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What it Takes To Succeed in Healthcare Entrepreneurship with João Ribas, Biotech & Life Sciences Investor at Novo Holdings

João Ribas, Biotech & Life Sciences Investor at Novo Holdings

What it Takes To Succeed in Healthcare Entrepreneurship

Empowering transformative companies in healthcare to succeed

What it Takes To Succeed in Healthcare Entrepreneurship with João Ribas, Biotech & Life Sciences Investor at Novo Holdings

Recommended Books:

Creative Confidence by David Kelley

Shoe Dog by Phil Knight

Best Way to Contact Ribas:



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What it Takes To Succeed in Healthcare Entrepreneurship with João Ribas, Biotech & Life Sciences Investor at Novo Holdings

Welcome to the Outcomes Rocket podcast where we inspire collaborative thinking improved outcomes and business success with today’s most successful and inspiring healthcare leaders and influencers. And now your host, Saul Marquez.

Welcome back to the podcast today I have the outstanding Joao Ribas. He is the Co-Founder at The Future Labs Healthcare and Life Sciences Investor at Novo Seeds. He’s a Harvard trained Bioengineer working at the intersection of Science and Business. He’s passionate about empowering entrepreneurs and startups to succeed. Today he’s phoning in from his new destination in Copenhagen Denmark which you know we had a great discussion about some of the happiest people in the world maybe otherwise their healthcare being part of it. He’s an innovator he’s done venture creation. He’s he’s got investment experience. And so I’m really really excited to have him here on the podcast so Joao welcome. Why don’t you fill up that gap any of the intro that I may have missed out? Welcome.

Thank you Saul, it’s great to be here and talking to you on the Outcomes Rocket podcast. I think that introduction was pretty amazing. I didn’t even know I did all these things.

You’re a humble man. You’re a humble man. I appreciate that about you. What got you into the medical sector to begin with?

Yes. When I was growing up I always showed curiosity about how things work especially biology and disease do. And for me working in solving healthcare problems sort of ticks that curiosity box. So that was one of the factors and then at the same time working health care means that I can impact positively the lives of millions of patients which is something I strive for. So I think those two as what sort of draw me into work in this medical sector.

That’s amazing. So now with the work that you’re doing in this investment firm and with your own gig I think you have pretty good reach as you’ve looked at different companies Joao and you’ve done projects of your own like the X Prize etc.. What do you think a hot topic that needs to be on every medical leaders agenda today is and how you and your organization approaching it?

Yeah although there’s a lot of very hot areas that one could look into. But I think in essence what we’re trying to do here we are we’re sort of creators of opportunity. So we’re looking for and we fund compelling and very strong science-based startups which will then lead to development of new territories where some of the most pressing clinical needs that we have out there. But of course in order to do this well we need to start early in the lifetime of the companies and then the ideas we need to back need to be transformative. So I think this is what should be on everyone’s agenda is to find these transformative companies in a lot of different fields because there’s different medical needs in a lot of different areas and fund these transformative companies and not just companies that are adding on to previous technology or just smaller improvements over what we have out there.

So how do you how do you define that transformative?

So we think about ideas and companies that really disrupt the way we’re looking at a treatment of a certain disease or therapies forced into a disease and can bring an angle that no one was really thinking of before. So you can think about the CAR T the cell therapy as something that was very different from what people were doing. So we’re looking for the sort of opportunities where you see that there’s a different approach to things.

Got it. Got it makes a lot of sense. And so as you’ve embarked on this journey to work with and fund transformative companies, can you give listeners an example of maybe one of those companies and their solution and what they’re doing differently to improve outcomes?

That’s an excellent question and it’s kind of hard right now to give you a specific example because we often don’t talk about some of the companies that we invest in because it’s such an early stage and some of them might be sort of under the radar but there’s plenty of companies out there that are interesting I can give you another example of a company that I know closely from the time that I was working in the U.S. there was sort of a very simple idea a sort of disrupted a little bit the way people were doing things and this was while I was working there in Boston so this company looked into the problem of compliance of adherence to medication which in the U.S. is a really big issue. A lot of people were developing a lot of different solutions. You know these little apps that remind you to take your pills or little boxes where you put your pills. And all of these were sort of not working as well as you would expect. So these guys came with a super simple idea to package these pills for every day in a single small little package so you have a package for Monday morning, a package for Monday evening, for Tuesday morning. Tuesday evening. And it’s such a simple idea. But it kind of transformed the way people were thinking about getting medication at least in the U.S. and this company’s name was PillPack and it was I think probably a month or two ago was acquired by Amazon and they can feel it. Yeah for a billion dollars. So it’s a very interesting story. If you were interested you should look it up from where they start up and where they are right now and their approach of looking at a problem and understanding the clinical need first and looking at things in different ways.

Yeah you know and transformative doesn’t necessarily have to mean complicated?

Exactly. And a lot of people think that transformative always means complicated events. It’s very easy to complicate but it is very hard to simplify and some ideas are simple but transformative.

Gosh that is so great. What a great example and I love that you brought it back to today. John with this example of PillPack getting acquired by Amazon. It doesn’t have to be that hard folks. It’s just finding the right way to add value and so they obviously delivered value. They’ve been acquired. Great example there. Tell us about a story where maybe you know a company that you were working with Joao that didn’t work and why that failed, a mistake. We learn more from those. I feel like…

Definitely we spend a lot of time talking about successes and very little time talking about the failures. But going back to my time in Boston, well as during my Ph.D. there I got introduced to Healthcare hack-a-thons which are sort of became very popular right. And I work maybe two or three projects in this hack-a-thon’s and they didn’t work. They really failed miserably and I think this was very good. I was able to really learn and understand how a strong and validate clinical need is key to further startup idea in healthcare. And I was really not aware of these. I just wanted to work on maybe as a special technology that I was interested in and not really focusing on the clinical need. And interesting enough after failing a bunch of times trying to do these Healthcare hack-a-thons now with different ideas I ended up joining MIT Hacking medicine which is a MIT group that teaches innovation methodologies around the world. And I was able to travel all the way to Ecuador or Austria and I organize events there to stimulate the creation of new health care startups with a strong focus on finding validating medical needs. So in this way and looking back I’m very happy that I failed early on and learned from various foreign mentors.

So that’s so cool Joao. So the common theme with these three companies that they didn’t work out was that there wasn’t a clearly validated clinical need and then you spun around and MIT did clinical need based innovation hack-a-thons.


Love that.

So I’ve quickly understood that the way I was approaching problems was that was not the best I was trying to work with a certain technology and find what can I use this technology for. And instead of starting with a clinical problem and then trusting that I would be able to find a solution in a team to that problem and that sort of change the way I was thinking about problem and technology trying to solve a problem and looking at the problem first before thinking about the technology.

That’s very cool. And while it seems pretty easy it’s also difficult to stay focused on that because we tend to fall in love with technology, we tend to fall in love with the gadgets. So what advice would you give to people looking to work in this space looking to make a difference. You know like honestly make a difference. What advice would you give them so that they don’t fall into these traps.

Absolutely, absolutely. You’re very right. I think working in multidisciplinary teams is key and then these hack-a-thons I was putting together teams that as a physician, an engineer, a scientist, maybe a lawyer, or a businessperson,a designer and all these people bring really a lot of different perspectives. So when you’re stuck in the love with a certain technology maybe someone else is not. And they’re able to show you a different way of looking at a problem. And in this way you don’t get stuck. So I think that’s a tip I would give to people working out in healthcare startups is have a diverse team.

I think that’s so valuable. So get your diverse team in place folks. You don’t want to have people on your team with blinders or have them be too homogenous because it definitely could put your business model at risk. How about the other side of this Joao. Tell us about one of the proudest medical leadership experiences you’ve had to date?

So I guess following all these failures I started learning and learning more about them and avoiding these in future projects and in 2017, I was a Innovation Fellow at the European Institute. And I had the chance to travel around Europe and talking and interviewing physicians and patients. It was really a great experience that allowed me to learn more about these unmet needs on a hands on approach just by going to hospitals and talking to, talking and observing decisions and throughout this process I was able to work in a team and find a novel solution for a problem which is colonoscopies we’re really not doing a good job in tracking all apps that can lead to cancer when we do colonoscopies and because of these we have a very high rate of colorectal cancer. And throughout this experience of identifying first in medical need we’re able at the end to go out with a new idea and started working on a prototype which say novel modality, medical device to address this issue.

That’s awesome man. So how long was your fellowship?

It was for a full year was really a great experience because we were jumping from Budapest to Barcelona to Poland to a lot of different places and getting these inputs from many doctors in many hospitals where culture is different. The way of operating is different was really key to understanding what will be the most relevant need to solve first.

Which is really cool. I mean I think it’s really great that you had this fellowship tour and in general it seems to me like you’re pretty jet setting kind of guy. You’re not geographically bound by anything. Right.

And he is very right there.

You know you I’m from Boston now you’re in Copenhagen so there’s worldly perspective really matters. What were some of the common themes that you picked up you know you went from Mali to all these countries different healthcare centers, modes of operation, what were the common themes that you saw if you could highlight maybe one or two?

Well I think first there’s a lot of great people everywhere after being in Boston which is a center of excellence with great research I found that in Europe we can find the same thing so we can find really really good research and inequality that is at the same level. But then in terms of the way we treat patients I found really big differences between the US and Europe mostly in the way healthcare systems are efficient. So in US it seems that they’re a bit less efficient. They do a lot more exams which cost a lot more money whereas in Europe, things work a little bit differently and there’s more outcomes-based healthcare systems other than in US which is getting to that point.

It’s a really great great observation. And so folks from the providers side I know we’re all doing a very very hard job or doing our best and in this transition to value-based care. I think taking on Joao’s perspective you know he’s been around the world. I think we ought to take a look at the folks across the pond in Europe to inform some of our decisions some of our pilots as we’re adopting value based care. We have a lot to learn and I think our fellow Europeans could teach us some good things there. Tell us about an exciting project that you’re working on today.

Yes we’re right now doing a podcast and I’m actually also working on on a podcast…


Which is called the Futurelabs. And the idea behind this was that I really enjoy thinking about what the future might look like in different areas not just science and technology but other fields such as education or politics. And I started thinking about it and together with a friend we decided to start a podcast and started interviewing key opinion leaders about how they think the future might look like. And we’re going to include topics as diverse as what’s the future of Meet, the future of these therapeutics, and the future of open innovation. So I think that people are going to get excited with this I think.

That is awesome man. Good for you. Now you have a name for the podcast then is it out yet.

The podcast name is the Futurelabs is not out yet. We should be launching towards the end of October.

That is amazing man. That’s exciting. Good for you.

Yeah thank you.

We’ll definitely do our part to share this project with the listeners because the reason why we started this Joao as you know is we wanted to make a forum where people could share best practices and connect with the people that are making a difference in healthcare. And so you’re doing that. And so when you’re done with that please let me know. We’ll do a special episode on the release of your podcast so that we can get the listeners to check it out.

Fantastic. That would be great. Thank you.

Absolutely. Getting close to the end here John. Let’s pretend that you and I are building a medical leadership course on what it takes to be successful in the business of healthcare. It’s the one on one of Joao and so we’re going to build a syllabus with a four question lightning round followed by a book that you recommend to the listeners, you ready?


All right. Here we go. What’s the best way to improve health care outcomes?

Investing in deep science companies to innovation that reaches patients.

What is the biggest mistake or pitfall to avoid?

Not considering reimbursement.

How do you stay relevant as organization despite constant change?

Embrace and lead change and pull yourself out of your comfort zone.

Finally what’s one area of focus that drives everything in your organization?

We are very focused on finding and building extraordinary interest forming lifescience companies.

Outstanding what book would you recommend to the listeners Joao?

Well I think I would recommend maybe two. One that I read quite some time ago and the more recent one. The one I read a long time ago was called Creative Confidence from ideal founder David Kelley and it’s basically about design thinking and it really changed the way I was thinking of our problems. So very very highly recommended. And the other one slightly different is called Shoe dog by the Nike founder Phil Knight. That’s a very intimate story from like his early days and all the struggles that he faced. We know Nike right now has the bee corporation but it was not always like this. It’s a very very interesting to understand how was Nike made and all the problems that they had in the beginning.

Love that. Great recommendations Joao. Folks again we have Joao Ribas. And so what I want you to do is check out these resources that he just checked out. We’ll include a link to his podcast when it goes live. But also the books and an entire transcript of our discussion just go to outcomesrocket.health/ribas as in Joao Ribas. You’ll find all that there. This has been a blast, Joao, I love if you could just share a closing on with the listeners and then best place where they could get in touch with you.

Sounds good. Well maybe I’ll talk a little bit about what we do here in Novo Holdings we really invest with impact. So we are a very different VC compared to other more traditional VCs and the money that we make is then donated back to science and humanitarian purposes. So I just want to pass that message that you can make money at the same time impact society in this way.

You guys are doing great things there. So where would the listeners get in touch with you or find out more?

Sure you can go to our company website. So www.novoholdings.dk or you can also connect with me on LinkedIn or on Twitter @ribas.JC.

Outstanding. Joao this has been a blast. Really appreciate the time that you spent with us today and truly excited to hear your new podcast then and also keeping up with the cool things that you have going on at Novo. Thanks again.

Thank you.

Thanks for listening to the Outcomes Rocket podcast. Be sure to visit us on the web at www.outcomesrocket.com for the show notes, resources, inspiration and so much more.

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