As featured in Global Corporate Venturing

GCV spoke with Michaël Niddam, co-founder and managing director of Kamet Ventures about the intersection of health care and insurance tech.

Why was there a gap in the market for a venture builder rather than an early-stage investor?

Innovation – real, disruptive innovation – is hard. It demands a particular combination of insight, creativity and entrepreneurship that corporate structures will always struggle to replicate.

Once upon a time it was possible for big businesses to innovate incrementally. They refined and tinkered. They measured success in inches. But today’s environment is different, the pace of change is greater – and it demands a different approach.

Kamet Ventures was created to meet this challenge as a unique innovation model backed by insurance giant Axa. We have created a unique framework in which the smartest entrepreneurs are able to explore specific, disruptive opportunities with genuine relevance to the insurance world – driving innovation from the ground up, and bringing the most powerful aspects of startup culture to our organisation.

We fundamentally believe that both corporates and startups serve important and very different roles in the world economy. Often, their differing vantage points and approaches to creating something lead to misunderstandings and misalignments. In Kamet, we have tried to combine the best of the world of corporates – scale, experience, expertise and track record with the best of startup culture – agility, curiosity, passion, speed and creativity

How does Kamet identify gaps in the market?

What we look for are “pain points” – places in people’s lives and experiences where smart thinking and carefully crafted products could make a positive difference. We are especially interested in answering latent needs – things that customers might not even be consciously aware of. To find them, we dig deep and we think hard.

Our ideation and research process is uniquely extensive and rigorous, delving extensively into ethnographic factors to achieve maximum understanding of specific markets or audiences. Our approach is designed to be both pragmatic and creative. We challenge ideas and intuition with fact and reality – and challenge fact and reality with intuition and ideas.

It is an intense, highly iterative process that is characterised by a high propensity to fail at the earliest stages. Since Kamet was founded, we have explored more than 400 ideas. Around 40 made it to the first phase of development and 18 are now active ventures – with many regarded as category leaders. A further five are in the pipeline. Adopting such a disciplined approach has been essential to Kamet’s progress – and its market-leading success rate.

Kamet has offices in France, the UK and Israel but many interesting ideas are emerging in under-financed parts of emerging markets, such as Africa or Asia. Will you expand there?

Thus far, our expansion has been organic. We have chosen to operate in markets where we feel we have an advantage or unique insight. For instance, in Israel, we have some of the most sought-after medical partners – Clalit and Maccabi Healthcare Services. France is home to our three founders, two of whom – including myself – were serial entrepreneurs prior to funding Kamet. As such, it was and remains an ecosystem we know well, both in terms of the entrepreneurial talent available and the landscape of building startups in.

Finally, we view the UK is one of the world’s foremost hubs for startups and tech talent and given our European focus thus far, see it as a critical market to be operating in. As such, Asia and Africa certainly not off the table but we are very deliberate about any expansion and like to study markets carefully prior to taking the plunge and investing in new geographies.

With around 85% of the companies surviving is this a question of taking too few risks or a matter of time. What is seen as success or failure? What impact is measured?

We have an incredibly rigorous process of vetting and selection for those ideas – including extensive market research, consultation with practitioners on the frontline of the problem being solved, and different types of modelling – so that only those with real potential to succeed both as solutions and as businesses go on to be incorporated and taken forward. This selectiveness means that, once a venture does get the green light, we are well-enough resourced to give it the support it needs. We do not over-stretch ourselves by throwing everything at the wall and “seeing what
sticks”. This has led to 12 of our 18 ventures raising their A rounds or beyond to date.

In every one of Kamet’s individual ventures, while we create the best possible conditions for success, we accept the risk of failure. Not all our companies will win, but we are already seeing the fruits of their efforts. In the open market, it is acknowledged that around nine out of 10 of tech-based startups will fail. But at Kamet we see the figure closer to 3 out of 10. Our model is delivering great results – businesses with genuine potential to disrupt and redefine their sectors – or to create entirely new ones.

Given the focus on the coronavirus, do any of your portfolio companies particularly help the crisis or have they pivoted to this challenge? Will future projects be more focused on pathogens and telemedicine, and so on. What are the issues of the future?

A number of companies within our portfolio have proven to be critical to helping vulnerable populations throughout Covid-19. For example, Qare has provided online medical consultation services to tens of thousands of patients, thus reducing pressure on hospitals.

Birdie created a new platform for care workers which helps them better monitor the elderly in their homes. Their platform has allowed carers to track symptoms and help keep vulnerable patients safe. This has been especially helpful given the care home crisis in the UK, and as a result, Birdie was one of 18 recipients of NHSX grant funding to continue developing its coronavirus-specific solutions.

A trend that we can also expect to see continue is the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) in healthcare. Take our venture IBEX, helping pathologists read biopsies much faster and more accurately. Their technology has allowed diagnosis to be made quicker than before, meaning patients can recover faster as treatments are prescribed at early stages when shorter, less intense programmes are required. A small silver lining of Covid-19 has been that it has highlighted and accelerated many of the trends we identified over the past four years. The rise of telemedicine is likely to continue. The use of technology to help extend quality of life while remaining in your own home has also been an area we have been interested in for some time. Over the past three months, human health and wellbeing have emerged as two of the most critical areas to invest and innovate in so I expect to see a lot of novel solutions covering everything from meditation all the way to robot-assisted surgery going forwards.

What have been the latest trends in telemedicine in light of the pandemic?

Adoption has certainly increased. Under instruction to stay at home and relieve pressure on health services, people have been more wary about going into hospital for non-Covid-related matters than they would have been before. Naturally, all these patients who would have previously relied on local GP services are looking for alternative ways to access the guidance and care they need. Doctors too, have found that in order to keep up with demand to treat patients from afar, they must adopt technology at a much swifter pace. Qare, for instance, has seen an
unprecedented increase in the number of doctors which have registered on the platform since March.

We have also seen Air Doctor go through a similar process, as they connect
travellers and businesspeople with local doctors. When lockdowns came in across the globe, many people were caught off guard – unable to return home for some time – and faced with the challenge of navigating local healthcare services when they fell ill. The app has helped them remain safe in a foreign country and looked after by experience doctors in their native tongues.

What would be the evolution of technologies and solutions focused on care for the elderly?

The Covid-19 pandemic has shone a spotlight on how we care for the elderly and other vulnerable members of society. Countries all around the world are experiencing a spike in ageing populations, and the need to find better ways to look after them will create a huge market for innovation in agetech and caretech.

In fact, it was one of our ventures, Birdie, that discovered that the funding gap in care for the elderly over the next 15 years could amount to as much as $2.5bn. As such, new technologies will need to focus on reducing dependence on residential care by empowering elderly and vulnerable people to remain in their own homes for longer – in closer contact with family, friends, community, and the rhythms of “normal” life.

Remote monitoring technology will be critical. When an elderly person falls over today, it is common that it is not until their next visit from a family member or care professional, that they are discovered and given assistance. During that time, more damage – both physical and psychological – can occur. Technology can help fix this by alerting and mobilising the right assistance in a prompt fashion.

Communication and coordination between the different groups of people responsible for care will also improve. Currently, patient notes are often written by hand and passed on to the next carer who may or may not have a chance to read them carefully. Technology can now automate that process and flag potential issues or illnesses before they become a problem. Overall, technology will help make care much more proactive and personal, rather than reactive and generic.