In June we applied for the accelerator Startupbootcamp Digital Health in Berlin, a three month program specifically designed for Digital Health Startups. With the help of numerous workshops, 150 mentors, pitch trainings, and expert of the health industry, we were able to refine our business model, better understand the mechanics of the health care system, and get an idea of the regulatory requirements for medical devices. We used every free minute to develop our first prototype and talk to psychotherapists, psychiatrist, doctors, clinics and patients to validate our concept. We quickly realised, that we are on to something very important.
Let’s have a detailed look at this amazing journey.
After looking at 500 pitch decks and numerous phone interviews, the Startupbootcamp team selected 20 startups for the next round: Selection Days. And we were one of them! We really couldn’t believe it!
At that time my co-founder Eddie was at a Design Thinking Bootcamp in Austin, Texas, which meant I had to go alone. And to be honest — I was pretty scared. But when I met all these friendly faces, my fears went away pretty quickly.
Part I: Pitching
The task was to present our idea in 1 minute in front of the Startupbootcamp (SBC) team and their partners.
Thank god, we had a preparation day with SBC, where we could practice our pitches. And as it often is, when you do something for the first time…you fail … miserably. But thanks to an eye-opening exercise from Mads, one of the SBC coaches, we quickly learned how to improve our pitch and communicate better.
The exercise worked as follows: Each startup was standing in front of another startup. Then one side had to present to the other. Afterwards, the listening startup had to repeat the pitch in their own words. It was shocking and funny at the same time to hear what associations your sentences evoke in the minds of your listeners … and how short 60 seconds really are. But after repeating this exercise with all 19 startups, we all were able communicate our ideas more clearly with less words. The next day, no-one had the same pitch as the day before.
Part II: Speed-Dating
After pitching our ideas, we had two full days of interviews with the SBC partners Sanofi, Vilua, Berlin Institut of Health, Boehringer Ingelheim, Apo-Bank and several expert rounds. 9 tables — 20 minutes each.
Part III: The decision
At the end of Day 3 the partners and SBC decided which teams would join them for the 3 month program in September. 10 teams were selected. 2 teams already had their ticket from Berlin Institute of Health.
What an exciting moment!
To quit or not to quit
After having been selected for the third batch of Startupbootcamp Digital Health a huge decision was on the table. Should we leave IBM to pursue our dream or cancel the Bootcamp participation? Can we get three months leave of absence from IBM? Would we ever come back anyway? Are we too early in the process to really benefit from this accelerator? Do we have enough money to sustain ourselves for a while?
After loads of discussions with friends and family, we finally decided to risk it. We haven’t regretted this decision ever since.
Week 1: Kickoff & Business Model
So on September 1st we moved to Berlin. The SBC team had booked an entire floor in the co-working space Rent24. This is where we would spend the next three months with free coffee and free popcorn.
Business Model Canvas
Besides getting to know each other better, the first week of Startupbootcamp was all about stress-testing our business models. It was time to fill out the business model canvas.
Even though we have done this exercise before, this was the first time we experienced it as useful — thanks to this little trick:
Be specific about your customer segments!
Instead of creating a business model for people with anxiety, we divided our customers into:
- Adults (18+) with anxiety (self-diagnosed) that don’t want see a therapist due to stigma or to avoid being flagged by private insurance
- Adults (18+) with anxiety currently on the waiting list for treatment
- Adults (18+ ) with anxiety that are already in treatment
This lead us to three entirely different business models with different needs and go-to-market strategies. For us, this exercise was quite eye-opening. Now we had the basis to decide which business model makes most sense for us.
Highest risk assumption
When thinking about a potential customer or user, there are always things you know and things you assume. Unfortunately, most people forget to test their assumption and then fail when it is too late. At IBM we truly lived by the saying
Fail fast — fail cheap!
Validate your assumptions. Start with those that would be most fatal for your business if they turn out wrong. For us it meant to find out, whether our key differentiator, the voice-companion, actually adds value for our users. So we decided to prototype the companion first and test this assumption.
Week 2: Mentor Matching
In week 2 we met around 65 mentors. It was a 3 day speed dating event, where 2–3 mentors were sitting on a table each. Every 15 minutes, we moved from one table to another. The feedback and questions alone helped us understand our biggest risk factor: our dependancy on third-party hardware. When Eddie got the idea for an alternative, we immediately tested it on the next round of mentor meetings. Suddenly, the feedback was much more positive and confirmed that our pivot was a good one.
This is one of many examples of how much impact the mentors had on our success. They were all taking the extra mile to help us out. For example, one of them arranged a meeting with his psychiatrist friend directly after speaking with us for the first time. The psychiatrist, in turn, was so excited about our product that she also used her personal network and introduced us to Mazda Adli, head of the Fliedner Clinic (private psychiatry).
In the end we had 15 mentors that closely worked with us during the 3 months and after, some even met with us on a weekly basis.
Week 3: Partner Matching
This time, we met the SBC partners. First, we pitched (this time with slides). Then, similar to the mentor matching, there were 40 Minute speed dating sessions with the partners.
Week 4: Regulations and Reimbursement
Week 4 was all about medical devices regulations, clinical studies and how to get reimbursed by the insurance.
At first we had a workshop about the different CE classes and additional requirements that come with the new medical device regulation (MDR) effective in 2020. Figuring out which regulations apply to you and which don’t is quite crucial. It defines how much extra money you need to raise (CE is not so cheap), whether you need to be audited by a notified body, like TÜV, and how much extra time you need plan on your roadmap. But – as it often is with regulations and laws – the most common answer you get is “It depends”.
Later this week Jonas Pendzialek from the Techniker Krankenkasse, who was also mentor at SBC, held a workshop to share the perspective of insurance companies. He explained that CE certification and product validation are the minimum requirements for the insurance company to consider your product for reimbursement. And in the end you needs to prove that your product lowers costs for the insurance companies. Being just a little better than today’s standard is not enough.
After many more workshops and 1:1s the week ended with another Mentor matching day and the first pitch slam. Congratulations to Computational Life for winning the competition.
Week 5: Production Week
Design & Coding
In week 5 we had no workshops and could use the time for product development. Eddie was very excited about being able to code again. In the meantime I defined a new visual style for our app and re-designed every screen.
Since we got a lot of publicity recently, it was also the time to find a new company name. Unfortunately, our previous name MindMe was already trademarked. The pictures might already give you an impression how long it took us to find a new name. The process was quite exhausting.
Week 6: Pitching & Mingling
Pitching, pitching and some more pitching
In week 6 we had our first individual trainings with our personal pitch coach Bianca. She is truly impressive. She talks way too fast and mixes English and German all the time — which is really funny — but her ability to grasp the essentials is astonishing. She immediately understood our unique selling point and reorganised our entire pitch. It got sooo much better with her help. From week 6 on we had weekly sessions with Bianca.
The Apo Bank funds almost every doctor’s office or clinic in Germany. This year they tried a new format to connect health care professionals with startups: A speed-dating dinner. Between each course you had to switch the table. It was a great format to meet and discuss. Thanks to our mentor Jessica Hanneken, AI4Medicine and us were able to participate.
Week 7: Working with mentors
In week 7 we didn’t have as many workshops. So we continued working on our first prototype of Nya, had a couple user tests and intensified our contact with our mentors. They helped us with our investor decks, our financial plan, and business model. Additionally, we created a study protocol for our clinical study, which later helped the identify the scope and required funding.
Week 8: Feedback from psychologists & pitch slam
Feedback from clinics and psychologists
In week 8 we met with Mazda Aldi from the Fliedner Clinic and a behavioural therapist. The goal was to find out, whether mental health professionals would be willing to recommend our app. The results were more positive than expected. It seems our product is well perceived both, from the clinic side, as well as from the viewpoint of psychotherapists in private practice.
Pitch Slam №2
It was time to practice pitching again. This time we also had three actual investors in the crowd. Every person in the crowd received 200 fake Euros. The investors got 400€. After every startup had pitched for 5 minutes + Q&A, everyone had to decide in which startup to invest in.
This time we decided to go back to the good old story telling technique we knew from IBM. And it worked. We won the pitch slam and received a book about fundraising. Thanks again for “investing” in us ;).
Week 9: Zurich, Berlin and Bremen
Digital Health Day — Zurich
Week 9 was an intensive travel week. On Monday all teams flew to Zurich to pitch at the Digital Health Day. We only got 60 seconds and one slide to convince the audience. So little time, so many things you want to say. All in all, it was a great opportunity to get to know the Swiss health care system.
First step towards a strategic partnership
On Friday we went to Bremen to meet Dr. Thomas Lang, head of five psychiatric outpatient clinics (Christoph-Dornier-Stiftung) and author of the therapy guidelines we based our concept on. In the end he decided to become our strategic partner. An important milestone had been reached! 🙂
Week 10: Future Medicine, Term Sheet Battle, Pitch Training, Angels Bootcamp
Future Medicine – Science Match
At November 7, around 80 researchers and startups had the chance to present their current research/project at Future Medicine, an event organised by the german newspaper “Tagesspiegel”. The presenters ranged from genetics researchers to startups like us, but all had a common goal: to innovate health care. Each person had only 3 minutes to present, which worked surprisingly well — even with the most complex topics. After each session block, the 500 guests had the chance to talk to the speakers in the “meet the speakers” area.
Term Sheet Battle
When starting a business, the legal parts are always the trickiest. SBC therefore decided to show us and other startups how to negotiate with an investor — live on stage. Lars Buch from SBC represented the venture capitalist. Naveen Prasad, founder and mentor, played the role of a CEO. Robin Eyben, Venture Capital lawyer at Osborne Clark, represented Naveen as his client. And we had the chance to listen in on the live negotiation regarding the term sheet (a contract between the investor and the startup). Wow. We learned a ton. I wish there were more of those events!
First, SBC organised a two-day workshop for people who want to become Angel Investors. So called “angels” are people that invest their own money into a startup, whereas “VCs” invest the money from a venture capital fund.
On Saturday, we came into play by pitching in front of the angel investors, who would then select two teams for an on-stage interview. And the winners were: Nocturne and Mindable Health. 🙂 Afterwards three angels decided to actually invest in us. We were so proud!
Week 11: KBV & Frontiers Health
The week started with some workshops about B2B marketing, B2B sales, and multicultural management.
Thanks to the network of our mentor, we had a chance to sit down with the Krankenkassenärtzliche Bundesvereinigung and present our solution. They gave us helpful and concrete tipps on how to get our solution into the reimbursement system.
On Thursday and Friday, we then all went to Frontiers Health, one of largest Digital health conferences in Germany. In fact, I had planned to go there for years. This year we had the chance to pitch in an Investor Preview session, where ONLY investors were allowed. After this event we met a couple VCs that lead to several follow up meetings.
Week 12: One more week to go
Our bootcamp journey was about to end. We had just one more week to go – starting with Berlin Partners, who provided us a great summary of all public funding programs. The rest of the week was all about preparing for demo day! This meant practice, practice, practice.
Week 13: Demo Day, the grant finale
And there it suddenly was: the end, the grant finale. Time to shine.
All kinds of people came to see the show: investors, mentors, health care professionals, business leaders, partners, friends and family. 350 people in total.
Like in every good movie, there first has to be a disaster before the good ending can come. This is probably why absolutely everything went wrong in our trial run. The beamer made everything yellow, our videos didn’t play on the tech team’s computers and the sound didn’t work at all. Panic! Just in the last minute, when the guests were already arriving, we managed to fix it. Puh!
The demo day was opened by Lars. He invited everyone to think with child’s eyes, open minded and curious, and taught the audience an important lesson. When it comes to health care, the differences between first and third world aren’t as big as we think they are.
After an inspiring speech from Gottfried Ludewig from the Federal Ministry of Health, the pitches could begin.
Every startup was introduced by their lead mentor, who had 1 minute to tell the audience how they had experienced the team over the last 3 months .
Our lead mentor was Dr. med. Philipp Stachwitz, anaesthesiologist, pain specialist and huge Mindable fan. He sees anxiety patients every day and believes in the power of digitalisation to help patients help themselves. I was so touched by his speech, that I totally forgot to be nervous.
Introduced by the song “I don’t care” from Icona Pop, I went on stage and proudly told everyone about Mindable. It felt good!!! 🙂
Watch the video below to see the entire pitch.
Later, in the second half of pitches, something magical happened. Helene from RAMP Medical was in middle of her pitch, when suddenly a purple diamond started forming on the screen. While some thought it was part of her presentation, others knew that something was about to go down here. At the end we learned, that the beamer had started burn. It was something not even the technicians had ever seen before.
Luckily the beamer made until the end without exploding and we could celebrate over loads of wine, beer and cocktails at the after-party.
These three months went by so fast. We couldn’t believe this was already the end.
We had amazing 3 months with incredible support from SBC, the other teams and our mentors! We had workshops about regulations, marketing, sales, fundraising, business models and received tons of opportunities to present our idea and practice pitching (though I’m still waiting for the day when pitching doesn’t freak me out anymore).
Just to give you an impression on how intense the program was, this is what our calendar looked like:
Now we are back in Stuttgart. Even though we now have more time for the product development, we really miss the hustle, the experience sharing, all these great and inspiring people that made these three months so much fun.