RADIUS Ventures' Big, Audacious Problem Space

In this post, we will continue the discussion that RADIUS Co-Director Donovan Woollard began in his recent blog post, Thought Leadership: Building Positive Health Outcomes Through Social Entrepreneurshipas well as recap a roundtable discussion that was held with six health experts at the RADIUS Hub on May 23rd.

RADIUS Ventures is currently recruiting social businesses that are working to support the prevention and early detection of lifestyle-based chronic diseases. Learn about our current enrollment opportunities at our upcoming information session on June 8th or apply now!

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Helping people live healthier lives. Few issues cut across so many aspects of our social and economic systems, how we build our communities, and the way we as individuals interact with the world. When RADIUS set out to understand the opportunities for new start-up ventures to support the prevention and early detection of lifestyle-based chronic disease, we knew that we were biting off a lot.
So last week we engaged six of Vancouver’s top thinkers and practitioners in the healthcare space to help us to refine our focus in a direction that could lead to positive impact. The following is an account of that process and its findings.
The key take-away? That these are truly sticky, complex, and pervasive problems. Even in stereotypically health-conscious Vancouver for instance, an estimated 7% of the population suffer from diabetes, 6% suffer from multiple chronic diseases, and 15% are obese. Simon Fraser University, the City of Vancouver and other partners are participating in the global “Cities Changing Diabetes” program to better understand and address this challenge at multiple scales. Addressing health challenges required taking on everything from urban design to personal habits and motivations.  
To that end, RADIUS Ventures’ Slingshot and Trampoline programs will be focusing on ventures with innovative business models that promote the delivery and adoption of healthful products in at-risk populations. This may include ventures in the following spaces:
a) the delivery and adoption of healthful products in at-risk populations. This may include ventures in the following spaces:

  • Food and nutrition
  • Active transportation
  • Fitness
  • Respectful use of addictive substances
  • mental health and
  • Positive habit formation in general

b) remote access to public health services (tele-health, remote diagnosis, etc.)
It’s big and it’s broad, but we are confident it’s the right place for us to focus in 2017-18.  Here’s why:  

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The Idea Generators

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As we moved towards a more refined health focus for our ventures programming based around accelerating ventures that help people live healthy lives, our team spent four months interviewing over 30 experts in both the health sector and community development space to better understand the drivers of the problem and leverage points where social entrepreneurs could contribute meaningfully to the prevention and early detection of lifestyle-based chronic disease.
Our roundtable last week brought together six individuals with deep expertise and unique perspectives to work together with our team to frame a problem statement. The problem statement was intended to guide all aspects of the RADIUS Ventures program, specifically our Slingshot accelerator program.  
Each of the roundtable participants had their own unique background and expertise to draw from – ranging from public health policy makers to a digital health CEO – and the breadth of perspectives and opinions made for a rich discussion.

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Our participants included:

Diane Finegood, SFU Professor and former President and CEO of the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research

Andrew Taylor, Principal at KMJ Impact Consulting and former Executive Vice President and VP Investments of Grand Challenges Canada

Michael Fergusson, CEO of Ayogo, a digital health company applying design patterns from mobile games, location-based services, and behavioral economics to patient engagement

Dr. John Millar, Clinical Professor at the School for Population and Public Health at UBC and former Executive Director of Population and Public Health for PHSA

Jesse Veenstra, Project Manager, Population & Public Health at Vancouver Coast Health and former Project Manager at Healthy Families BC, PHSA

Mara Hansen Staples, Independent Global Health Consultant for organizations such as Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, PATH, Avenir Health, Gavi, and Pharos Global Health

Each participant had their own challenging questions for us, as well as insights and ideas to share. We are so grateful for their time and participation!

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To facilitate a greater shared understanding of our participants’ motivations, directions and unique contributions, we kicked off the session by asking the participants to chose an image from a number of cards that represented the motivation(s) for why they do the work they do. There were common themes across the group, one of them being a passion for solving complex problems.
We followed this exercise with a walk-through of our criteria and process for defining the ‘target zone’ for possible viable problem areas, while ensuring that the problem area would allow us and our ventures to address a key system leverage point, focus on primary innovation and leverage RADIUS’ strengths and assets.

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We then moved into a more generative exercise where we asked the participants to work within the health promotion scope and the defined target zone to brainstorm viable problem areas, specific target groups and conditions and factors influencing the problem areas.

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Supporting innovative approaches to delivery and adoption of healthful products

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There were a number of insights that came out of the session: Youth and children, it turns out, are an especially impactful group to target given their adaptability and capacity to form new habits and skills; we were advised to focus more broadly versus narrowly in our problem statement; there is a challenge with respect to finding profitable business models in the prevention space; and we came to terms with the feeling of understanding these challenges, but not knowing how to move the needle in terms of addressing these big, complex problems.
In the end, we didn’t find a “nice tidy problem statement” to recruit around. We did, however, derive insight and understanding into the nuanced nature of this challenging space. There was also consensus among the group around leveraging innovative business models for the delivery in addition to the adoption of healthful products. For instance, healthy food already exists; the challenge is to structure a business model specifically designed to get it into the mouths of people who truly need it!  

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Want to get involved with RADIUS Ventures? Come talk to us!

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So there you have it: our big, audacious problem space. RADIUS Ventures’ Slingshot and Trampoline programs will be focused on ventures with innovative business models that promote the delivery and adoption of healthful products in at-risk populations.
Interested in learning more? Join us on June 8th for an information session at the RADIUS Hub; visit the RADIUS Ventures website for program and application information; and send an email to ventures@radiussfu.com if you have specific questions or suggestions for the Ventures team.

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