Warren Bingham, Executive Chairman of MedTech International has an inspiring story. Part of his journey involves commercialising the PillCam – a single use capsule camera to detect problems in the gastrointestinal tract.
Invented by Technion alumnus Dr. Gabi Iddan, PillCam became among the world’s most instrumental gastro medical devices. PillCam was developed by Given Imaging Ltd (founded 1998) Israel under the leadership of CEO Dr. Gavriel Meron and was acquired by Medtronic in 2014.
Recently, at an event held by William Buck along with Technion Australia, we heard the do’s and don’ts of introducing new products into the market and Warren’s experience collaborating with Technion – Israel Institute of Technology.
From designing a $30,000 prototype to a billion-dollar global business, Warren shared his experiences navigating the regulatory framework, the lessons learnt along the way and the importance of collaborative innovation.
For Australian start-ups, his story has some key learnings, and it also challenges the Australian start-up ecosystem – raising the question, how can we cultivate a better one in Australia?
Here’s five things we learnt from Warren’s story from start-up-to-success and how it could improve Australia’s innovation story.
#1 For a start-up, the biggest challenge is getting recognised.
Warren says you need believers; you need to leverage your brand, networks and have connectivity. In saying this, Warren says you need an innovative culture and supporting ecosystem; noting working in Israel led him to his success. Warren says he admires Israel’s culture of survival and community, saying their tenacity, energy, compassion, innovativeness, competitiveness and collaboration makes it the perfect ecosystem for start-ups.
#2 Learn the art of asking the question what if? And why?
When Warren started discussions with medical practitioners and specialists, they didn’t know if there was pathology in the small intestine. Warren says that where others said it couldn’t be done, they kept asking why, finding the root cause and solving the issues.
#3 Work across disciplines, look beyond your industry.
The initial concept began with collaboration with the Israeli Defence Force who had developed a missile with tracking and photographic abilities, the first idea was an attempt to miniaturise it.
They immersed themselves in areas they knew nothing about to understand the various parts – researchers, government, specialists and patients.
#4 Research all your market
“When you first go to market you have to prove everything,” says Warren. Before you commercialise technology, especially medically based technology, you need to understand if there is a need. This involves identifying gaps in the industry. However, you also need to understand the end user and develop medical trials so that medical literature will follow. When making a pill for the gastrointestinal tract, submarine engineers were brought in to discuss the issues of weight balance – their knowledge answered, if the pill was in water, how would it float?
They also assumed there would be a better uptake and understanding of the product, without considering the impact of the name or the way it was used. Warren shared how before it was branded PillCam, the revolutionary device was called M2A. (Mouth to Anus!) Warren says while the media loved this name, it didn’t work so well in the hands of the patient. This resulted in an expensive rebrand midstream for the (at-the-time) start-up.
#5 Cultivate an innovative ecosystem
Warren says the culture of a start-up ecosystem is key to success. When asked what Australia can learn from other leading innovative countries, his response – better collaboration.
“One of the challenges of staying in Australia is our Federation structure.” However, Warren says everyone has a job in identifying what needs to be done and while we are getting better, this involves connectivity of government and institutions with start-ups. Warren spoke about the tax incentives that Israel has created to support starts-ups and entrepreneurs, including a 10-year tax free holiday. One of the key elements to fostering an innovative culture and encouraging local start-ups to stay in Australia, is looking at opportunities for tax exceptions/structures, like the UK Patent Laws. Warren suggested Australia should consider innovative solutions in relation to its innovation culture and environment. That is, we need bold and, “outside the box” solutions to push innovation forward in this country.
The PillCam was the world’s first digital camera that could be swallowed. It’s saved, changed or enhanced millions of lives around the globe. Warren says he is privileged to work every day on something that enhances or saves people’s lives. In terms of what’s next, Warren says his latest involvement in innovations aims to enhance the pre-colonoscopy procedure, saying, “watch this space.”
Technion is among the world’s leading universities dedicated to science, engineering and technology. Based in Israel (Haifa) with campuses in China (Guangdong) and New York (a partnership with Cornell Uni), it is home to three Nobel Prize Laureates as well as many of Israel’s and humanity’s greatest inventions.
These include: Iron Dome, ReWalk (wearable robotic exoskeleton, enabling individuals with spinal cord injury to stand up right and walk), USB Flash Drive, PillCam (endoscopy camera capsule) and Drip Irrigation to name a few.
Technion Australia is committed to supporting its scientists and researchers – ensuring the future leaders and entrepreneurs of Israel can continue to flourish.
As one of Israel’s symbols for innovation and entrepreneurship Technion Australia launched the ‘TechNovation’ (Technion + Innovation) series, which provides a platform for leaders in the research / innovation / entrepreneurship space to share their stories and expertise.
William Buck’s Health Series helps bring together innovators, business leaders, industry bodies and government to drive collaboration and initiatives that would benefit the health industry. These events provide a platform for thought leadership and networking to make a positive difference and address ongoing health challenges in Australia.