Will Singapore’s Budget 2019 be a welcome bonus to the bustling HealthTech ecosystem?
2018 was a record-breaking year with investors funding 26 ventures in Singapore alone
Singapore’s Finance Minister, Heng Swee Keat, presented the Singapore Budget 2019 this week which, as the nation expected, included a substantial healthcare component such as a focus on benefits for the Merdeka Generation, Singapore’s independence pioneers.
With the Singapore, and indeed Asia wide, HealthTech (aka digital health) ecosystem enjoying the substantial momentum from 2018’s record breaking year of deals, should we expect an added impetus from the Singapore government’s new Budget? We should remember that 2018’s total funding in this country for this sector is five times what it was in 2015!
HealthTech aka digital health (#notmedtech) is the use of technology (databases, applications, wearables, IoT, etc.) to improve the delivery, payment, and/or consumption of health care, and to increase the development and commercialisation of medicinal products. It is an evolving definition as it is a sector with seemingly endless possible uses for technology to transform healthcare.
According to Galen Growth Asia’s 2018 Full Year Analysis of the ecosystem, the go-to-reference for investors, corporates and startups, Singapore witnessed 26 HealthTech funding deals in 2018, closing a record-breaking total of US$134M. It is in fact the third largest digital health ecosystem in Asia Pacific which is testament of the nation’s investment in healthcare and technology innovation.
Singapore has become a fertile base for digital health innovation with many home-grown ventures developing and proving novel solutions. With a specific focus on elderly care, the centre point of the Singapore Budget 2019, we explore three promising digital health startups:
- Founded in 2016, Homage is a one-stop senior home care solution that combines trained and curated caregivers with smart on-demand technology, allowing seniors to age at home with grace, control and dignity. Homage recently announced a partnership with another promising Singapore born digital health venture called MyDoc, a value-based digital managed care platform, which will aim to make nursing care more affordable enabling employers and insurers to offer higher quality and comprehensive onsite healthcare.
- Founded in 2015, Jaga-Me enables access to on-demand healthcare in homes and communities. Through its web and mobile app platform, Jaga-Me facilitates the delivery of healthcare services and medical goods to patients at home. In 2017, Jaga-Me and insurance provider AXA announced a partnership to on-demand home nursing care as part of AXA’s post-hospitalization coverage.
- Founded in 2013, Caregiver Asia is part of The Caregiver Group, a global online aggregator of health and caregiving services for businesses and individuals, covering both the insured and the self-funded. The Caregiver Group aims to transform the way care is delivered to people and communities. It recently announced a partnership with Holmusk, a Singapore based HealthTech startup, which will provide real-time and customised home care solutions for care-seekers with diabetes.
Contrary to some recent reports, SE Asia is a fast growing HealthTech hub. Countries on the watchlist of many investors include Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines which increased their deal volume share in 2018 versus 2017. Of particular focus, Indonesia which has a bustling ecosystem and is presently home to 4.5% of all digital health ventures founded / operating in Asia. Recent conversations with both startup CEOs and investors lead us to conclude that 2-3 sizeable deals are brewing and are likely to be executed before the end of June 2019.
Reflecting its ecosystem position, the Singapore government regards HealthTech as a priority for the transformation of the nation’s healthcare and to position it as an innovation leader in the region. The Ministry of Health established a regulatory sandbox, in 2018, focused on telemedicine in a first phase which could become a precedent for its neighbours. Similarly, to the US FDA’s initiatives in this arena, this will enable Singapore’s regulator to allow the innovators to test their new solutions without endangering the population.
In addition to more permissive regulators and policy makers, the momentum in this exciting sector can also be attributed to two important factors.
Firstly, investor appetite for digital health ventures in Singapore, and across the region, is strong with deal size growing and major focus on Medical Diagnostics, Population Health Management and Remote Monitoring. In fact, the annual average deal size for digital health in Singapore has grown steadily year on year from US$660k in 2014 to US$4.5M in 2018.
Unlike fintech or ecommerce, HealthTech is probably the most noble of investments where success not only yields ROI but also creates substantial societal benefit.
Secondly, mirroring this investor drive is the significant growth in strategic corporate activity over the past 18 months leading to a growing number of commercial partnerships being established with promising HT ventures, including:
- Mundipharma, a leading pharmaceutical with its global headquarters in Singapore, announced last August, its partnership with Biofourmis, a Singapore HT startup and the winner of GGA’s 2017 Most Innovative HT Startup Awards.
- Ping An Good Doctor, a China HealthTech venture and Grab, a leading ride hailing platform in SE Asia, announced a joint venture which will aim to deliver transformative O2O Healthcare Solutions in Southeast Asia.
Sentiment in both these stakeholder groups as we kick off 2019 is bullish. A survey conducted by Galen Growth Asia, in late 2018, concluded that 90% of investors in the region were planning to invest in HealthTech in 2019 mirrored by 89% of corporates which are planning to establish further commercial partnerships with digital health ventures.
Gavin Teo, general partner at B Capital Group, who has been studying the local and regional ecosystem for a number of years, observed: “2018 has been a fantastic year for digital health investing. I think we're seeing really strong tailwinds and exit markets and a lot of investor appetite ahead combined with great entrepreneurs in the region. So, 2019 is on the cusp of another, a really exciting year”
But we would be remiss not to address some of the challenges facing the innovators, investors and other stakeholders such hospitals.
There is much talk about Artificial Intelligence, blockchain, and other buzzwords which are creating euphoria amongst some, but innovators, investors, and corporations need to focus on what specific health system pain point is the startup in question seeking to solve. In other words, it needs to be a problem seeking a solution versus a solution seeking a problem!
Seemant Jauhari, managing partner at HealthXCapital, probably the only HealthTech dedicated investment fund in Singapore and an investor in Homage, has the following caution to share: “So what's really missing is that mapping of an innovation to a specific problem and then connecting that to an ecosystem stakeholder who through their network will help scale such an innovation to make an impact.”
Cybersecurity in healthcare is a topic which will occupy the minds of all going forwards. Singapore has experienced two very unfortunate medical data breaches in the past 12 months which reminds us that a robust framework needs to be shaped to protect citizens whist not thwarting innovation which is transforming health outcomes. This should be and will be at the forefront of all digital health CEOs’ minds as they build there ventures.
Singapore’s Budget 2019 places a very welcome spotlight on healthcare as a major pillar of society. We expect the Asia Pac HealthTech ecosystem momentum to continue to build in 2019, driven by the 2018 key drivers.
© 2019 Galen Growth Asia