Jean is the CEO of Touch Surgery, a mobile surgical simulator enabling users to practise surgical procedures on their smartphones. A registrar in Plastic Surgery, Jean combines his NHS job with working on the company. His co-founders – Andre Chow, Ad Gandhe and Sanjay Purkayastha – are all NHS surgeons and between them the team have expertise in surgical simulation, 3D animation and programming, as well as over 200 academic publications.
They are one of the current cohort of startups working with the NYC digital health accelerator Blueprint Health. Now in the final week of the accelerator programme, Jean and Andre talk about the experience so far as the team prepare for investor day, and their plans beyond the programme.
Read our first interview with TouchSurgery here!
So Jean – we last spoke a few weeks ago, soon after the Blueprint Health programme kicked off. How’s it been going?
The past 12 weeks at Blueprint have been great. It’s a well structured program with an extensive network of mentors. We’ve been having regular presentations and one-on-one meetings with a wide variety of people and building some amazing contacts. These were relentless in the first couple of weeks but more recently they have become fewer in frequency. Instead we have been getting out of the office for meetings all over NYC with people from the networks that we’ve established since arriving here. It’s been particularly exciting building links with all the hospital networks and medical institutions nearby.
When we last spoke I asked you to give me a single question I should absolutely ask you during this interview. Something you felt would be interesting as a gauge of the difference just a few weeks can make during a programme like this. So…. (as per your suggestions) I want to know
a) “have you grown up?”
b) “what’s changed about the TouchSurgery concept?”
“Grown up”… definitely! I think myself and Andre agree that this programme has changed our perceptions of what a world outside of the operating room entails. However, we’ve also found that many of our skills nurtured through surgery are transferable. On top of this, we now understand a little more about what the jobs of our non-medical friends entail. The concept and idea- well, let’s just say we have a plan for execution!
Okay… so what have you learnt that you might not have learnt by this stage if you hadn’t joined the programme?
Jean: I think the most important thing we have continually been told is ‘address a problem’. Also, that to do so it’s important to understand the problem fully from the view point of all stakeholders. Once you address a problem you can develop a solution.
Andre: For me the most important thing has been learning first-hand about the need for focus and execution. Putting your idea into action. There are a lot of people out there with a lot of ideas, but having the idea is the easy part. The only ones who succeed are those who focus, commit, and put in the hard work to achieve it.
How about from a personal perspective? What changes do you see in yourselves from just a few weeks back?
Jean: From a personal perspective – certainly I see that we’ve developed a range of really useful skills. From sending the right kind of ‘cold email’ to “taking a business history”. By the latter I really mean consulting skills. I guess I understand the basics of business consulting, which is all about asking the right questions to understand where the pain in a customers business is.
Andre: We’ve learned that as doctors we can also bring a lot of value in other areas. The things that we do day in and day out as a doctor – making time-critical decisions based upon the information at hand – that’s actually a skill that is transferable to so many things. For me it has been an eye-opening experience and opened up a world of potential for our team.
That’s a great insight. So, in summary, what do you feel have been the greatest benefits to you as a team of being part of an accelerator?
Jean: I think Blueprint really has a great model. It gives you access to an extensive network of healthcare mentors, which range from investors to super successful entrepreneurs. Being here has given us access to so many people who just want to help. Brad, Matt, Josh and Mike really push you. They ask questions you’ve not previously thought of and make comments that you sometimes don’t want to hear. However, when you eventually listen, you realize there is a point.
Andre: Access to other entrepreneurs who have ‘been there and done it’ is very valuable. Learning from their experiences, and realizing that no matter what the business is, the startup process is very similar – that brings a lot of encouragement.
Great. So would you recommend an accelerator to others? Who can it be of value to?
Jean: Definitely. Honestly, I’d recommend this program to anyone who wants to be an entrepreneur. People have attended blueprint with just an idea or with a much more formalized product. From what I understand from the guys here, we were selected on the basis of the individuals involved and overall team strengths. As a startup at a seed stage that is what people invest in – ‘you and your team’. How do you get here… well that’s just about being bold and brave.
Andre: Yes… to anyone who has committed themselves to building a business. The accelerator facilitates a lot of things. But you need to be 100% committed to get the most out of it. At the end of the day it is your business, and nobody else is going to work hard day in and day out apart from your own team.
How have you found NYC? Will you be spending more time there once the programme ends?
Jean: We absolutely love NYC – it’s been very cold while we’ve been here, but the reception has always been warm! There is definitely a plan to have a presence out here beyond the accelerator. We’re currently looking at how best to structure this.
Okay…. so, that brings me to the most important question of course. What’s next for Touch Surgery? Are you looking to raise external capital at this stage? What are your plans for the business beyond the programme?
Jean: We have a lot planned for 2013-2014. There are going to be a number of developments which will see Touch Surgery respond to the demands of its users. We are in the process of raising a round. Beyond the programme we will aim to continue to scale Touch Surgery and grow our user base.
Finally – when we last spoke, Andre suggested I ask you “Are you still changing the world?”… are you?!
Jean: I don’t know if “changing the world” is the right way to phrase it…. I prefer the term “making a difference”. We became surgeons because we wanted to care for patients and Touch Surgery is an extension of this sentiment.
Only the other day we read on twitter how a consultant/ attending surgeon in the US had used the programme to educate a child what happened before an appendix. The result – a less anxious child, better parent comprehension and ultimately an improves patient experience.
Another series of feedback through twitter, emails and personal conversations has been how it has helped trainees better understand operations and how even attending surgeons have used some modules to refresh knowledge.
Ultimately we wanted to improve patient care whether through better surgery or better patient education- achieving this on the scale we are does feel like we are really “making a difference- in the world”.
Read Part 1 of our interview with TouchSurgery here.