Brigette Bard discusses the hot topic of innovation; taking an idea from brainstorm, to concept, to strategy, to launch.
Did you ever think we would ever live in a world in which the biggest accommodation agent (Airbnb) owns no rooms, the biggest taxi firm (Uber) owns no cars, the largest popular media provider (Facebook) owns no content and the biggest global retailer (Alibaba) owns no commodities?
These are the companies that have rocked their marketplaces because they created offerings that their competitors thought would never work.
According to the business advisory company AT Kearney, innovation is a quality that can be learned. And innovation can be at the heart of every business.
The most innovative and dynamic companies share a number of virtues: transparency and sharing ideas, great communication channels, empowerment of staff at all levels to come up with ideas, great knowledge of their marketplace, and a long term, durable view.
Sustainable innovation is created by knowing yourself as a business; being crystal clear about what you want to achieve and being totally confident about how you can make a difference in the world.
Here’s my own example – and it’s a far cry from a Silicon Valley tech firm.
It started with a need
HIV was first diagnosed in the US in 1981. Since then approximately 78 million people across the world have contracted HIV. It is a virus spread through blood or semen, which attacks the body’s immune system. There is currently no cure for HIV, but with modern anti-retroviral treatments, if people are diagnosed quickly enough, they can enjoy a long and healthy life.
But, more than 30 years after that initial HIV diagnosis, more than 110,000 people are living with HIV and experts estimate that as many as a quarter of these people are unaware that have it.
The chances of successful treatment reduces considerably the longer people have the virus and these undiagnosed people are also unknowingly responsible for the majority of onward transmissions.
For me, devising a new healthcare innovation started from this. People passing on HIV are often unaware they have it, or that they may have even been at risk of contracting it. As such, they are unlikely to visit a healthcare professional to have a test or send blood samples away to a lab for a result days or weeks later. In some cases, while they may be aware of taking a sexual risk, they are reluctant to have an HIV test because of the misinformed stigma still associated with HIV and AIDS.
Home pregnancy tests have set the precedent and proven that self testing is acceptable. Developing a simple and accurate product that allows someone to test themselves for HIV gives people an additional choice that by-passes either the inconvenience or perceived stigma that prevents them testing. I had identified a very real need for a new product. But, as with any innovation, this is where the hard work started.
Months of research, lobbying and development from my company followed. We are already an established diagnostics business working with the professional sector and understanding the enormous scrutiny that our product would be under, we decided to tread the path of most resistant. A huge array of pilot studies were undertaken, ranging from packaging development to the acceptance of pricing to the emotional implications of performing an HIV test at home. We worked with an incredible range of people, consulting young and old, male and female, gay and straight – factory workers to anthropologists. Knowing your market is critical.
We worked with the British Standards Institute and performed our clinical studies at University College Hospital and finally gained our incredibly robust CE certificate; the first in the world for an HIV self test.
In April we launched Europe’s first CE marked HIV self test. Customers order the product online, have it delivered to an address of their choice within 24 hours and, using the enclosed instructions, test themselves for HIV, wherever and whenever they choose to. It takes 15 minutes and users receive a result with greater than 99.7 per cent accuracy.
The growth after the launch
Now the product has launched, the hurdles for us to traverse comprise marketing and sustained growth. Traditionally the marketing of HIV testing and prevention has been focused on the gay community, despite the fact that, according to Public Health England, a higher percentage of people with HIV are heterosexual. A third of people under 24 believe they are not properly informed about HIV and how it can be transmitted.
Our goal for 2015 is to break down barriers and reach people who do not fit into the most targeted groups for HIV awareness marketing. We need to normalise the conversation and provide information and education. As such this Autumn we are launching a social initiative called The Last Taboo, which is an online movement encouraging people to talk about sexual health.
The only way we can improve sexual health figures is to get people talking and make them aware. The innovation has to be ongoing and sustainable; it’s not enough to have one ‘innovation’ in your business, take it to market and sit back and watch the cash roll in. Businesses have to be perpetually innovative and I’m constantly working with my team to come up with new ideas and the strategy of bringing them to market.
A final example that I think sums this up is Mint Digital, a small software company that started up in 2004. Over the years, Mint allowed its staff to innovate and disrupt. It launched a company which sends beers to people’s desks on a Friday afternoon; it launched another firm that turns photos from mobile phones into gifts; and spearheaded a business allowing consumers to create their own bath products.
Staff are empowered and supported to innovate whenever they feel like it and if their idea is good, they receive investment from the company to take it to market, bringing benefits to the company and the staff.
My advice to you is:
- Look for a need – research, research and do some more research. Don’t just Google if you think you’re on to an idea, speak to relevant industry bodies, carry out focus groups with the target demographic – you might not always hear what you want to but I can almost guarantee it will save you a lot of time and money in the long term.
- Invest in marketing – and know your strategy. Both during launch and after; this will be a slow burner but for a new innovation you’ll have a lot of mindsets to change and people to convince. Intelligent content on your website will help clients and prospects make sense of your innovation, PR will raise awareness and social media will allow you to reach audiences you might not have been able to otherwise.
- Think about the bigger picture – how will your new innovation impact on society; think about how you can use it to develop collaborations with partners (in our case HIV charities) as well as clients and prospects.
- Perseverance – any entrepreneur’s journey is one of dizzying highs and devastating lows. Keep focused when those bumps appear; your innovation will make a difference. Work together, support each other or if you’re on your own, lean on friends, family and business peers to ensure you keep going, no matter how challenging it becomes. Never doubt yourself.
Brigette Bard is the founder of BioSURE.