Nuala Foley, Portfolio Lead: Commercial and Partnerships, looks at how she and her team have been able to broaden their skills and offering and ensure that the right support is being offered to the right innovators to meet specific local needs.

Nuala talks on the importance of focussing on the whole business model and not just its visible product, and looks to a future where all companies, and their products, actively address the challenges represented by meeting NetZero, and reducing health inequalities.

What are some of the delivery highlights from 2021/22?

This was such a busy year for us and so I simply can’t do justice to all the work that took place, but there are two things that stand out for me, both of which came towards the end of the financial year.

The first is the amazing success that we saw with SBRI Healthcare bids. Support with funding is a key area for us, and so we were delighted to be able to help three of our innovators – Dr Julian, Definition Health and PinPoint Data Science – to achieve funding through SBRI.

And then at the very end of the year it was great to be able to hold our Innovator Support Day – a pilot event that brought together a small number of companies that we’ve been supporting to share experiences and knowledge, with a particular focus on addressing health inequalities.

Now these two events are really only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to our achievements during the year, but to end the year so strongly really does pay testament to the hard work of the industry team over the past 12 months.

Over the course of the year we’ve had a number of new team members join us, bringing with them vital skills, knowledge, experience and contacts in areas such as primary care and cancer.

We’ve also adapted the way that we work as a team, with a sharper focus on which businesses we work with. Those decisions have been very much made based on the needs that we’ve identified within the region, and in response to the local need, allowing us to identify technology that could solve an immediate or long term problem for the system.

What have you learnt during the year?

What we’ve learned not just this year, but in previous years was that just focussing on the product is not enough. You can have the most amazing product in the world, but if you do not know how to run a business and bring in the right people to support you in your business and finance, you will fall down.

So this year we’ve spent more time on supporting clinical entrepreneurs, and they’ve really valued gaining that business knowledge. And as well as supporting entrepreneurs, we’ve clearly seen the benefit of working with intrapreneurs, and these are people who are entrepreneurial and innovative and want to develop new approaches, but want to do that within the organisation they work in.

We’ve been part of Royal Surrey County Hospital’s Bid for Better initiative, which was set up specifically to support intrapreneurs, and we’ve seen some great ideas coming out of that. We’re going to continue working with RSCH on that, and would love to develop similar programmes across the region.

And finally it’s become apparent over the last year that one of the big areas that have been talked about for quite some time can’t be ignored anymore, and that’s Net Zero. It’s not enough to talk about this anymore, we need to start doing something about it. So moving forward into next year, we will be working much more closely with our newly appointed sustainability lead to look at toolkits for innovators that they can use to determine how they’re addressing Net Zero.

What are your plans for this financial year?

My ambition for industry over the next year is to keep improving and developing our support to innovators by feeding in market intelligence at all stages of their development. This will ensure that the right products are developed to match real problems that people have the appetite, and ideally budget, to solve.

This involves us being close to our ICSs and all stakeholders and supporting them to really get to the nub of problems to be solved and what are realistic solutions. All of this though needs to be done with a full lense on ensuring that health inequalities are being addressed by every innovation that comes our way.

It isn’t enough anymore to just ensure that the products aren’t driving further inequalities, and it is now vital we look at each new approach with the view of how it is supporting the minimising of inequalities.

What are your ambitions for your work over the next two to five years?

Over the next five years this ambition is bigger – my vision is that all companies coming to KSS AHSN for support will know that we expect their innovations to have this thinking at their core.

Not lip service but that they have developed products from the ground up with the premise of how they will be supporting this agenda.

I don’t want addressing inequalities to be seen s a ‘theme’ or an additional requirement. It needs to be ‘the’ requirement. I want it to be business as usual in creating products that address inequalities rather than an added extra.

I believe we can do this and I have always had great faith in innovators and their creativity – if we are to achieve this then it is up to KSS AHSN to ensure that we guide the innovators and share with them what real health inequalities look like.

It is much wider than challenges in certain demographic groups – the current cost of living crisis is going to significantly exacerbate an already significant health inequality among those who have and those who have not. I am passionate that we look at this and that we look closely into our region with this in mind.

I have said it before and will repeat it here – we are individuals. No amount of categorising will ever fully be able to put us all in a box. This is evident in digital engagement or should I say ‘unengagement’, where citizens have decided for a number of reasons to digitally opt out.

If we don’t think of those people in all that we do then we create a new health inequality which may well be harder and less tangible to solve. In five years time I want all products to have an implementation plan that shows how they will address this thinking. I think it is achievable.

Read the Annual Review 2021/22 here.