Julio Jesús Sánchez García, manager of e-Health and Digital Business Projects at Telefónica and a professional with whom we have been able to count on several occasions; among them in our digital meetings during the pandemic and the book of the MYSPHERA-UPV Chair ‘The challenges of healthcare after the pandemic’, has conducted this interview in which he has deepened in the MYSPHERA history, our beginnings, the obstacles faced being a start-up, the ethical use of data, internationalization and what the support of Wayra, Telefónica’s open innovation hub, has meant in the whole process.
Below is the full interview:
J. J. Sánchez: How was MySphera born, where did the business idea come from and when did you start?
S. Vera: We founded MySphera because, after several years working in the world of Electronic Health Records, we realized that there was a significant gap between when things actually happened and what was recorded manually in these systems. This created two problems: the first, related to the efficiency of the processes, is that the information was not reliable for analysis. And the second is that if you don’t know when things happen in real-time you can’t communicate it to the stakeholders at the right time and it is impossible to optimize a process if you can’t automate it. We saw that both aspects could be solved effectively if the right technology was applied.
J.J. Sánchez: The world of healthcare entrepreneurship requires diverse profiles. What was your experience in forming the initial team and how did you equip yourselves with the necessary skills?
S. Vera: The founders of MySphera were engineers, both industrial, telecommunications, and computer engineers. We had to broaden our skills through education and training. On the one hand, some of us were trained in the business. In my case, in business management with an EMBA and an MIT Entrepreneurship Programme. Others were trained in Marketing, ITIL, etc. but we also had to bring in external talent to complement our capabilities in all fields: finance, sales, service delivery, etc. Our investors have also helped us to find the right formulas in some moments of deadlock.
J.J. Sánchez: I’m sure the beginnings were difficult and patience and resistance to frustration were key. What were the main barriers you had to overcome?
S. Vera: Many… Working in a market like the healthcare sector, which is eminently public, is not easy. We had to deal with the very long contracting deadlines in the health sector, together with the already long deadlines of the public administration. Moreover, as it was an innovative solution, unknown to the clients, the effort had to be doubled. We had to do a lot of work beforehand to make them aware of it and convince them. It paid off, but there are always new challenges to face. Today we have to work to make customers understand the difference between MySphera’s solution and other low-cost solutions from other markets that have arrived later. They equate them with ours but in reality, they bring technology without the value of knowing how to configure it and apply it to the flows of a hospital. This is harmful because a bad experience in this new market can discredit and devalue it.
On the other hand, challenges are never lacking. We are already known in Spain but now we are making ourselves known in other countries.
J.J. Sánchez: How is your international expansion going?
S. Vera: We have learned that each country is different and you have to adapt your strategy to each market. It is necessary to have specific resources and to make a commercial effort in each one of them. But it is also true that there are methodologies for a marketing and commercial approach that makes the path easier and less costly in order to grow faster. For now, we have focused our efforts on Europe and we already have clients in several countries with successful projects as references. The next two years will be key in our expansion.
J.J. Sánchez: How do you see the international panorama, global competition, and what are the main barriers to entry in your field?
S. Vera: It is a slow market dominated by large multinationals. Both nationally and internationally, an SME can only succeed by being the best in its field and being very focused on what it does. You also have to forge alliances with the big companies to gain capillarity and scalability. You cannot compete with them in terms of variety but you can compete in terms of expertise and quality.
J.J. Sánchez: The first project and the first client are key, which was yours?
S. Vera: The first client is always important and ours was a prestigious one: the Hospital la Fe in Valencia. It was a center we already knew because in a previous venture with MySphera we had worked with them on several projects related to medical records and eHealth. We took advantage of the hospital’s migration to a new location to present the project and we were successful. But the complicated thing is not always having an early adopter, but getting the solution to become a priority for the rest of the clients.
J.J. Sánchez: You now have an important presence in Spain?
S. Vera: We have many very good customers, with whom we have managed to create a partner relationship, beyond customer-supplier in many cases. It is difficult to mention just a few, but among the largest, apart from the one already mentioned, are Hospital Vall d’Hebron in Barcelona, Hospital Virgen del Rocío in Seville, Complejo Hospitalario de Navarra, Hospital General de Valencia, Hospital Reina Sofía in Córdoba, Hospital 12 de Octubre in Madrid, Hospital Sant Joan de Déu in Barcelona, Hospital Virgen de las Nieves in Granada, Hospital Saint Joseph in Paris, Canterbury Hospital in the United Kingdom, Hospital de Torrejón, Hospital San Pedro in Logroño… and many more up to fifty centers in which there are some of our solutions.
J.J. Sánchez: How have you managed not to be just one more in a world as saturated as that of healthcare start-ups?
S. Vera: We have focused on improving intra-hospital processes by automating them, on improving patient flow in hospitals. We make it more efficient from our knowledge of the sector and by relying on the know-how of our key customers. This is not something that healthcare startups tend to focus on. They often focus on B2C or B2B2C services for patients and the vast majority focus on home care, which is a very interesting field in which we have also done things.
J.J. Sánchez: There is a lot of concern about the ethical use of health data… How does MySphera address these issues?
S. Vera: We have a strict GDPR compliance policy regarding data security. In terms of ethical use, we handle process management data, not clinical or personal patient data. Nor do we use the information for anything other than providing it to professionals or relatives in the hospital environment.
More generally, I believe that, as long as the GDPR is complied with, the market should be more open to taking advantage of the possibility of improvement through shared analysis of the vast amount of data available. Artificial intelligence is going to be key in the coming years. Change is happening.
J.J. Sánchez: You have already gone through several successful investment rounds, what has been the most difficult, and what have you learned?
S. Vera: First we went through several rounds of business angels, which are non-professional investors who had the courage to bet on the project and our vision and since then they have been supporting us a lot.
Between 2018 and 2019 we closed a venture capital round in which four funds were entered, two of the corporate funds from two multinationals. Convincing these funds is not easy because they receive hundreds of projects and can only finance a percentage of them. Once they enter the company, they demand results and a more professionalized way of working. It was a great challenge that did us a lot of good but it has not been easy.
We have a magnificent relationship with all of them and we continue to promote the project to make it global.
J.J. Sánchez: You are one of the companies involved in Wayra, Telefónica’s open innovation hub. What has it meant for you and how is it helping you?
S. Vera: The Wayra team is impressive. It is very involved with us and is a great support in many aspects. They look after the commercial relationship with Telefónica (both nationally and internationally) and their help is invaluable. But I would also highlight a lot of training, coaching, and support initiatives, not only for entrepreneurs but also for our marketing teams, etc. I also love the positivity he exudes. His optimism is a great moral support in difficult times.
J.J. Sánchez: You are involved in several European projects, how do you see the opportunity of the Next Generation EU funds? And the cutting-edge Health PERTE?
S. Vera: The Next Generation funds are a unique opportunity. For the transformation of the health sector, it is essential that there is capital, but then, in order to take advantage of it, the will to transform is key.
As a company, it is essential to have a footprint in the market and a successful solution. There is no time for experimentation and development. In that sense, MySphera is in a good position to be a driver of change in the digital health environment. We are very hopeful that we will be able to take advantage of it.
Regarding PERTE, its articulation remains to be seen. It is grants and loans in a lot of initiatives. Personally I think it will be good to give a boost to the sector, although I think that investment could have been prioritised in other ways.
Read the original interview here.