In 2012, the Consortium for Affordable Medical Technologies (CAMTech) launched to fill a critical needs gap in global health systems. By engaging designers and end users in low-resource settings, CAMTech offers a platform for experts in clinical medicine, public health, engineering and business to focus on challenges and to innovate solutions for their own communities.
Five years, 4,377 innovators, 659 mentors, 737 organizations and 831 innovations later, we spoke with Elizabeth Bailey, CAMTech’s Founding Director. Elizabeth reflects on CAMTech’s first days, partnerships in India and Uganda, the gender gap in medical technologies, impact and progress moving forward.
Why were you first drawn to the medtech space in low-resource settings?
I spent a decade as a venture capitalist with an impact fund, and we were looking for areas underserved by traditional funders. Global health medtech quickly emerged as an area that was underfunded but which still seemed like an untapped market opportunity, especially when we saw how big corporates were pursuing those markets and how many budding entrepreneurs were entering the space. In other words, the need was enormous, emerging and developing country markets were growing, and the venture capital model – which is really good at getting products to market faster – had not caught up. It created the perfect storm for innovation!
Were there any models you looked at before conceptualizing CAMTech?
At my venture capital fund, I structured a collaboration with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to look at novel equity financing models for global health medtech. We quickly concluded that no funding vehicle, alone, could fix the market inefficiency, and that we needed to find ways to de-risk investments for any and all investors. So we looked at ways to further support global health entrepreneurs through specialized technical assistance. But that didn’t totally address the issue of risk-adjusted funding models, especially at the very early stages of product development.
How did you first envision CAMTech changing the medtech landscape in low-resource settings?
When I was recruited to MGH to lead CAMTech in 2012, there was a great genesis of an idea that provided non-dilutive capital with in-country connections. Given that venture capital had not been able to deliver, this provided an interesting opportunity to use grant funding and networks to build a more attractive pipeline that would longer-term be able to drive more private sector investment.
What ultimately emerged, however, was something far bigger. In our early work, we saw a groundswell of interest and excitement from a broader innovator community – both in the U.S. and in countries like Uganda and India. We knew early on that simply funding and supporting a small portfolio of innovations was not going to be enough in the face of so much energy and enthusiasm. We literally saw thousands of people show up to our events who wanted to make a difference in healthcare, and we felt compelled to provide them with an open platform where we could harness some of this incredible talent. This broadening of CAMTech’s strategy had a lot to do with the hack-a-thon model that MIT’s Hacking Medicine introduced to us. And while the hack-a-thon provided a nice gateway for this community of innovators, we also needed to create more downstream offerings, such as the CAMTech Accelerator Program and Entrepreneur Bootcamps, that could optimize the chances that good ideas translated into commercialized products.
Why did collaborating with Lattice Innovations in India and MUST in Uganda seem like the right partnership? Can you talk about how these partnerships first started between CAMTech Uganda and CAMTech India?
We knew that in-country partnerships were going to be critical to CAMTech’s success. There was no way that a program based in Boston could innovate for the developing world unless we worked closely with in-country partners who could define the health problems and be and integral part of creating the solutions. India and Uganda as countries made sense for very different reasons. MGH Global Health had a history of working in Uganda with Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST). And despite being a low-income country with pressing health needs, there was still enough infrastructure there to explore hosting a program. India presented different challenges and opportunities. As a middle-income country, it had far more sophisticated infrastructure and a more developed educational system across engineering, medicine and business, but the health inequities still persisted. Both Uganda and India provided CAMTech different but complementary test beds to try out our model, and they have proven to be great choices – but only because of the right partners on the ground.
Over the past 5 years, what has been most memorable about working with CAMTech?
I came to CAMTech excited to support new global health technologies, but it ended up being so much more about the people who create these technologies. The community of innovators that engaged in our work – from ASHA workers in India to biomedical engineers in Uganda to MBA students and clinicians in Boston – have inspired me more than they will ever know. What all of these people taught me was the power of the crowd and that every individual has something to offer, whether it’s an understanding of a health need or a technical skill to build something. My mantra became, “None of us is as smart as all of us.” Great ideas can come from anywhere, so we need to provide inclusive models for innovation. We are leaving so much untapped energy and talent on the table if we don’t continue to create opportunities for engagement from this broader community of individuals. So, in addition to supporting some exciting health technologies, we have heard so many times that we have also changed people’s lives and the way they think about innovation. That may be CAMTech’s biggest impact.
What has CAMTech’s impact been on affordable medical technologies in Boston, Uganda and India? What would these markets look like without CAMTech?
The biggest impact CAMTech has had in Uganda and India is the empowerment of individuals who now see themselves as innovators. That change of perspective will drive a lifetime of creativity and innovation, regardless of where those individuals started. It may not be the first or even second technology an innovator works on, but the fact that they keep innovating over a lifetime will bear so much fruit. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard from people that ‘CAMTech has changed my life.’ That is the power of CAMTech! And of course, there is an exciting and promising de novo pipeline of health innovations that would not be in existence if it weren’t for CAMTech – be it AIR, Saans, OncArt. It will take time to develop those technologies, and of course we expect a lot of failures, but the right inputs at the very start will improve their chances for success.
One initiative unique to CAMTech is the robust support of women innovators and entrepreneurs in the medtech space. How do you think CAMTech has mitigated the gender gap in the medtech space? What challenges remain for women in the medtech space, particularly in India and Uganda?
I think CAMTech has seen some initial success but much more needs to be done in the area of gender inclusion. CAMTech’s open innovation platform allowed for more women to participate in health innovation, wherever they sat in the ecosystem. By engaging groups such as nurses and ASHA workers, in addition to students, in the innovation process, it was naturally more open to women. I can still remember a female student in India at our first hack-a-thon saying how powerful the experience was and how she had finally found her voice. And I think the innovations and the process benefitted tremendously from that kind of participation. To drive more change, I think programs that are geared specifically to women that involve women mentors and leaders will be important. It needs to be clear that women’s perspectives are essential and valued in health innovation, and that requires a concerted effort. In addition to fostering broader inclusion, I hope CAMTech considers women-only events to empower young female innovators.
What do you hope to see from CAMTech in the next five years?
I hope CAMTech will continue to grow and serve more innovators, scale its model in existing and new countries, commercialize innovations in its pipeline to impact patients and engage more female innovators across all markets. (All doable, right?!) In addition, I hope to see it productize its offerings (beyond the hack-a-thon) to enable scale and a clearer path from idea to commercialization for global health innovators. This pathway, along with some success stories, will help to draw more private investment capital into the space, something that is still lacking.
This interview has been shortened for clarity. Click here to see a timeline of 33 domestic and international innovation events, share memories and hear stories from CAMTech’s partners from Boston to New Delhi to Mbarara.