A Disruptive Mindset is a Mind Set for the Future

Disruption – a word we find so often buzzing around in the media, that we are starting to melt away its true meaning. So what does it now mean to truly be disruptive? Various attempts to define, dissect and discuss disruption were made at the recent Disruption Summit this month, which aimed to bring together leading ‘disruptive’ companies to explore cutting-edge ideas and enlightening perspectives. The day kicked off with a fascinating talk by Frazer Bennett who discussed ingenuity and the growing importance of an experimental mindset. Bennett considered how the younger generation has now developed an ‘inquisitive restlessness’, as millennials constantly engage and interpret an unprecedented amount of information. In the working world, we are witnessing a beguiling shift away from financial benefits to personal fulfilment benefits; with over a third of millennials now choosing culture and purpose over salary and monetary bonuses.

Whether we are now breeding commendable philanthropists or disillusioned idealists is questionable but we still must ensure that the younger generations are expending their fiery energy in the best possible way. Bennett argues that the experimental mindset is essential to positive disruption, and this ‘experimental’ mindset must put failure aside and prioritise innovation and constant invention. People too often reject ideas, worrying that they won’t ‘scale’ or prove profitable, yet too often scaling is a barrier to development. You need to therefore instead find your purpose, adopt an experimental mentality and then ignore the lingering worries of failure – only from then onwards will your positive ‘disruption’ ensue.

While this concept of ignoring failure and encouraging experimental attitudes appears refreshing and fruitful, there are societal constraints notably in education which inevitably hold it back. In an intriguing panel by inspiring young entrepreneurs, Alexis Monks, Paul Frampton, Rupa Ganatra, Nicholas Shekerdemian and Jack Parsons, they highlight that the current education system does not enable entrepreneurship and disruption. This is exemplified by The Telegraph who highlight that children currently speak for just 20 seconds in lessons, demonstrating no time for questioning, discussing or generating ‘disruptive’ debate.

Ideally, this needs to change as the digital economy requires young people to be entrepreneurs and pioneers, yet the education system currently does not facilitate this. While disruption in lessons was once a habit of class hooligans, it can now be initiated by those engaging with debates; those who envision themselves as thought-leaders and innovators of the future. One of the best ways to ensure creativity is through face to face communication, and now that we live in a world of constantly buzzing emails and mobile phones, this is becoming a dying art. Rupa Ganatra argues that she has no internal emails in her company in order to encourage her employees to actively engage with one another and argues that her productivity and sense of community has consequently surged.

With the shifts of many mechanistic jobs becoming automated, social skills and the ability to think out the box have never been more essential. The education system therefore needs to effectively bridge the gap between education and industry,  raising children’s heads from their books and engaging them in the fast-paced world that surrounds them. In order to create an inspired, inventive and entrepreneurial future generation, we need to ensure a productive infrastructure, creative exploration and disruptive debate.

Overall the Disruption Summit demonstrates a mere taster into the emerging and enthusing companies that are disrupting traditional services across the globe. With a surging population, growing environmental pressures and an economy existing within turbulent political intervals, companies that can disrupt the status quo and inject original solutions are more essential now than ever.

Jasmine Eskenzi, Communications and Ecosystem Manager, Collider Health

Tina Woods
The future looks great for women in health tech- but we all have to do our bit

While half the world’s population is female, and most health decisions are carried out by women, only 9% of health tech businesses are founded by women, just 9% of investment into UK start-ups goes to female founders, and a mere 17% of the UK technology sector is female. 

Why is this?  There are many reasons but they all start early in a woman’s life.  A recent report, Girls in STEM,  by Accenture highlighted how from a very young age girls are all too often persuaded to believe that, in certain subjects, their abilities are defined by their gender.   The report showed that more than four out of five parents (82%) and teachers (88%) agree that there is unconscious gender stereotyping and bias when it comes to STEM subjects and careers. More than half of both parents (52%) and teachers (57%) admit to having personally made subconscious stereotypes about girls and boys. The report concluded it is up to all of us, parents, teachers, politicians or leaders of industry, to change these misconceptions, to stoke girls’ natural curiosity and show them that the STEM disciplines are full of exciting and genuinely fulfilling possibilities.

The gender issues in STEM education are a major contributor to the problems with diversity that currently exist in the global technology sector, with serious economic and societal consequences.   New technology could have a disproportionately greater negative impact on women concerning jobs, and men currently dominate in Artificial Intelligence and other digital disruptors – with the risk that traditional biases guide the algorithms that will be at the heart of future products and services.

The danger of biases entering algorithms was cited by Google’s AI chief John Giannandrea recently as his biggest fear- not Elon Musk’s fear of super-intelligent killer robots.  Google has been criticised too for their part in perpetuating gender biases in their own company culture- one of the biggest stories in tech this year was the internal memo sent by Google engineer James Damore, who was fired from the company after writing that there are biological differences to blame for the lack of women in tech. 

I have had the pleasure of working with Maja Pantic, Professor of Behavioural Computing at Imperial College, in her national campaign to address these issues by encouraging more women to study computer science.  We had hundreds of teenage girls and their parents and teachers come to the launch event and hear inspirational role models like Saadia Zahidi, Head of Education, Gender and Work of World Economic Forum, Dr Sharon Goldwater, University of Edinburgh School of Informatics, Dr Sabine Hauert, Lecturer in Robotics, University of Bristol, Dr Holly Cummins, Technical Lead, IBM Bluemix Garage, and Maxine Mackintosh, Co-founder of One HealthTech.  There were many takeaways from the event, but one key message was that girls needed more hands-on experience and exposure to the range of careers that STEM offers them, in terms that resonate with them-like creativity, problem solving and social impact.

But what about the support that is needed for those women who do follow STEM careers? Getting attention in a male dominated investor community is a particular challenge.   A recent Tech Crunch study – CrunchBase Women In Venture – revealed that female owned companies were only receiving 10% of global venture capital funds despite delivering strong returns, with the majority of funding directed at male-led businesses. In March 2017, Fortune reported that for each women-led company that received venture capital funding in 2016, 16 other male-led companies got cash. 

A recent story illustrates the sexism that exists and the ingenuity women have to use to get around this.    Penelope Gazin and Kate Dwyer, co-founders of e-commerce site Witchsy, invented “Keith Mann,” a fake male cofounder, which, depressingly, worked to kick down doors that had previously been closed to them.  “Kevin” got faster and more polite responses than the female co-founders, and essentially gave the company immediate authority around other men.

The takeaway is clear: It’s harder for women to get ahead in a start-up world with odds stacked against them- and they must take things into their own hands to get ahead.  This is why it is encouraging to see such initiatives as Allbright, which has a ‘first of its kind’ funding platform aimed at female entrepreneurs to tackle the funding gap between female-led and male-led business in the UK, and more recently, Blooms, London's first business club for female founders and entrepreneurs, set up by Lu Li who is also behind Blooming Founders, a community aiming to break down the barriers that hold female entrepreneurs back.

Every step, large or small is important.  And that’s why I am extremely excited to be working with AXA on their new ‘Women in Health Tech’ category of the 2018 AXA Health Tech & You Awards.  The category aims to support women who are changing the way people think about their health and how to care for others. Working with AXA and great women leaders, like Julie Bretland of Our Mobile Health, and Angela Maragna, Indra Joshi and Maxine Mackintosh of One HealthTech and Marija Butkovic at Women of Wearables, we are all doing our bit to help women pioneers in health technology.

We all need to support gender diversity- men and women. The pay-off will be huge to society in ethical terms but also economically- a recent McKinsey Global Institute report found that if women play an identical role in labour markets to that of men, as much $28 trillion or 26% could be added to global annual GDP by 2025.


Tina Woods
The power of me: the citizen at the centre of a data-powered collaborative health economy

Many people do not feel in charge of their health and expect others to manage it for them when things go wrong.  But more and more of us are starting to use our biologic, physiologic and behavioural data to understand what could help us lead healthier and happier lives.  Wearables are becoming more sophisticated,  like Apple Watch and soonFitbit’s smartwatch armed with biometric sensors that help people track their health using data, and such  portals like Patients Know Best (PKB)  allow patients to access their medical records online and share with their doctors.

These tools are accumulating an impressive user and evidence base showing that putting people in charge of their health works, and costs the NHS less too.  Yet while we are generating vast amounts of data through our phones and wearables, it has helped to create fortunes for some of the most valuable and profitable companies in the world: Google, Apple, Facebookand Amazon.  This has led to concerns about their excessive power, which surface occasionally in controversies like the ‘legally inappropriate use’ of NHS data in the Royal Free Hospital by Google DeepMind and how psychometric big data mined from Facebook pushed Britain into Brexit and Trump into America.

Very soon, however, this ‘data power’ is about to shift to the individual with a new EU directive, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) coming into force in May 2018, that will legally oblige companies to ensure all personal data they hold is secure and private, and has been consented to BEORE any data is collected.   Organisations found in non-compliance will face heavy fines: €20 million or 4 percent of global revenue per infraction. This could mean millions, or even billions of dollars in fines for large companies, and huge reputational damage too-   yet only 30% of UK businesses are currently preparing for it (according to a report conducted by YouGov and commissioned by law firm Irwin Mitchell in May 2017).

Shouldn’t businesses be more attuned to what may happen when normal citizens begin to realise the value and power of their data?  While incumbent businesses slumber, there is a growing number of start-ups emerging that realiseonce people get financially rewarded for their data they will take a greater interest in controlling it- start-ups like People.io, a European start-up that is giving people ownership of their data through a ‘firewall for people’; Meeco, a life management platform or ‘API of Me’; and Consentua  a new consent management API and service,  giving people choice and control over how their personal data is used.

Last week saw the launch of the report, Unleashing the Potential of Health and Care Data, byFuture Care Capital, which sets out how the UK can become a global leader in harnessing the power of data and emergent technology to transform health and care outcomes. However, this utopian vision of a data-driven health economy depends on citizens taking control of their data and Government committing to safeguard their privacy through a commitment to world class data ethics.


Technological developments underway will help citizens control and exchange their data, especially blockchain technology.  Blockchain is based on the concept of a distributed ledger database, which ensures trust, transparency and security of data in a way that many predict will completely disrupt the internet, change how we work and create a more equal society in years to come.


Whatever the grand predictions, blockchain has huge potential to ensure that it is not just companies but individuals who can get real value from their personal data.  Blockchain allows people to decide who sees their medical records and puts them in control with what data they share with whom and what action they want to take- for example, sharing their genomic data with a doctor who can help them assess their risk of a particular condition.  Because blockchain is so secure, people will become more comfortable with sharing their data across the healthcare ecosystem and this could also yield hugely important insight to improve health at a population level- and this in turn could drive more effective, preventative care. Citizens, as the gatekeepers of their own data, could be incentivised to share it with pharmaceutical companies and insurance firms who could then use the insight from this data to develop better drugs, more quickly, at lower cost and reward people for healthier lifestyles.  

Estonia is leading the way in the blockchain revolution already.  Its Patient Portal gives citizens access to medical documents, referral responses, prescriptions, and insurance information. Individuals can also use the Portal to declare their intentions regarding blood transfusions and organ donation.  In 2015, over 80,000 medical certificates were forwarded electronically to its Road Administration Agency to facilitate driving licence renewals.

The effect on individual empowerment and on medical transparency is transformative and  is shedding light on how a new collaborative health economy could unfold-   where people are in control- enabling individuals and organisations to transact directly amongst each other, while reducing the power of gatekeepers and using data for wider societal good.

Get ready!

Tina Woods is a health contributor to D/SRUPTION Magazine where this article first appeared.

Tina Woods
Disrupting ourselves is the first step to thriving in a new global data economy- and could transform health and care

The Disruption Summit held on 5th September was a great festival of ideas with people across the spectrum of retail, manufacturing, health, financial services, cars, homes, and education brought into a vortex of discussion on how AI, VR, AR, blockchain and other technologies would change their worlds. There were chants of ‘purpose’ over ‘profit’, ‘why’ over ‘what’ and ‘cause’ over ‘cash’.

The message was clear- uncertainty is the new normal and preparedness the new mindset to survive.  Business leaders need to get used to conducting business where ’doing’ is more important than ‘thinking’.   J C Oliver from Unlockd talked about passion trumping knowledge (‘doing the Donald’) and the need to disrupt ourselves.

And business leaders do need to disrupt themselves before they can change mindsets in their organisations.  In a world characterized by increasing complexity and uncertainty some business leaders in big companies have responded by layering yet more bureaucracy- who else but senior executives is going to address all those vexing new issues, like globalisation, digitisation, diversity and sustainability? This mindset has produced a surge in new C-level roles: Chief Analytics Officer, Chief Collaboration Officer, Chief Ethics Officer, and even Chief Happiness Officer.

But we have got to invent new paradigms.  We don’t need all these new C suite executives when companies need to get flatter and smaller and more ‘distributed’.  At a time where data and information abounds, citizens want more control over their lives, more transparency and trust.  It is clear that young people want different things in life- aspiring to do things on their terms. 

Blockchain enthusiast swear by the new ‘Community Token Economy’ coming soon to help create new digital economies (see Outlier Venture’s excellent white paper here) that  will redistribute power and wealth- and give power back to the people without the need for big corporations and their C Suite armies paying consultants and agencies telling us what to think and do.

Blockchain is now being promoted by the United Nations as a promising tool to start solving the world’s greatest problems- in democratising access to energy, aid, land, voting and healthcare.  The ID2020 Alliance—a new organization composed of UN agencies, non-profits, companies, governments, and other enterprises—isbuilding a digital ID network that would make identity personal, persistent, portable, and private. That is, it would be unique to only one person, live with a person from life to death, be accessible from anywhere, and could only be given out with permission.

Blockchain can be sued to trade any digital asset.  In the session I chaired at DISRUPTION Summit on new thinking in data powered health, we talked about data as the ‘new oil’ – the new oil that is making some companies very rich, but which we all have a stake and claim to as the world’s largest resource to change our lives for the better.   Hot on the heels of Sir John Bell’s report on the UK life sciences industrial strategy, which highlighted a very urgent need to review how companies are given access to NHS data (belonging to the British tax-paying public), we looked at how we can give power to people by giving them control over how they share their data.   We asked the question, what will happen when the normal consumer, begins to realise the value and power of their data?  Nic Oliver, CEO of People.io, does a great job at persuading us that we need to take back control (and earn money from our data that we are currently giving away for free) at a time when unfolding technologies such as blockchain and the new GDPR data regulations (coming into force in 2018) will put the citizen at the centre of data ownership.

Following the Summit, we are now convening major stakeholders across policy, technology, health and social care to look at how we can use data to improve health and care, exploring opportunities for creating data cooperatives to accelerate innovation and adoption of new technology with reference to the ‘British Data Exchange’ model, and taking learnings from other examples and other industries, especially banking. 

Please contact me on tina.woods@colliderhealth.com if you would like to get involved in this programme and other developments exploring how personal information could be traded for social good in a citizen-driven data value exchange.  The opportunities for health and care are enormous but also for the future of society.

Tina Woods
Forget Botox- Telomere Therapy is the new Elixir to stop Ageing

I began my life in health innovation some thirty years ago as a premed student studying genetics, and remember learning about telomeres after they were first discovered some years before.  The first medical training project I developed was on the physiology of ageing and Professor Leonard Hayflick was our advisor; he discovered that cells are not immortal but replicate a finite number of times, reaching the ‘Hayflick limit’, before they die (this phenomenon is known as ‘apoptosis’, or programmed cell death).

Since then, a lot more is known about telomeres and their relationship to the ageing process. In 2009, Blackburn, Greider and Szostak received the Nobel Prize for the discovery of how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and the enzyme telomerase. Simply put, if the telomeres are shortened, cells age. Conversely, if telomerase activity is high, telomere length is maintained, and cellular ageing is delayed.

A recent paper in the Journal of Aging(click here) suggests it is a bit more complicated however. A new concept has opened up, ‘telomere stability’, a quite different concept from telomere length. Improving the activity of telomerase enzyme -that can add length back to shorter telomeres, and, in the meantime, protect longer telomeres to ensure stability- seems a way to actually turn back the biological clock.

I went to the Wired Health event recently and there was a great array of speakers and talks- on everything from artificial intelligence to precision medicine to music and psychedelic drugs- but there was one talk on ageing, given by Elizabeth Parrish, CEO of BioViva (a biotechnology company specialising in treatments to slow the ageing process),  that left me feeling both uneasy but fascinated in the same breath as it looked specifically at gene and cell therapies to ‘cure’ ageing.

You guessed it, telomeres were at the heart of the solution to ‘cure’ ageing.  I was fascinated as a genetics enthusiast but uneasy about the idea of tinkering around with the normal process of ageing at a cellular level.   Elizabeth said she was taking the gene therapy herself as the first person (‘patient zero’)  to take it in human testing. Impressive evidence was shown (click here) of her telomeres having lengthened, with positive effects on her muscle mass.

I questioned myself why I felt uneasy and I realised that my first reaction was similar to what I feel about the idea of using Botox to treat wrinkles- why worry about ageing when it is a ‘normal’ cellular process.  Isn’t it just vanity that makes people reach out for Botox?  Shouldn’t we think about the other more important things in life that will make our lives better as we get older? Like friends, family, and finding our life passions and paths to happiness?

The scientist in me realised that it wasn’t as simple as that.  And Elizabeth had a good point- why should we live our older years in continual physiological and cognitive decline when science is giving us the tools to postpone the effects of ageing?  I had been equally fascinated by the philosophies of Aubrey De Grey, pioneering biomedical gerontologist, speak recently how we can interrupt the processes of all chronic diseases on the ageing continuum.

Reading the book The 100 Year Life made me think more about this.  Accelerating advances in science and better healthcare are prolonging our lifespans -with kids born today easily living to 105 or even longer. Yet our society, culture and systems to cater for a growing ageing demographic are not moving nearly as fast which risks making our lives more and more bleak as we get older, with the need to work longer to finance a retirement with our older years increasingly blighted by frailty and loneliness.

So maybe the solution is, well, just to stay young until you decide to switch the button to death (and hopefully be in control to make it a ‘good death’- a rather nice finish to a good life)?

Following the Wired Health talk, I spoke to lots of people about their views on ageing.  I have been recommended all sorts of therapies, pills and solutions from natural bio-identical hormone treatment to yoga that will make you feel more energetic, less stressed and refreshed, with the result of feeling younger.

Sure enough, as you delve deeper, you find that all have their merits and the real answer is not clearcut.   I couldn’t help but look at the role of stress on ageing, with most of us leading very stressful lives, including myself.  Turns out there is abundance of literature on the role of stress in ageing. 

A wide range of studies (click here, here and here ) have shown that stress is associated with indicators of accelerated cellular and organismal ageing, including telomere length and telomerase activity.  Other lifestyle factors play a huge role too (see here). Obesity, insulin resistance and cardio-vascular disease processes which are related to oxidative stress and inflammation, have all been linked to shorter telomeres. Smoking, exposure to pollution, lower physical activity, psychological stress, and unhealthy diet significantly increase the oxidative burden and the rate of telomere shortening too.

So, what a better way to counteract the ‘biological clock’ by reactivating telomerase through stress reduction, diet and lifestyle interventions?

Sure enough, specific lifestyle behaviours that can mitigate the effects of stress are associated with longer telomere lengths. For example, studies have shown that people who lower stress levels through yoga have longer telomeres (click here and here and here and here ). 

What has this led me to conclude? I think I might try yoga first before resorting to gene therapy, but I will follow Elizabeth Parrish’s journey with interest!  The geneticist in me shall forever remain curious, but for now, I shall roll out the yoga mat and learn to breathe like the yogis do.

Tina Woods
The time is now for women entrepreneurs in health -especially if you are over 50

The story of Ridhi Tariyal who invented the ‘tampon of the future’ (as the New York Times headlined it when they published it in 2016) tells us many things about the need for more women entrepreneurs, investors and scientists.  It took a woman to design a tampon that could capture monthly blood for medical testing without the need for needles- a brilliant idea which is now being explored to help women test for endometriosis and fertility.

This story reminds us of what Eric von Hippel, the MIT scholar of innovation, has studied intensely from an academic perspective: that people who suffer from a problem are uniquely equipped to solve it.  They persist in their quest to see their innovation succeed because they understand the need first hand and they have ‘skin in the game’.

Thanks to my friend Clare Delmar, I was invited recently to this incredibly funny but also hugely educational comedy show put on by Gusset Grippers (aka Elaine Miller, who is a physiotherapist specialising in urology) at the Sick of the Fringe festival which made me ponder over this idea of who best to solve some of the big health challenges of today.  For an hour Clare and I were entertained and taught by Elaine about the importance of pelvic floor muscles—essential to keep in shape to avoid incontinence (that haunts many women after childbirth and the menopause) but also to have a much better sex life…

The talk made me think and ask some questions.  Why aren’t we doing more to help the one third of women who suffer from incontinence at some point in their lives (that’s right, one third, 33%)?  This is a huge issue yet is one of the “hidden epidemics” that causes so much misery for so many women (men are not immune either…). Pelvic floor exercises are very simple and there is one UK company, Elvie, crusading about pelvic floor and using the latest design technology to help women ‘tighten up’.  It is no surprise that the entrepreneur behind Elvie, Tania Boler, is a woman.

There are other women too leading the way to designing more products for women. At this year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas,  Willow, a new wearable breast pump, won Best Digital Health and Fitness Product.  CB Insights also recently published a great summary of some of the companies in 'FemTech' that together ave raised over $1.1 billion (see the map here , also published in an great article, Vive la Difference, by Medium).

But why aren’t there more women, including older women,  leading the way like Tania with the innovations desperately needed by society to address these and other big problems requiring urgent attention, especially with the growing ageing population- from the elderly suffering in hospitals who should be in their homes to those women suffering through the menopause - all the ills that add up to a lot of misery that we currently put up with?

There are some older pioneers like the amazing Mary Matthews who set up Memrica, a memory tool for dementia sufferers, and the inspiring Jackie Marshall-Cyrus who led Innovate UK’s Long Term Care Revolution, but we need more. I was heartened recently reading about the wonderful group of older women who set up the Older Women’s Co-housing  Group which is focussed on building communities for the over fifties to make living as you grow older more fun and less lonely (click here).  And I will always remember the start-up, Growing Old Disgracefully,  a network for older women who pitched at a recent Aging 2.0 global start-up search (I thought, I will have some of that when the time comes....).  

While this shows the trend changing with more women taking charge, there is still plenty of room for a lot more, and especially those looking out for older women.  At a recent talk the always incredible (and young) Maxine Mackintosh from HealthTech Women reminded us that women represent only 9% of the founders of health tech businesses at the moment.  If you look at the Apple Think Different video you will see it is mostly men who feature as the rebels and disrupters.   This has to change and women need to get noticed.  Calling all women provocateurs, innovators and entrepreneurs, especially if you are over 50, let’s get cracking!   I know Clare is busy with her idea….#BeBoldForChange.

Tina Woods