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Meet the entrepreneur who built a business from barcodes

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Noel O’Hanlon talks about the software that helps NHS Trusts track and trace their medical supplies

VITAL STATISTICS
Company: Genesis Automation
What do you do: We make software that helps NHS Trusts to track and trace their medical supplies, boosting patient safety and reducing costs.
Founded: Cork, Ireland in 2010.
Founder/s: Noel O’Hanlon
Size of team: 50
Your name and role: CEO and Founder

What problem are you trying to solve?
The first is patient safety. To put it simply, the NHS orders and manages so much stock that it struggles to keep track of it. Some of this is critical for patient safety, such as surgical implants. It goes without saying, but you really need to know which implants are going into which patients.

The second problem is helping the NHS lower the cost of procedures. If you consider how expensive it is to run an operating theatre, there are many chances to make savings if you have a detailed view of costs, including the materials used and the time to perform a procedure. If you can compare these costs between different hospitals, or doctors, you can get far more efficient, saving millions every year. We are helping 23 NHS trusts in this way, including the Royal Free in London.

How big is the market and how much of it do you think you can own?
The UK spends around 9% of GDP on healthcare and has approximately 600 hospitals. The US spends around 18% on healthcare, with roughly 6,000 hospitals. The costs in this enormous industry are getting higher and budgets are getting smaller in real terms. As a result, there is strong demand for services to manage healthcare costs more efficiently, which is where we come in. In the UK, I expect us to get 30-40% of the healthcare supply chain market, perhaps more. In the US we hope to get between 10-15% but it’s a huge market (6,000 hospitals in the US and 600 in the UK).

How do you make money?
The business model is an annual subscription fee to our software. There’s no upfront fee. All the updates and the phone technical support are included in the subscription.

Who’s on your team that makes you think you can do this?
Two and a half years ago, we had eight employees. Now we have 50 based in UK, in Ireland and the US.

We need to find the brightest development people wherever we can, and we have talent from the UK, Ireland, China, Brazil, Portugal Spain, France and India – to name a few. As our product is tailored to the NHS, we look for people who understand the hospital environment as well as having the right technical capabilities.

Who’s bankrolling you?
When we started, we had investment from friends and family. Soon afterwards, we attracted £6 million investment from IPF Partners – a Luxembourg-based investor. That helped to put us on the map. Most recently, we secured a second round of investment, worth £20 million, from a London-based private equity firm. They are ideal partners – they understand the healthcare market and will help us expand in the UK and US.

What advice would you give other entrepreneurs trying to secure that kind of finance?
Go to the investors who really understand your business area. You will encounter many who show interest in you, but in reality, they just want to learn more about your business; they won’t invest. Both our investors are specialists in our sector and truly understand the value we offer.

What do you believe is the key to growing your business?
Obviously, you need a good product, and that comes from listening to the customer and having a detailed understanding of the problem they want to solve. Our software was developed in partnership with the NHS, so from the very beginning we have listened to their needs and worked to solve their problems. The other key is to make sure the market understands what you do. It’s very important to educate the market about your product.

What metrics do you look at every day?
Sales and customer satisfaction. Without sales, your business will run out of steam, but if customers start turning against you, you’ll also be doomed. As a recurring income business, it’s also essential to build market share, so I keep a close eye on that too.

What’s been the most unexpectedly valuable lesson you’ve learnt so far?
I never knew how difficult it would be to get funding. You have to work very hard to make sure you have all your ducks in a row, making sure all your numbers stack up and you know what you’re talking about. It’s been a five-year journey and a big learning curve for me personally.

What’s been your biggest mistake so far?
When I started Genesis, I first targeted the US defence industry. It was a complete waste of time. After 9/11 you couldn’t even get your foot in the door without a U.S passport. It set us back 1.5 years and cost us a lot of money. However, it was an experience that helped us grow. It forced us to re-assess our target market, leading us into health which has been a natural fit from the start.

What do you think is on the horizon for your industry in the year ahead?
Luckily, we are in a sought-after space. Hospitals are looking for solutions like ours and I expect they will invest in inventory management software in a much bigger way. The PIP breast implant scandal of 2012, when hospitals discovered they couldn’t trace patients who had received faulty breasts implants, focused minds on the need for solutions like ours. Mistakes like that need to become a thing of the past. I admire the NHS for recognising the need to change. They get a lot of bad press, but in my experience NHS Trusts are quick to see their faults and eager to put them right.

Which London start-up/s are you watching, and why?
There are a lot of UK technology start-ups in the healthcare industry. They are punching above their weight in this area. I can’t name one to watch specifically, but as a sector, there is a lot of talent out there in MedTech. It will be an increasingly important sector, in London and across the UK.




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