Latest guest on the HealthTech CEO podcast series opens up on his career path
Founding a company wasn’t in the script for BrightInsight CEO Kal Patel, though he did want ‘to work on really interesting problems that, with great people, can have a huge impact.’ Like so many guests we’ve spoken to on the Venari Podcast, a combination of happenstance and passion led Kal to strike out and he hasn’t looked back since. Cristian Owen, our Digital Health specialist , was glad to host Kal on this episode of the Venari Podcast’s HealthTech CEO series, where they discussed the background behind the foundation of BrightInsight, how the company works, and Kal’s views on navigating the highs and lows of directing a company.
Kal worked at Boston Consulting Group before venturing into pharma with Novartis and, later, at Amgen. ‘All those experiences were actually, I would say, enviable and fantastic,’ he notes. ‘I learned a lot and had a great impact at all three places.’ Kal’s time at Amgen was particularly influential; he had plenty of scope to flex his intrapreneurial muscles as founder and leader of their digital health group. Despite not coming from an engineering background, he could see the potential of tech for the healthcare sector as long as ten years ago – when the programmes were advanced enough, but ‘we were really seeing very little of that actually come through in the real world, and even less than that at scale.’ As much as he appreciated his work and colleagues at Amgen, eventually Kal decided that the time was right to make a go of it with his own company.
The idea for BrightInsight stemmed from his time at Amgen, where Kal’s two co-founders also worked on the digital health team. ‘What we were doing was thinking about how we leverage technology to improve the real-world performance of our drugs,’ he recalls. ‘So, like other pharma companies out there, we’re building, we were doing the research and commercialising these amazing therapies that had tremendous impact on different diseases, different patients and families’ lives.’ That said, Kal doesn’t think that drugs alone can harness the power of medicine – which is where tech comes in. BrightInsight’s mission, in their own words, ‘is to accelerate regulated digital health innovation for our biopharma and medtech customers through our scalable medical-grade platform.’ This extends, for instance, to making companion apps for improving adherence, increasing medical devices’ connectivity, or deploying smart algorithms to personalise patient care in real time. Offering this kind of innovation across medical device manufacturers at scale and across different countries ‘was a really formidable challenge that pharma frankly wasn’t well equipped to tackle,’ Kal says. ‘And we wanted to be the infrastructure provider to be able to do that’.
Since launching in 2018, Kal notes that BrightInsight has worked with ‘the majority of the top ten [biopharma] companies and others that are not in the top ten across pharma and medical device companies.’ Customers range across the spectrum, working with BrightInsight on everything from common illnesses to ultra-rare diseases, though meeting the often stringent requirements for regulatory compliance in the 64 countries they operate in – not to mention reaching the company’s own strict quality control measures – are common factors no matter the client. Kal also stresses the shifting perceptions around data privacy and security. When he worked in pharma, most organisations built their own clouds, whereas now many customers recognise that large cloud providers employ many more security specialists than a single pharma company would. ‘You’re going to get a specialist partner to enable you way faster than trying to do it yourself. And that’s the core focus of the company,’ Kal notes. ‘That’s what we’ve stayed true to since the beginning.’
For Kal, thinking back to four years ago (when BrightInsight gained Series A funding) is like ‘night and day from a customer base perspective, from a user perspective, proof points...We’ve had a good run on progress.’ Nonetheless, he recognises that while they’ve had to learn from setbacks and successes alike to get to this point, ‘moving forward more than you are sometimes going sideways or backwards’ is key.
‘I think a lot of digital health companies got too fragmented or too broad’, he notes. BrightInsight have set their sights on tackling one complex problem in depth, rather than spreading themselves too thinly. ‘We’re really focused on how you build companion apps’ before involving regulatory bodies. They put $100 million into R&D to develop their platform, meaning that now BrightInsight have ‘incredibly robust, configurable products on top of our platform. And so that means, for pharma companies and in-vitro diagnostic companies in the medical device space, they’re getting something that saves them a tremendous amount of time to market.’ Another important part of the company’s success is their mission-driven culture, which is all the more important for overcoming challenges; the mutually supportive environment helps them to keep going in tough times. Finally, Kal acknowledges that the challenging healthcare sector, and the demands of pharma and MedTech, have made BrightInsight stronger. ‘It forced us to get even more focused, tighter on our execution, be better partners’.
Words of wisdom
Kal admits that he could fill ‘ten podcasts’ with tips for future founders, though he does highlight the importance of having a strong network for words of wisdom when you need them most. ‘Being an entrepreneur can be a very lonely job because you feel the weight of your team, the company, your investors, on your shoulders. So I think having a set of folks that can give you different perspectives that you can then digest and get your own point of view on is an important piece of advice.’
Separately, if you’re launching your own company, Kal recommends making sure it’s something you are extremely passionate about. This might sound obvious, but he points out that many successful entrepreneurs ‘have alternatives to make a really great living doing something else [...] it’s a massive trade-off and it’s going to be really challenging.’ Every successful company has had to navigate disaster at some point, and to tap into the resilience needed to handle that means ‘you just have to have a fundamental passion about what you’re doing.’ This ties in to Kal’s final piece of advice, and chimes with his point about BrightInsight’s mission-driven culture: the right team will make all the difference. Getting that right will mean ‘you’re best equipped to make the right choices, navigate and execute against your plans as best as the real world brings them to you.’