The Tech Revolution in Regional Australia, and Opportunities for Future Growth

Here’s an article I wrote in March 2017 for StartupsInnovation.com. You will notice this was pre-2018 Australian leadership spill! I have a real love for Queensland, and regional Australia’s potential to be world leaders in innovation and creativity. This article has heaps of resources and events to be aware of if you’re keen to get started with your big idea in Queensland, whether in the big city or further out. Share your thoughts below.

There's a tech revolution Down Under- and we have ideas on where the next opportunities will be.

As a frequent city-hopper throughout Australia, we've noticed that the tech revolution isn't solely limited to our most famous capital cities. 

Brisbane skyline at night. Louise Teo

Brisbane skyline at night. Louise Teo

The rural towns dotting the 2300km expanse of the Great Barrier Reef have long been subject to “boom or bust” economic conditions in Australia. With the recent Australian mining sector downturn affecting once-bustling cities throughout Central and Northern Queensland, the time is ripe for entrepreneurialism to take place.

The Australian Federal Government's Innovation Agenda has helped foster an environment for numerous innovation events. One such event coming up is Myriad, the global entrepreneurs’ conference to be held in Brisbane, Queensland’s capital, at the end of March. Bringing speakers from TechCrunch, Estonia, Western Europe and rural Queensland to the city, the event promises to help connect and inspire attendees as Australia’s answer to SXSW. 

Myriad’s timing coincides with the World Science Festival, which will host Hack The Reef, the world’s first hackathon dedicated to the Great Barrier Reef. Held in Townsville, one of Northern Queensland’s largest Reef gateposts, Hack the Reef will bring participants together to brainstorm solutions for the Reef’s rapid bleaching crisis, with global warming sending water temperatures 1-2 degrees Celsius higher than usual and irreversibly bleaching the beautiful coral. Hack the Reef will send winners to Myriad, and help boost tech and entrepreneurial skills in a region not known for its Opera House or laneway coffee spots. 

Great Barrier Reef from above! Louise Teo

Great Barrier Reef from above! Louise Teo

Maker spaces and coworking centres have also opened up in Mackay, Cairns and Townsville. Startup Mackay is a hub for the sugar cane city and former mining hub now focusing on tourism. The Assisted Devices Hackathon will be held in Mackay, Toowoomba and Townsville later this year, with support from Advanced Manufacturing Queensland helping to re-energise Queensland manufacturing and engineering. theSPACE Cairns and Canvas Coworking in Toowoomba also host startup events and coworking space for locals and visitors. 

Additionally, Australia’s largest corporate startup accelerator Slingshot has announced a presence in Cairns this year. It will dedicate funding and resources to projects focusing on travel, hospitality and entertainment in this city of 160,000 people which hosts international guests such as Elton John. Slingshot is known for running one of Australia’s largest health-tech accelerators, and currently has Australia’s first Human Resources Tech accelerator open for applications to be the next Freelancer or similar. 

Finally, small business groups in these towns continue to host events for local startups and small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) alike. Small Biz Big Future has been held in Cairns for several years’ running, bringing together web developers, agricultural, marketing and legal experts in the region to deliver Top 3 Business Tips for attendees. 

Advance Queensland also completed a regional tour featuring 6 of Queensland's most successful entrepreneurs, including Shark Tank Australia's Steve Baxter and We Are Hunted's Stephen Phillips, visiting ten rural cities to share their experiences with locals. 

How else can regional towns pivot from existing business models and upskill in entrepreneurship? Currently, the options for rural business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs are to attend local events or education providers; otherwise, if they can afford it, to relocate to one of the capital cities. In our opinion, education shouldn't be limited to local TAFE centres and universities, which are often costly and not suitable for time-poor owner-operators. It's also worthwhile remembering that many small business owners are successful despite not completing school, or not having a strong tech culture within an Indigenous Australian community. Private tech skill educators such as General Assembly and Academy Xi are based in major capitals such as Melbourne and Sydney (with GA opening in Brisbane). These cities are doing their bit for entrepreneurship, but are becoming saturated with choice of events. Surely such schools could also aim to broaden their reach to rural areas by offering free or paid video access to classes and talks. 

In times of crisis, there is a long-held resilience demonstrated by local farmers, retailers, and other small business owners, with communities devoted to buying local. Much can be learnt from business owners who have dealt with cyclones, droughts, banana plantation destruction and international trade adjustments. Perhaps a platform needs to be developed for giving these stalwart regional business owners a chance to share their lessons virtually with young and tech-savvy entrepreneurs across Australian cities. This could help introduce a new revenue stream to such business owners, in a valuable collaborative effort of Ideas Exchange. 

Australia's current Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, a former tech entrepreneur himself, has tried to shine a light upon regional innovation. Taking in rural Queensland towns such as Bundaberg and Rockhampton last year, Prime Minister Turnbull was impressed with technologies such as drones used by farmers for crop surveillance and pest control. As mentioned during his visit, it's important to remember that entrepreneurs are not just city-based friends in T-shirts coding in a garage for fun. The real need for tech and entrepreneurial skills comes from those who are geographically isolated and time- and resource-poor. 

Ongoing support for local businesses and education providers, whether rural or metropolitan, will continue to drive the future of Australian innovation. We'd be glad to hear your thoughts on this article and other ideas you may have.  

Best Reads This Week, September Edition

We’ve been quiet for awhile! Hello again :)

It’s great to be back!

We’ve got a lot happening at The Medical Startup- thankyou for bearing with our site facelift as it happens.

For now, entertain yourselves with a roundup of some great articles we’ve enjoyed from around the Web this week.

  • Beth Comstock’s a CEO- and an introvert. Tips and strategies at Girlboss.com.

  • Clinical trials are underway for novel early-stage cancer screening through a simple blood test. (The article’s from January but still relevant!)

  • Our friends at Lysn have been listed as one of the top 5 Mental Health social enterprises in tech to watch, along with other inspiring startups. Check out the full list at Social Change Central.

What are some articles and resources you’ve enjoyed recently? Share your finds below!

Melbourne startup Nebula Health Raises $250,000 in Seed Funding For Best Perioperative Patient Care

First published June 6, 2017

What makes patients’ lives easier?

Having clear, up to date communication with their doctor and treating team.

The problem is, time pressures and administrative structures in most hospitals and clinics make this difficult both for patients and clinicians.

Australian surgeons Dr Paul Paddle and Dr Chandrashan Perera have created a solution for this. Nebula Health delivers smartphone reminders and advice via app directly from the surgeon to the patient, improving the quality of pre-operative care, post-op recovery and long-term health of their patients, in an easy-to-use and efficient manner.

 

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Nebula Health’s new patient-focused app will help patients prepare for and recover well from surgery, with clear instructions tailored to each patient’s unique needs. Photo courtesy of Nebula Health.

As Chief Medical Officer Dr Paddle explains, “The concept for this app was borne out of my own experience and frustration. As a practicing ENT surgeon, I strive to check in on my patients at every step, before and after their surgery. However, in the time-pressured realities of medical practice today, it’s often not possible. With this app, my patients receive personalised directions every step of the way. In return, I receive real-time notifications of their compliance. As a result, my patients have more confidence in my abilities, are more satisfied and have better health outcomes.”

Frustration with the limits of current best patient care are what drive startups formed by doctors, nurses and other clinicians. Perioperative medicine is a standout opportunity for healthtech innovation, given the enormous breadth of surgical patients and cases, spanning from neonatal to paediatrics and adult surgery, and the non-surgical complications that can occur (such as cardiac events) amidst the high turnover of operative cases. A precision medicine solution like Nebula’s app could potentially also help those patients on waiting lists who are anxious about surgery or wanting advice in between appointments.

 

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Melbourne Accelerator Launch Party 2016. Photo: The Medical Startup

Since completing their time with the Melbourne Accelerator Program (MAP), Nebula have visited Silicon Valley with the other MAP graduates and iterated the initial concept of their product into a helpful perioperative app. What was the journey like as a clinician and startup founder? “We tested thirty (surgical) patients using a prototype. Feedback was overwhelmingly positive, and it encouraged us to develop this concept into a market-ready product.” explains Dr Chandrashan Perera , Nebula’s CEO. “Patient testimonials from this trial turned six surgeons into early customers. From this traction, we were able to close our seed round. This funding will allow us to grow the team and scale our services to more patients.” Indeed, at least two more medical doctors have joined Nebula‘s team, and Nebula’s vision has impressed angel investors including Rod Lyle, a board member of ASX-listed medical technology company Pro Medicus.

It’s been exciting following Nebula Health’srapid journey from the Melbourne Accelerator Program (MAP).  Other medical successes include compatriots CNSDose, a pharmacogenetics company who are now part of the Texas Medical Center’s Innovation Accelerator, and other graduates of the MAP program.

Currently, Nebula Health are looking for more surgeons in hospitals and clinics who are interested in their software. For a demo or more information, please contact Li (at) nebulahealth.com.

Congratulations and best wishes to the team!

The Virtual Ward Round Is Here: Highlights from Day 2 HiNZ, Successes and Failures in Telehealth, and the Global Telehealth conferences

First published November 2, 2016

We’ve been very inspired from the talks and positive atmosphere at HiNZ, SFT and the Global Telehealth conferences this week. New Zealand is a country that deserves a lot more credit for their innovation in medicine and global healthcare. Here are some of today’s highlights:

1) Virtual Ward Rounds and Consults help patients and clinicians alike feel supported and at ease with care. Dr Eddie Tan, nephrologist from Waikato Hospital, spoke about the “hub and spokes” model of care that Waikato Hospital and its satellite rural hospitals and clinics run. With hundreds of kilometres between sites, Dr Tan and his colleagues are on planes at least every fortnight for clinics that may last just a few hours before returning back to Waikato. This is problematic when rural patient emergencies develop; however, Telemedicine with videoconferencing to the satellite clinics has helped the Renal team conduct assessments, minus the hours and dollars spent on travel (and minus hours of patient/family stress). It has also prevented unnecessary hospital presentations, and brought critical patients to hospital sooner.

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Dr Eddie Tan, kidney specialist at Waikato Hospital NZ discussing Telehealth in Renal failure. Pic: The Medical Startup

Dr Tan’s colleague, Waikato District Health Board (DHB) renal nurse Jenny presented her research paper on how palliative care decisions were made easier with telehealth’s videoconferencing capabilities. This meant that difficult and time-critical family and patient conversations could be had in the comfort of the patient’s home, without wasting precious time in the potential final days of life arranging hours or even days of transport for the same consultation.

Dialysis ward rounds also help Dr Tan assess end-stage renal patients who may deteriorate very rapidly and become fluid overloaded.

Similarly, Rehabilitation ward rounds by telemedicine has helped patients in a rehabilitation ward feel happy and secure with their care. Registered Nurse and PhD candidate Sophie Gerrits’ research has so far found that rehab patients and staff at Thames Hospital, Waikato DHB New Zealand, are happy with the consults, and the elderly patients have adapted well to the new technology. The Ward Registrar goes from bed to bed with a telecart, and the Rehabilitation Physician or Geriatrician video-calls weekly in from the tertiary hospital, in addition to their usual weekly face-to-face visit.

 

Staff appreciated having a second chance during the week to ask questions and raise issues that had arisen in the days since the last visit. The main issue to overcome was “patient jitters” at not knowing what to expect from a video consult and what was expected of them. This reinforces the need to counsel patients prior to a consult; that they can speak, behave and ask questions just as they would if the clinician was in the room with them.

2) Telestroke Improves Door-to-Needle Time in New Zealand

Yesterday, Dr Chris Bladin of the Victorian Telestroke Program discussed the very promising findings from the Victorian Telestroke Program research in rural hospitals, with hopes to expand to other Australian hospitals. Today, New Zealand Neurologist Dr Anna Ranta showed that since Telestroke has piloted from 3rd June in the Capital and Coast DHB, door-to-needle median time has reduced from 80 minutes down to 54. With cerebral ischaemia being a critical matter of seconds, this is a significant early finding, and along with other positive outcomes, will hopefully help push for a Telestroke rollout in other DHBs.

 

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1,100 delegates attending HiNZ this week. HiNZ Awards Dinner at Shed10, Auckland, sponsored by Microsoft. Pic: The Medical Startup

3) The finalists for the Sysmex Award for Health Informatics at the University of Auckland have promising ideas for mobile health applications. The winner, Daniel Surkalim, was announced tonight at the HiNZ Awards dinner. By creating visually appealing, simplistic views of patient data, his project, GRID(Graphical Relational Integrated Database) will help solve the clinician bugbear of “too much data, not enough sense” that occurs in many existing EMRs (electronic medical records). The other finalists deserve commendation for their work; Frances Toohey with Dr.Doctor for clinicians and patients to track eReferrals, and Kyle Frank’s MedScript to facilitate e-prescribing solutions for patients and doctors.

4) Tele-ophthalmology in India aims to cut waiting lists for a population short of ophthalmologists. Dr Sheila John of Chennai, India has done extensive work with diabetic retinopathy and machine learning, and inspired us with her dream to help rural villages be screened for diabetic retinopathy accurately and safely without a long waiting period for an eye specialist. Dr John quotes 60 million people in India as suffering from diabetes, with nearly 20% experiencing diabetic retinopathy, a cause of blindness if left untreated.

 

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Speakers from four different nations closing the Global Telehealth conference today; L-R: Global Telehealth co-chair Dr Kendall Ho of Canada; Dr Karen Day of NZ; Dr Laticha Walters, South Africa; and Dr Sheila John, India. Pic: The Medical Startup

With four events running this week, it’s impossible to catch all sessions at once. Watch the conference on demand, even after this week, with a Virtual Ticket, including one year’s worth of membership with HiNZand HIMSS Asia-Pacificamong other benefits. We thank HiNZ for providing media access to the conferences and truly enjoyed the experience.  

Doctors Want To Be Innovative, But They Don’t Know How

First published June 20, 2016

 

Since embarking on this journey, I’ve been fortunate to explore innovation in medicine and learn what makes a medical entrepreneur, by talking to people first-hand outside of hospitals and clinical environments.

From working full-time in hospitals, I know first-hand what it’s like to want to create change, but not know how to. The constraints of protocols, hierarchies, specialty college milestones, and expectations of supervisors- not to mention full-time rosters- they all exist for safety and for high-quality medical training. I value my time in that world like nothing else. It made me into the doctor and person I am today.

Yet, I had to forcibly step away in order to figure out my odd journey.

Looking up at the possibilities. Gaudi built his vision, which millions enjoy today. Credit: The Medical Startup

 

Medicine is a long road, signposted by those milestones I mentioned earlier. You graduate from med school. You start Internship. You score your first Resident job in the field you want to enter. You gain entry into the specialty college of your choice. You survive your first day as a Registrar. You pass your college exams. You become an Advanced Trainee. Then you’re a Fellow.

Then, one day, you finish that, and you’re finally a Consultant. (What many in the public refer to as a “specialist” or, in the case of General Practitioners, Fellows of the RACGP– fully qualified and accredited family doctors.)

It is odd if you step away.

Will people point you out for daring to be different? – Grand Canyon. Photo: The Medical Startup

It is odd if you take a break. (Okay, maternity/paternity leave, marriage, other life events, they obviously do happen.) In the recent past, not even five years ago, it may have been more acceptable to take a break for a year. But with the ferocity of job competition amongst junior and senior doctors alike in Australia, the walls are closing in on flexibility.

And now, taking a step away from training; even for just a few months; even by remaining employed but putting off an exam for a year; even if you just need a 6 month “half-gap” of a year, because you’ve not had a proper study break since you were 5 years old – even if – sorry to hear –  a tragic life event has shaken your world – it can be seen as detrimental to a person’s chance of being rehired.

And when you’re surrounded by colleagues and well-meaning friends who don’t understand, and who actually say that those who take a break, even to work on a startup, are “unambitious” or “unmotivated” – is it any wonder, then, why doctors feel isolated and stay under the radar when they come up with an idea?

And, even if a hospital or clinic is supportive (and they usually are; unfortunately, it tends to be particular influential individuals who aren’t) – you have to go a step higher, and try explain to colleges that you’re still doing valuable work in healthcare, by working on your startup- it just doesn’t fit their definition of training.

And this is why doctors find it hard to Innovate.

Leaping through the clouds- daring to dream. Photo: The Medical Startup

How can you innovate when you are feeling weighed down by all these pressures?

How can you innovate where your environment is slow to respond to change, and, despite best intentions, has trouble understanding the few (or many) employees who want to do more, but can’t articulate their feelings?

How can you innovate when you risk being penalised or even kicked out of a specialty college that you’ve worked so hard to enter?

How can the medical profession realise that a step away doesn’t equate a permanent career change, and that it is vital for the future of healthcare for motivated health professionals to gain experience building something outside of their day-to-day work environments in order to bring optimal change for their patients and colleagues? 

Entrepreneurship doesn’t suit everyone. This is not a comment on forcing everybody to become entrepreneurial. It’s about creating the supportive ecosystem for those who are motivated and capable of change, to create that good change.

We should connect our different ways of thinking, and allow ourselves to shine. Credit: The Medical Startup

Many Australian hospitals have rotations in Clinical Redesign and Innovation, or other similarly-named Medical Resident positions. A junior doctor has the opportunity, usually for 10-12 weeks (the standard duration for hospital rotations) to work on innovating within the hospital system. They are usually assigned a senior Supervisor and observe, advise, discuss, formulate, and strategise solutions and carry out these solutions during these ten weeks.

Projects are varied. They can improve the efficiency of completing discharge letters sent to the GP when patients go home. They can improve the allocations of night shift duty. They can create more structured Handover meetings at the start of each shift, so the staff finishing can “hand over” outstanding tasks and patient updates to incoming team members. These roles give junior doctors the opportunity to innovate. However, very few of these roles exist, and to be honest, I am not sure of the demand for doctors who want to rotate in these roles over Cardiology, Nephrology or other critical specialties that count towards training and clinical care. (Feel free to let me know.)

I’ve been really fortunate (and also worked hard!) to attend events where I get to meet people in the health tech space; and others who are medical entrepreneurs in non-medical fields; and I find, that non-medical people are, very graciously, applauding those of us who innovate. Those of us who choose to step away. This whole post has been stimulated by yet another Twitter comment by a non-medical entity encouraging more doctors to innovate. It’s fantastic that the non-medical community are eager to see more doctors and health professionals innovate. If they only knew how hard it was, and how much doctors risk by choosing to innovate, they might understand why there are, perhaps, fewer Australian doctors in the entrepreneurial spotlight than in other fields.

Dreaming big at Yosemite National Park. Photo: The Medical Startup

I’m going to shine this spotlight on inspiring health professionals who are doing great things with their time, to help normalise this situation, and to celebrate their wins as well as their journeys. And I challenge you, too, to be inspired, to value your time, and give your best to the world, no matter what field you’re in.

Do you agree? How can healthcare ecosystems and communities in general improve inclusion for health professionals to innovate, in and out of their workspaces? What cultural issues need to be addressed and how can they be fixed? Or do you think things are fine as they are? Feel free to comment below, or send us an email via our Contact page.