Medical technology startups in Australia have often been starved of love and attention, but that could be about to change.
A new industry organisation launched earlier this year, called the Actuator, is designed to help med tech startups realise their potential through structured mentorship programs.
Australia has a grand history of healthcare research investment. We can boast the invention of the pacemaker, ultrasound and the bionic ear.
But when it comes to supporting startups today, Australia falters, says Actuator CEO Buzz Palmer in a whitepaper on innovation, which has gained the endorsement of the NSW government, the Medical Technology Association of Australia, and industry leaders such as Medtronic.
The whitepaper was welcomed by the NSW Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation Matt Kean at an event in Sydney this month.
“This med tech white paper is a wonderful contribution to the innovation ecosystem,” Mr Kean said.
Mr Palmer said the paper “doesn’t try to set out a prescription for what to do, or to demand from government this support or that intervention” noting that the minister “has not asked us to change a single word in the paper, which is incredibly rare … in today’s environment”.
For all of the strengths, for all of this storied history – why then does Australia perform so poorly in med tech utilisation and commercialisation? the paper asks.
To answer this question, the paper dishes out plenty of criticism to each sector, including government, the TGA, investors, industry and academia.
Instead of breathing life into startups, slow and unpredictable government processes stifle progress, the paper argues.
Cumbersome and time-consuming pathways to government grants and lack of venture capital causes inventors to flee offshore. As a result, government money tends to flow to academics and educators rather than commercially-thinking entrepreneurs.
Australian enterprises aiming for a home-grown-win face an “arduous trail of paper-work” and “monotonous interactions” with the TGA, the paper claims.
The solution is to make it easier for startups to source funding, for all sectors to collaborate more closely, and for government to play a leadership and convening role.
The government was already taking steps to increase funding, according to Mr Kean.
The NSW Medical Devices Fund has awarded more than $41 million for over 24 different medical technologies since it began in 2013, he said. Some of these past recipients had gone on to gain high profile investors.
The NSW government was also currently reviewing its procurement guidelines to ensure entrepreneurs had equal opportunity to get government work, he said.
The Actuator was founded by STC Australia, which has been an incubator of small tech companies since 2005.
Mr Palmer, who is also the acting CEO of STC Australia, said the organisation had given support to some very successful startups.
One such company is Micro-X, a company that builds ultra-lightweight, mobile X-ray imaging systems.
Through its “MedTech’s Got Talent” program, STC Australia awarded $20,000 to nuraloop, a company that creates personalised headphones that automatically compensate for hearing loss.
Another success was SmartStent, a company that is preparing for its first human clinical trials with a stent-based electrode array that allows access to areas of the brain that control the movement of limbs, without having to perform open brain surgery.