations are realising that, to identify unmet healthcare needs, they must work with individuals from diverse backgrounds and with a range of experiences. What’s more, developing solutions to meet these will demand a far more collaborative, inclusive approach to innovation.

R&D in the healthcare sector has to be grounded in science, meaning that teams tend to work in laboratories, wear white coats and often have numerous letters after their names. However, whilst what we do is incredibly specialist, we also know that not all health innovations are born at the bottom of a test-tube. Instead, there is now great awareness that game-changing ideas can originate from anyone, inside or outside an organisation — and personal experience can be a hugely valuable contribution to any innovation effort.

This change in mentality is partly responsible for the growth we’re seeing in innovation partnerships. Large organisations, RB included, are looking to partner with health and healthtech start-ups and innovators that can introduce diversity of thought, experience and perspective to their teams. This is now respected as a crucial ingredient for conceiving and developing the next generation of targeted consumer healthcare solutions.

And it’s not just diversity of experience that start-ups bring; it’s also expertise. The fertility services market is emblematic of the shift we’re seeing towards digital solutions in many areas of consumer health. These are increasingly instrumental in offering consumers the personalised or customisable experience they’re looking for. Developing them, however, demands expertise in a vast range of disciplines, including coding, design and user experience that is unlikely to exist in many clinical R&D teams.

It’s my sincere hope — and indeed ambition — that as we transition into the 2020s, the emphasis we’ve placed on diversity and inclusion remains. Fundamentally, health organisations large and small are looking to do one thing; help people — all people. We will be in a far better position to do this if we can work together, understand one another and build on each other’s strengths.

RB will be hosting a health innovation hack at Startup Grind Global 2020. The event will see RB convene healthcare/healthtech start-ups together with RBs R&D and Marketing teams to ideate potential solutions to a health challenge.

Startup Grind

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Philip Bolton

Written by

Interim R&D Group Director — Health Innovation at RB

Startup Grind

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