Digital Health Accelerators Digital Health Today Ambassadors Digital Health Today Apple iOS Podcast App Digital Health Today-Resources Digital Health Today Ambassadors

Coffee Talk: How Digital Health Startups Respond and Thrive in a Global Pandemic


Dan Kendall 00:04 Welcome back to Digital Health Today, the place to be to get the insights of leaders making the healthcare of tomorrow available today. I’m your host, Dan Kendall. So imagine this, you’re the founder of a digital health startup, you’ve been carefully selected and invited to participate in a brand new accelerator in Barcelona. At the start of 2020, you say goodbye to your friends and family, and you find a place in Barcelona to call home, you begin to focus on growing your business with one of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies, and then COVID hits. How does that impact your strategy? How will it affect your success? And will the fight you wage for survival have an impact on the healthcare sector at large? We’re going to talk about that during this coffee talk with Carlos Gallardo, the CEO and founder of CG health ventures, and a board member at Allmirall. But first, a quick check in, we suddenly find ourselves cruising into the fourth quarter of 2020. And frankly, I can hardly believe it. On one hand, when I go outside, it feels like it’s October. But in some other ways, when I’m signing onto my fourth or my 40th zoom call, it feels more like it’s March 230th. It’s been a really strange year. And that’s something I’m sure we all can agree on. And in all seriousness, I really hope that you and all the people you care about have kept well, certainly I know there are a lot of people who have not. I know we’re all looking forward to getting through the next six to ten months until some safe vaccines can be widely distributed. And we could get back to some level of normalcy in our lives.

Dan Kendall 01:29 This year has given us a ton of opportunity and the time to be of even greater service to leaders, brands and organizations. We’ve been busier than ever, as companies have been looking for ways to digitally connect with people when we can’t physically get out to meet with people. We’ve been doing a ton of work behind the scenes, we’ve added new members to our team, we’ve been working with both new and existing clients. And we spend a lot of time rethinking and redesigning our website, I’m actually really excited about this. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for quite some time now. And at this stage, we’ve really had to invest in doing our website, again, the website, because we’ve also been busy creating new shows for Digital Health Today. You see, we’re expanding the Digital Health Today platform to include more voices, more people and more perspectives. We have two new shows that are in the works right now. Those shows will be under the Digital Health Today umbrella. And we’ll have different hosts that dive even deeper into specific areas of digital health. I’ll tell you more about those shows and their hosts in an upcoming episode. But I wanted to let you know, the big takeaway is that over the past few months, we’ve been working to find new ways to grow and serve the health community during this crisis. I’m really confident about our foundation for growth as we head into 2021. And if there’s anything positive to take away from 2020 is that we’ve been able to seize this opportunity to pivot and expand in ways that we may not have had the opportunity or impetus to do otherwise, I think you’re really gonna like what we’ve done and I look forward to sharing more details with you very soon.

Dan Kendall 02:54 Speaking of pivoting and expanding, you may remember an episode we did with Francesca Wuttkie, about a year ago, Francesca is the Chief Digital Officer at Almirall. She came on the program and shared some really key insights on how corporates and startups can work together more effectively. She talked us through some of the key lessons she had been a part of developing with the team over and HealthXL, and how that can really be applied into a tangible and executable process. At the time of that recording, Francesca and her team at Almirall were just beginning to ramp up a program called the digital garden. The digital garden is a digital health accelerator that Almirall created to develop partnerships and stronger collaboration with startups. Now just to refresh your memory, and to give you a little bit of trivia. Almirall is a pharmaceutical company that’s in over 100 countries and has their main office in Barcelona. They focus on skin health on conditions like acne, eczema and psoriasis. Now, you probably know that skin is the largest human organ, but did you know that adults actually have about eight pounds of skin. If you rolled it all out, it’s about 22 square feet, which just seems like a lot. For our international listeners, eight pounds is a little less than four kilograms, and 22 square feet is about 2 square meters. So I’m just saying that seems like a lot of skin. And now you have a little bit of trivia for your next zoom call.

Dan Kendall 04:13 Okay, so at the end of last year, Almirall started up the digital garden. And like all things in 2020, the plans had to change to adapt to our new reality. Almirall did select an invite for companies to participate in their first cohort, and they’ve had some great success. We’re going to talk about that on this program. In fact, the first year was so successful, they’ve just launched our call for their second cohort or as they like to call it in their gardening jargon, their second harvest. If you want to find out more about it, you can go straight to our website at That’s all lowercase all one word and that will take you to the information about how to participate and apply. Applications or open them now as we go on air and there’ll be open until October 31st 2020 so don’t wait. It’s a really straightforward application process and it’s open for applicants anywhere in the world. It’s going to go virtual this year. So there’s no sort of time or physical constraints about trying to get to Barcelona. Now Almirall is a sponsor of the Digital Health Today program and I wanted to find out more about their experience in launching and running an accelerator during the worst pandemic in living memory. I invited Carlos Gallardo to come and talk to me about the impact of COVID-19 on digital health startups as they work to succeed in a very strange and uncertain time. Carlos is the founder and CEO of CG Health Ventures, and he’s on the board at Almirall. He has invested personally in about a dozen companies, including a company called BabyScripts that was founded by Juan Pablo Segura, who was a previous guest on the Digital Health Today program. I started off by asking Carlos about the impact of COVID-19 on the opportunities for digital health startups.

Carlos Gallardo 05:55 I think in general, for instance of the digital transformation, it has meant that dramatic acceleration, equivalent to a number of years of the adoption of digital technologies, and in particular, remote care and telemedicine. So for some of our companies have been a strong tailwind for the execution of the plans. But in terms of the impacting the problem, of course, I mean, this is what programming which the mentors, and the founders will use that meeting face to face coming to the office, or having the mentors come to the digital garden. So all these had to be moved online, I wouldn’t say that it has impacted the quality of the interaction or the quality of the of the support, we’ve been able to provide them. Because we know we benefited already for having established a very strong communication channel with them based on a number of face to face meetings, based on on them seeing how we are adding value, and seeing them how we are we taking very seriously the job of supporting them. So that said a lot too when we move from physical interaction to remote interaction, to continue with the quality and the productivity of these interactions. And an example of that is that with, since moving online, we have not only continued to provide support in terms of helping them to refine and to progress their business plans. But we have also signed three commercial collaborations with three of the companies. And that again, this is not the main goal of the program at all. The main goal of our program is what I mentioned before in terms of us, learning from them, and them activating the plans. But you know, we show the opportunity in which they can help us in some areas of our value chain. And we have signed these three commercial deals with them. Again, all these was done during the remote interaction during the last March that you’re talking about. I would say that yeah, there’s been disruption. Yeah, hasn’t been as easy as it was before. But things have continued to flow and the interaction has been a good way interaction and leading to good outcomes.

Dan Kendall 07:57 What Carlos described there is significant. Four companies were selected to participate in the digital garden. And from those, three companies were rewarded not simply with access to the digital garden mentors and information. But with one of the best rewards of all, a solid commercial contract with a global pharmaceutical company. The four companies that entered the program are Health AI, Derma To Go, UVisio and Intrepida Analytics. Now don’t worry about the spelling of all those names. I have them listed along with links in the show notes of this episode. So you can just go there and go directly to their website to find out more or of course, you can go to, and we’ll have the links there as well. The solutions that these four companies develop cover a wide range of challenges. Health AI develops computer vision algorithms for skincare conditions, Derma To Go helps patients submit the text and pictures to a dermatologist, and they come back with remote care for those patients. UVizio makes a wearable device that pairs with a mobile application on your phone. And they’re able to monitor the UV exposure for individuals. And the fourth company is Intrepida Analytics, which focuses on clinical trials.

Carlos Gallardo 09:06 Data factors such as the of clinical trials. So today for a patient with a disease, it’s very difficult for them to navigate the formation of the clinical trial. So they might have to go to a website like and try to find whether there’s an adequate clinical trial going on for them. Even for myself, I go there and it’s very hard to navigate to understand that the inclusion exclusion criteria etc. What Intrepida tend to do is to simplify all these in a way that is very patient friendly, and that the patient by introducing some just some basic information, the software already starts suggesting possible clinical trials that they might be candidates for enrollment. But this is an example that we not only focus on companies that are developing solutions for dermatology, but we’re looking at companies that can provide value at any point of the pharmaceutical value chain. And this is a good example again, because the goal of course, to make faster clinical trials with a more diverse population. And so it’s actually a win win for everyone.

Dan Kendall 10:12 Getting people enrolled is one of the rate limiting steps for many clinical trials. By developing a service like that connects participants with available clinical trials, that addresses a specific issue that reaches far beyond the recruitment of patients for the SARS, COVID vaccine. Across all these companies, the fact that their solutions can be adopted more quickly is a good thing. This all sounds like a perfect storm for digital health startups. In fact, digital health companies of all sizes have a greater opportunity to get their products into the hands of users, now, they can get traction faster than they likely could pre-COVID. That sounds like a win for the businesses that are trying to prove themselves and make an impact. But I wanted to know how all these market changes affect competition. That’s a lot of change to introduce into a very large sector in an extremely short space of time.

Carlos Gallardo 11:01 It’s as you said, Dan, it’s about necessity. At one point, you know, when you have an ailment or medical concern, you know, you used to just walk into the hospital, either emergency care, or you booked an appointment. And you know, for months, that was not a possibility anymore, right? People were not willing to take the risk to move into a hospital environment during a pandemia right? So this has completely changed what patients are prepared to do. And, of course, has had to change what physicians are willing to do. Patients still need to interact with the dermatologist, they cannot do it, or they don’t want to do it at hospitals setting. And their authorities still want and have to provide their dermatology services right. So I think this has been the fundamental change in terms of remote care. Of course, the removal of reimbursement barriers, I think we’ve seen a dramatic example of that in the US by CMS and really reimbursing almost any kind of interaction between a physician and a patient, regardless of the platform, right. So, this is facilitating a lot the adoption of these solutions. But of course, also this dramatic removal of barriers and huge increase in adoption has also shown which are the companies that are providing real value and which other companies, you know, they have a suboptimal value proposition. So I think has also accelerated the screening of companies that really have the the right product or the right service. And companies are not there yet.

Dan Kendall 12:29 So even with all the uncertainty and bad news, it seems that at least in the short term, startups will have a greater opportunity to engage and serve their clients, users and stakeholders over the medium to long term as competition increases, and companies have the opportunity to put up or shut up. The real winners could include everyone who accesses, pays or provides care. But what about the pharma companies? they’re often accused of not being agile enough to compete or that they stifle innovation to protect their turf. How is this combination of a global pandemic and the launch of a new accelerator affected a company like Almirall? Or is it even too soon to tell?

Carlos Gallardo 13:07 Well, certainly, I mean, changes in corporate, they always happen at slower pace that you want, that’s for sure. But within very strong signs of change within the company. And again, we expect this to continue. But when we set the digital group within the company, just you know, two and a half years ago, and Francesca came in and recruited her team, and the beginning, there was a lot of misunderstanding about what digital was supposed to do in the company. So there was a lot of, you know, confusion, and people were not clear about what this was about. So I think that fast forward two years into us really putting a lot of effort and resources in the digital transformation of the company. I think now everyone has had a very good understanding of what are we trying to do has an increased understanding of what are the technologies that are emerging, and can have a big play. And of course, like in your company, you have the wave of, you know, early adopters but I think that we’ve seen with the mentors, how mindset can change very quickly and certain people. I think we have achieved our objectives. And that’s why we are moving forward with the adopted new digital garden and we are very encouraged.

Dan Kendall 14:24 With the applications for the second harvest of digital garden underway. I asked Carlos who should apply and if there were any key changes in store for this year,

Carlos Gallardo 14:33 In terms of the criteria that we’re using to screen and select the companies is not going to change dramatically. So we are still focusing on early stage companies. Because again, I think that where we can help is precisely in defining this value proposition, this this go to market strategy, this product market fit, and also we could do to focus on either companies that have products or services in dermatology and companies that can provide that regardless of the therapeutic area focus, can provide value at different points of the value chain of a pharmaceutical company. Any listener that they think they are at stage we encourage them to apply to the program. If they are not sure about the value, they are going to get out of the program, I also encourage them to reach to any of these four companies that I mentioned and get the download from them. Because that’s the best way to assess whether we may provide value or not, I’m very positive that they will get positive feedback. But I would, if I were them, I would if they are not sure about the value we can provide them, to reach to these companies and get it directly from them. And then the other thing is that because of the pandemic, of course, we’re changing the way we’re gonna work with the companies that are going to join us in this second edition of the garden, there’s going to be less face to face interaction. So the Digital Guardian, this physical space will continue to be open. And if a company wants to move to Barcelona, fine, we’re delighted to welcome them to Barcelona, but we assume that most of the interaction is going to be done remotely. But the positive of that is that then, you know, we we can accept into the program, companies spaced farther away from Europe, that could be the US, could be Asia, and other geography. So I think that’s the opportunity for us as well, because there’s not gonna be a requirement to physically move to Barcelona. But then the audience that might be interested to join the program will be larger as well.

Dan Kendall 16:27 So it seems that at least in some ways, there are opportunities that have come along with this crisis. And whatever your role in the healthcare system, I hope you’re met with success. And if you’re a digital health startup, be sure to visit and apply to the digital garden by October 31st. Be sure to subscribe to this podcast on your favorite podcast player. We have a lot of exciting news and announcements coming up very soon, you’ll hear about the new shows, the new host, all the different expansion. I’ll also let you know when the new website goes live so you can check that out. Thanks for tuning in, stay safe and be well until next time, keep on innovating.
Proud Member of Health Podcast Network