The HealthTech Activator and Callaghan Innovation provide businesses with access to programmes and services targeted to their needs. The Activator's aim is to provide a wraparound service, no matter where you are on your innovation journey.
The following case studies explore the stories of NZ healthtech companies, including how they benefited from tapping into the healthtech ecosystem along their innovation journey.
Entrepreneur Brian Ward had a great healthtech business idea: to meet growing international interest in using biological materials for soft-tissue repair by creating products based on high-quality source materials readily available through NZ’s primary industry sector.
He eventually found a suitable raw material source – in sheeps’ stomachs – from which a high-quality biomaterial could potentially be made.
The problem was that Brian, although trained in science, was not working in this field and couldn’t develop the material himself.
So, in true tech-company fashion, he employed a weightless business model by tapping into the healthtech ecosystem. His firm – Aroa Biosurgery – rented lab space at an IRL (now Callaghan Innovation) facility and contracted scientists from the organisation to do initial development work.
Aroa was also able to secure crucial funding through the ecosystem, attracting early-stage venture capital investment from Movac, Sparkbox, Cure Kids Ventures and K1W1, and accessing Callaghan Innovation grants to fund specific R&D projects.
Flash forward around 14 years, Aroa has regulatory approval for several of its products, credible partners in the world’s largest healthcare market – the US – and employs more than 100 staff, with annual product sales exceeding NZ$20 million in 2021.
Crucially, those previously low-value sheep stomachs are being put to good use – providing the source material for Aroa’s high-tech wound-care products that bring relief to patients suffering from typically hard-to-treat wounds, such as diabetic ulcers.
Associate Professor Greg O’Grady is a surgeon and a researcher. He’s also an entrepreneur.
In 2017, O’Grady co-founded The Insides Company – alongside fellow colorectal surgeon Professor Ian Bissett, and engineers Rob and John Davidson – to develop medical devices for bowel cancer surgery and recovery.
The medical devices developed by The Insides Company, of which O’Grady is Chief Scientific Officer, dramatically reduce the time until patients can fully use their guts again following bowel surgery, resulting in significant health benefits and reductions in clinical complications such as dehydration and infection.
The Insides Company builds on research conducted by O’Grady at the University of Auckland Medical School, and was spun out as a company with translational research support from the MedTech Centre of Research Excellence and with assistance from the university’s commercialisation arm, UniServices.
The firm has also received support from Callaghan Innovation, including Project Grant funding and access to innovation skills such as IP programmes.
In 2019 the firm’s commercialisation progress really ramped up by further tapping into the healthtech ecosystem. It appointed experienced entrepreneur Garth Sutherland as CEO, and its devices gained entry into the US Food and Drug Administration’s Breakthrough Devices regulatory pathway – giving it the opportunity to significantly reduce its time to market in the US.
It also successfully gained funding from the New Zealand angel investment community, raising a total of $4.3 million from the likes of Icehouse Ventures, K1W1, UniServices, Eden Ventures and NZVIF, and a 2021 Series A round secured $4 million at its first close.
And that commercialisation momentum created by tapping into the healthtech ecosystem matters – ultimately advancing the opportunities for human health benefits, and to tangibly change people’s lives for the better.