Brian O’Connor, chair of the European Connected Health Alliance (ECHAlliance), has founded a number of companies in the healthcare services area in the UK, Ireland and Hong Kong. He saw that accelerating progress in healthcare can’t be achieved if we don’t connect the dots. So he came up with the idea to create the ECHAlliance so people can learn from each other’s lessons.
From his own experience, Brian O’Connor saw that many people are isolated and don’t speak to each other or don’t know each other. “If I see a vacuum, I want to fill it, so I just decided to set up a non-profit organisation. In a market as complicated and information rich as connected health, the role of the trusted connector is crucial. Through collaboration we can drive effective connected health solutions and speed up progress,” O’Connor explains.
The ECHAlliance is a non-profit organisation with more than 600 member organisations and 16,000 experts. “We deliberately decided that we would represent more than one group, so we have members from academia, industry, start-ups, governments, patient groups, social care organizations and economic development agencies. More and more private equity and venture capital organizations come to us realizing we have a marketplace and can help them more easily to find organizations or companies they can invest in. Insurance companies are also joining us from across Europe,” says O’Connor.
“We decided at the ECHAlliance that we would be a membership organization because we need some income to cover the costs of our team. But we also decided we would not be a membership organization that did nothing except send out four newsletters a year. We set up what we call the ecosystem network. About 5-6 years ago, hardly anyone used the term ecosystem; now everybody uses it. You need to build a community, but you cannot do that by having one meeting a year. We have four meetings a year in most of our regions, which means people get to know each other, they build relationships and trust and they start doing business together. Currently we have about 30 ecosystems and 10 meetings per month in Europe. You start making real connections as opposed to what I call ‘blah-blah’ connections,” he points out.
“Also, we have a very good intelligence network, so we are able to see pretty quickly what is happening in a number of regions. We get information about what their needs are, what they are doing well and what they need help with, and then we literally connect the dots. We also make personal introductions rather than general ones. For example, many countries still do not have an e-health strategy, some of them are just starting to write it and others have one which needs to be renewed. We persuaded the Estonian government, which is well-known for e-health strategies, to share that group for us. We just set up groups on medicine optimisation or mental health and well-being,” he adds.
Cooperation with the Estonian Connected Health Cluster
Speaking about cooperation between the ECHAlliance and the Estonian Connected Health Cluster, O’Connor stresses that things get done if you bring in other elements. “It is not enough to bring companies together, because they can talk to each other all day, but they need customers. What we have done is to help to broaden the trust of companies and the community, to give Estonia a better network. We have also worked on a number of European projects, providing a literal tool – a membership and partnership network. Finding experienced partners for these projects who deliver on time or have the right skills – we have done that a number of times.
If Head of the Business Development Department and Connected Health Cluster Manager Mrs Külle Tärnov organizes a start-up day and asks for our help in finding a mentor, someone outside Estonia who has experience in mentoring and helping start-ups, to come and give an international view, we can recommend speakers. As a network, we can deliver international connections and people to assist with what you are doing in Estonia. If you take it the other way, people from Estonia often come to events that we are running,” he says.
According to O’Connor, there are good examples of how companies have made useful contacts. “This is only one specific example. Estonian companies have had an opportunity to present, for example, in Barcelona at the Mobile World Congress. I know that we had over a hundred requests for over 30 places at the event. If we didn’t have an ecosystem, we therefore would have never had asked Külle Tärnov to encourage Estonian companies to come. That’s a great market opportunity for a company. If I was running a company, I’d be very happy to have an open door to over a hundred meetings this year in Europe for my products and services,” he suggests.
Speaking of future cooperation and projects between the ECHAlliance and the Estonian Connected Health Cluster, O’Connor points out the importance of the Estonian presidency of the Council of EU: “I think the presidency is an amazing opportunity for Estonia to raise its profile even further, more specifically in the realm of e-health. We are working closely with the Ministry of Social Affairs to ensure that we do raise the profile: the messages of the presidency will largely be about data area, the question about personalised medicine and the question of citizens’ accessibility to data. We want to assist the Estonian government in making that move and promoting it not only in Europe but in other parts of the world. One of the greatest things you have done is your e-health strategies, which we have been promoting for five years now across Europe, and people are always amazed. Estonia is a progressive place and the presidency gives you all the opportunity of increasingly demonstrating that globally and inviting the world to come to Estonia.”
“I think, as for the future, the focus should be on making sure the presidency achieves its objectives of raising the profile of Estonia, making many connections throughout the world and becoming an example for many other countries as well as giving an opportunity to local companies to find international partners when they visit Estonia,” he adds.
For the ECHAlliance, the future will bring more ecosystems, as the organization continues to grow – this expands the network and opportunities, not only for Estonia but for all of those countries to do business together.
Besides working in the ECHAlliance, Mr O’Connor still runs his own businesses (in other areas as well as health). “I just enjoy this one as I can genuinely see the benefits it brings from introducing people to each other and how it eventually impacts citizens and patients,” he says.