His passion in life is getting women pregnant. As catchy one liners go, Shamus Husheer’s is one of the best. The founder of DuoFertility is so confident that his technology can help a couple to conceive, that if they are not pregnant in six months, he’ll give them their money back. The likeable New Zealander represents just one of nineteen companies on the Future Health Mission, spending a week in San Francisco and Silicon Valley exploring business opportunities. In my best impression of someone herding cats, I’ve been attempting to co-ordinate and keep track of them.
Throughout the week, from the opening night’s welcome, through visits to some of the world’s most innovative companies (including Cisco and HP), I have been speaking to the founders and trying my level best to get my head around their work. To be honest, some of the explanations start off sounding like something from a science fiction novel. Admittedly, I am someone who thinks that Photosynthesis is another name for a Polaroid… Luckily, the passion and ability of the companies to explain their work has helped us all to engage. Take Paul Ko Ferrigno for example, whose company, Aptuscan is able to make a human protein. Or Mike Raxworthy, whose company (Neotherix) makes tissue to repair holes in a patient’s body. If only he could repair the holes in my sicentific knowledge, we might really be onto something.
One of the most inspiring visits has been to IDEO, the leading design firm. Charlie Burton, who has been travelling with us, has written the trip up for Wired Magazine over here. Meeting the IDEO team, several things about the company culture shone through. They are not believers, for example, in the myth of the ‘lone genius’. Instead, the whole company, right down to the fact that no-one has their own desk, is designed to enable collaboration and creativity. When they recruit, they look for what they call ‘T-Shaped People’. They want a specialism in a particular field (architecture or healthcare, say), and then a broad range of skills and passions on top, to complement that. Touring their San Francisco office, it was difficult not to dream of working there one day. I just need to wait until they start looking for Hyphen-Shaped People.
Entrepreneurs are often asked what problem they are solving. As someone who once started a sock subscription company, I have learned that some firms have the potential to change the world more than others…. This week has inspired me to rethink which problems are worth solving. For Roger Killen of The Learning Clinic, I think that reducing the number of deaths in a hospital by 28% over two years can count as well worth the effort. His device, which replaces the clip-board at the end of a hospital bed, alerts a nurse (via their iPhone) when something goes wrong, allowing them to interact through an application to say that they are on their way, and to update the system on what action they have taken.
The mission’s partners and sponsors include the Technology Strategy Board, UKTI, Microsoft, Polecat and McKinsey and a large part of the value has been in the experiences shared between the companies. One of the most experienced of the entrepreneurs is Sara Murray. Her Buddi device is a GPS tracker which can be used by the vulnerable, to keep a track of their whereabouts. During the week, Sara signed a significant deal with Mace (they of the pepper spray), to distribute the product in the US. In a week in which we Brits have been repeatedly encouraged to be more ‘in your face’, it was arguably appropriate that one of the mission companies should sign a deal with a firm whose product is, quite literally, in your face.
Time will tell what happens to the seeds sown throughout the Future Health Mission. The sheer number of side meetings which have been set up, with investors, partners and journalists has been amazing. I look forward to keeping in touch with all of the companies, and trying to share their success stories. I suspect that they will boil down to slightly more than pithy one-liners.
Oli Barrett is a co-founder of the Future Health Mission and a director of the Co-Sponsorship Agency, which brings companies and causes together to create social action projects.