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Academic Minds with Entrepreneurial Grind

by | Feb 29, 2024 | Accelerator, Founder Stories

Q&A with academics that entered the LuminaX HealthTech Accelerator
From left to right: Dianne Shanley, Erinn Hawkins and Wei Liu

When we think about founders in healthtech, the spotlight often shines on individuals with hands-on experience in hospitals or allied healthcare – those who understand the current challenges and seek a new innovative path. We may also think of healthtech founders who have been directly impacted by the problem and want to drive change to better their health or that of a loved one. While many of our LX Alumni share these personal ties, university researchers are also looking for ways to commercialise their research to create a positive impact for Australians’ health.

 

Last year, LX Health welcomed two Griffith University researcher teams into the LuminaX HealthTech Accelerator program: Chris Carty and Martina Barzan, founders of Alignus, and Wei Liu, Dianne Shanley, and Erinn Hawkins, founders of YourTrack. The two research groups turned startup co-founders were some of the most transformative teams we’ve had since launching the program.

 

Venturing from the realm of theoretical frameworks, peer-reviewed articles, and data analysis, they took the plunge into an entirely different world – one we like to call “startup land.”

 

This month, Janine engaged in a conversation with the YourTrack team to understand how their journey was and whether they had any insights for those navigating a similar trajectory.

Janine: Teaching full time, writing academic publications, and data capturing – when did you know it was time to jump into a healthtech accelerator program?

YourTrack: We developed our product for one region in North West Queensland. When the product worked, organisations from other regions started asking for what had been developed, but we had no way to fund rolling it out to them. We could just give it to them, as many researchers do. Having what you develop adopted by others is a great impactful outcome. But we knew what we had developed required maintenance and support. We didn’t want to watch it fail in the absence of support, and our ability to commit our time without protected funding was limited. On the other hand, we also didn’t want to over-charge people to use it. We wanted to have a lean business model so it could reach the most people and the most organisations. But we were unsure how to value our product and how to proceed.

 

Many researchers risk having their innovations die on the shelf. Again, we did not want that to happen, and the healthtech accelerator program came to our attention at just the right time. It was an option for helping us understand what steps to take next. There were so many lessons to learn in how to roll our product out beyond the initial co-design with a remote community. People in the business world had a unique set of skills that we could capitalise on. And sure enough they did.

 

Janine: During the fourteen week program, was there a ‘ah-ha’ moment or pinnacle learning moment? If so, what was it?

YourTrack: Nearly every session in the accelerator brought an ah ha moment. Some of the most memorable were (a) Don’t pitch to your customer, ask them what their problem is and truly understand the challenges they are facing. Then address those challenges with your product. (b) when you do pitch, do so wisely. There is a recipe and following it sounds simple, but it is hard and takes about four months of solid work. With lots and lots of revisions. (c) Branding your product makes or breaks what you are presenting.

Janine: They say that the academic realm is very different to startup land, would you say so? And if so, how was it making that mentality shift?

YourTrack: Academia is slow, partially because we want to answer questions thoroughly and methodically. The startup world is fast, and the pace is intense. If you don’t lean on others to help, you won’t keep up. Academics tend to default to solo or small group research. Startup land requires you to identify the skill set you need, speed date the team that can help, rely on recommendations and word of mouth, and use others to help you progress what you are developing – you can improve it over time, but startup land requires you to get something on the table now. Startup land was like watching the iPhone develop – where the product is today emerged over time through rapid iterations and feedback, and the world witnessed the development journey. Academic land was more targeted towards getting the product right, testing it repeatedly in the lab, testing it again to make sure results were reliable, and only then sharing it with the world. Academics are more likely to show you the final symphony without letting you watch all the rehearsals. When academics do this, sometimes they get focused on their goals, and forget to be sure the product meets the users needs. It isn’t that one way is better than another way, it is important to be sure what you are rolling out is reliable and valid, and it is important to be sure what you are developing meets users needs. Getting users involved early is a key lesson from startup land that academics can integrate. Making sure products are reliable and valid is a key lesson from academia that startups can integrate.

 

Janine: What would you say to fellow university academics looking to explore an accelerator program? Do you have any advice?

YourTrack: Do it. You don’t know what you don’t know. I guarantee you don’t know much about the startup world if you have only worked in academia. Academics thrive on being surrounded by a learning environment. Startup land is the perfect place to get your fill of learning. If you don’t know where to go next with your creation, have trouble translating your research into the real world, or if you are feeling stagnant, like you need to learn something new, or try a new avenue, jump in with two feet. It changed the way we look at what we had codesigned, and was a highlight of our year last year.

Griffith University’s Wei Liu, Dianne Shanley, and Erinn Hawkins are the Co-Founders of YourTrack, and a 2023 LuminaX Accelerator graduate.

YourTrack Web: https://yourtrack.org/

 

Through the LuminaX Accelerator, the LX Health team delivers a range of 1.1 mentoring opportunities, including workshops and coaching for founders who are seeking support for commercialisation.

If you are a healthtech startup that needs this support, learn more about our program and program dates here.