Start-Up Communities Essential to Launch HealthTech Entrepreneurs’ ‘Big Ideas’

Cohort Innovation Space within the Gold Coast Health and Knowledge Precinct (the Precinct) is the new centre of HealthTech big ideas; a place where dreams are developed into commercial reality, supported by a community of experts in commercialisation and entrepreneurship.

Cohort is a vibrant start-up community, located within the 9.5-hectare science and innovation development ‘Lumina,’ in the heart of the Precinct. It is a dedicated hub where innovators, scientists, entrepreneurs, and industry experts come together to access support and propel their ideas to market. Cohort accommodates a range of tenancies and delivers a variety of innovation and business support programs to specifically support start-ups, including those in the HealthTech and MedTech space.

It is a place where Program Director Asdren (Dren) Xerxa feels at home, and where his passion for accelerating great ideas can be put to good use.

Progressing an idea to commercial reality is all about execution

With a career history in building entrepreneur communities across 15 countries, Dren knows what it takes for ambitious entrepreneurs to ‘make it big’ and believes that Lumina’s location within the Gold Coast Health and Knowledge Precinct plays an important role in facilitating entrepreneurial success.

Many of the HealthTech ideas that Dren works with on the Gold Coast come directly from health professionals, and even patients, from local hospitals and health services, who see both problems and potential solutions. “These people have great, innovative ideas that can potentially solve important health problems, but they often don’t have the time to develop the solutions, or they don’t yet have the network and commercial knowledge that they need to go to market,” Dren explained.

“But successful entrepreneurship is all about execution. For example, if you don’t have your timeline of milestones to develop, test and validate your idea, and the finance, support, and networks to reach those milestones, then your solution just won’t exist. That’s where start-up accelerator programs like Cohort’s LuminaX HealthTech Accelerator can help”.

The LuminaX HealthTech Accelerator is a 14-week program that supports 10 HealthTech starts-ups per year to help them to get their ideas market ready with an execution plan. It’s one of the most in-depth accelerators in the country, delivering an immersive educational program aimed at accelerating growth and fast-tracking connections and customers with hundreds of hours of support from mentors and industry experts onsite at Cohort.

“I see enormous value in linking people together. There is a gap in the market where there are a lot of innovative minds who want to get their ideas off the ground. We want to tackle this problem, and we have resources within the LuminaX Accelerator to do that,” Dren said.

Cohort’s trail-blazing tenants are lighting the way – many with a passion to improve healthcare

The HealthTech tenants at Cohort come from varied backgrounds and industries, though they are united by a common passion for improving healthcare.

Laronix, one of Australia’s leading medical device start-ups, bases its world-renowned clinical and engineering team of experts at Cohort. The team at Laronix have created a bionic voice – a world-first smart, wearable, electronic voice box that gives people back a natural sounding voice. This is a game-changer for people who have had to have their larynx (voice box) removed, usually as part of cancer treatment. Laronix’s founder, Dr Farzaneh Ahmadi, developed the idea while completing her PhD research into giving a better voice to people with vocal disabilities. Dr Ahmadi was frustrated with the slow speed of academic paths – but now thanks to access to entrepreneurial networks, funding, mentorship, and collaboration, Laronix is now on the commercialisation pathway.

Dren is proud of the achievements of the first cohort from LuminaX, including interactive auditory training start-up Hearoes. Hearoes collaborated with audiologists and speech pathologists to help bring engaging interactive auditory training for hearing impaired recipients at different stages of their hearing journey. The gamified platform helps people with hearing loss track, adapt and empower their hearing – something that is useful for people preparing for cochlear implants, hearing aids or simply to combat hearing loss. LuminaX Founder of the Year, Elliot Miller is someone who understands this problem first-hand, originally creating the platform to assist his own auditory training. Hearoes has recently secured investment to fund its next stages of development and commercialisation.

Another 2021 LuminaX participant is Dervla Loughnane founder and CEO of mental health company Virtual Psychologist who has adapted psychology services to be delivered via text, messenger, video or phone. The company is making 24-hour support for mental health available to people who cannot access, or who find it too confronting to talk directly to a psychologist. Dren says “through the accelerator we’ve explored potential applications for AI and machine learning in this technology, not necessarily to directly deliver the service, but to identify common patterns that could be ‘red-flags’ or concerns”.

These are just three examples of the passionate, purpose-driven founders at Cohort that are using technology to solve big problems in health.

Dren said “I find that HealthTech founders have a true passion for solving real, meaningful health problems – and there are many more out there. They are usually the doctors, nurses and clinicians who have worked with patients and deeply understand the patient’s experience”.

“One of our mentors is the founder of a billion-dollar tech start-up, but he still practices as a doctor a couple of days a week. You don’t find this level of passion in other industries – and it’s incredibly motivating for everyone involved.”

HealthTech innovation benefits from close proximity to healthcare stakeholders

Innovation hubs are crucial to bring entrepreneurs, healthcare professionals, research, and industry together. For Dren, one of the key advantages of working within Lumina is how helpful it is for HealthTech entrepreneurs to be located with the precinct partners, such as the Gold Coast University Hospital and the Institute for Glycomics.

“HealthTech is a very complex emerging industry, and traditionally innovators struggle to access hospitals and establish connections with health services. Being situated within Lumina, near two hospitals, helps us tackle this challenge.”

“One of our visions for the future is to increase our collaboration with hospitals, which we are already starting to do. We want start-ups and clinicians to work together, to create a real cluster of support for health innovation. With the right access, pathways and people, our programs will grow to become highly recognised for HealthTech around the world” Dren said.

HealthTech start-ups on track towards an exciting future when they join Lumina

Cohort includes nearly 50 coworking desks, laboratories, a 150-person event space, a podcast room, and a webinar studio. Cohort tenants can also take advantage of the network of talented neighbours within Lumina, including world-renowned researchers, scientists, health, and technology experts – and the close proximity to both Griffith University and Gold Coast University Hospital.

Since opening in May 2019, Cohort has been expanded twice to meet growing demand. In May 2020, just 10 months after opening, Cohort began their first expansion with the construction of the three PC1 and PC2 scientific labs, along with a custom AI Lab for HealthTech start-up, Datarwe. In November 2020, Cohort began their second expansion to keep up with demands for space and a fast-growing community. The expansion saw Cohort become one of the largest innovation spaces in Queensland.

Cohort was recently crowned the Rider Levett Bucknall Queensland State Development of the Year for 2021, as part of the Property Council of Australia Innovation and Excellence Awards program.

At Cohort, there is tailored support for every type of start-up. In addition to the LuminaX HealthTech Accelerator, Cohort hosts the Gold Coast Start-Up Grind Chapter (the world’s largest community of start-ups and founders) and provides peer-learning sessions for established start-ups in the Founders Club. Industry workshops are also offered through the Start Club, as well as monthly office hours mentoring with prominent founders and experts delivering one-on-one sessions.

When asked about which future tenants may soon arrive, Dren was excited by potential startups that are being attracted to the Gold Coast. “I’m a big fan of digital health, especially solutions that use AI and machine learning to create scalable services. It’s something that can be developed very quickly, with wide reach and high impact.”

“It’s amazing just in the last six months we have received a lot of attention, attracting some fantastic companies such as BiVacor and Silverpond AI.  AI and blockchain are now connecting very well with the health industry. And that’s exciting, because when these experts from different industries connect, they learn from each other and can grow and deliver solutions together,” Dren said.

“It’s an amazing place to be.”