James Roberts, CEO and Co-Founder of mOm, one of our capital ventures, explains why shared values are so important when choosing an investment partner.
mOm’s vision is to give every child the best start in life through smarter healthcare technology. This vision is embodied in its first product: life-saving care for babies through its cost effective, compact, and lightweight infant incubator offering a safe environment for new-borns to thrive in.
Its mission to provide global access to high quality healthcare is directly aligned with one of our key investment fields - medical technology businesses that are focused on innovative developments with far reaching humanitarian benefits. Not only that, mOm shares our longer-term commitments to making lasting social impact and improving and enriching lives.
James shares his experience of working with the Howard Capital team, the importance of a shared investment philosophy, and gives an insight into what’s next for this ground-breaking and dedicated medtech start-up.
A transformative year
We are approaching the first year anniversary of the first child’s life we helped to sustain using our incubator. Seeing the reality of developing a product that was saving the most vulnerable children at the most vulnerable point of life was a huge moment for our entire team and our investors.
10% of all babies born are pre-term and prematurity is now one of the largest killers of children under five. Tiny changes matter. For example, every one degree Celsius that a child loses increases its chance of mortality by 28%. These changes make a huge difference to the survival of the child and comorbidities going forward. Our first product, the mOm Essential Incubator, is designed to put a stop to that.
We’ve come a long way since that initial idea of taking a device that hasn’t really been advanced since the 1970s/1980s, and redeveloping it for today’s healthcare needs to improve standards of care across the world. This year in particular has been quite transformative (more on that later) and Howard Group has been by our side, supporting us with capital, connections and advice throughout.
Philanthropy and profit side-by-side
It was quite obvious that the positive humanitarian impact of the product sat firmly within the Howard Group’s investment philosophy of investing capital that helps to deliver real change to our society - every device we make will save lives. Financial investment is one thing – it’s the fuel – but you also need the right ethos and brain power to execute successfully.
I’ve turned down investors who I didn’t think were interested for the right reasons – who may only be interested in either just the profit or just the altruistic side – investors have to have a mix of both intentions.
Some people also mix up impact investment and charitable intents, which couldn’t be more different when it comes to investment. Howard Group understood that as a CEO, I’m still focussed on growth, margin and profit but done in a way which impacts people lives positively. That’s how you make a really great and sustainable business that has huge potential to scale.
Timing is everything
Howard Group capital came at a point that was really instrumental for us. A lot of start-up company’s products are able to get off the ground using grants, but when you’re in the part of development that is moving out of the pure science and into the commercialisation, that’s when it can be quite hard to get your product to the next stage and into commercialisation. Howard Group was able to come in at that point which was incredibly important and is where I think a lot more funds should be focussed in the UK. There’s a lot of great products and great technology that fall down at that point.
I’ve got to know the Howard Group Team really well: Nicholas, Rick and others, they’re all genuinely lovely people and they’ve been really helpful in terms of advice and personal introductions to key stakeholders. There’s a huge amount of experience within the Group and they can give you one opinion or recommendation that might, because of their 30 years’+ in business, help you shave off a year of your prep time.
They also have good relationships with hospitals and healthcare settings in Cambridge, which has been pivotal in timesaving for me. Instead of having to go through the traditional approach and pitch route, which can take a lot of organising, I was able to circumvent that and speak to the right people quickly. Those types of connections and that kind of support is hugely valuable, especially when it is backed up with the reputation that Howard Group has of ‘doing the right thing’.
A year of milestones
This year has been quite substantial for the business. In early Q2, we received our regulatory approval, which for a medical device is a significant occasion. It takes years of work – it took us five years and a huge amount of data. The technical file submission to the regulators was six times longer than War and Peace! I’m incredibly proud of the team.
Since then, we’ve gone on to do some pretty amazing things. We’ve started the commercial launch within the NHS and the incubators have been used by multiple clinicians - there’s even a virtual queue forming to use the incubators in other hospitals around the country.
We are also very proud to have been able to help people and babies during the challenging times in Ukraine by sending 51 mOm incubators to the country amidst increasing premature birth rates. They are taking children down to bunkers where they are at risk of getting hyperthermia or the nurses are having to stay in the hospitals and face the risk of the buildings being destroyed, which is a horrible thing to contemplate. Our systems have been able to help provide care where it’s needed, providing life-saving intervention for up to 100 babies per week. The Ministry has asked for 100 more mOm incubators which is a great endorsement of the product and its ability to provide flexibility to the healthcare system.
The idea of mOm is to continue to develop other products in the same kind of ethos – simplicity, ease of use, keeping a focus on the user - and to bring more products into this space that are sorely needed. These will be focussed on how we give clinicians, and potentially parents, everything they need to care for the child in the best possible way.
If you look at healthcare devices and the way they are being developed, they keep adding unnecessary pieces to the machines. When you research how nurses are using them, they have 100 different devices with 1000s of different buttons which adds extra stress when trying to sustain lives, which is inconceivable. Here at mOm, we are trying to take the systems they need and simplify them into a package that can be delivered anywhere to fulfil the needs of a pre-term child.
Looking to the more immediate future, we’ve got the products and we’ve got the skeleton of a great team; our priority now is to get the funding to really scale, grow the team and get the device into other countries.
We will continue working in partnership with Howard Group. I know they will provide the time and facilitate access to a huge network of potential funders. They are starting to build a really interesting portfolio of like-minded founders (such as my good friend Nate Macabuag, founder of Koalaa soft prosthetics) and are well-known within the Cambridge ecosystem. If they can bring those people together to put their minds on a problem or opportunity, that could be really powerful.
Howard Group’s Centenary Vision to put people, the planet and performance at the heart of their decision making is fantastic. I love that, as a large, well-known Group, they are putting their money where their mouth is and focussing on projects and ventures that have positive societal impact at their core.
Putting the three pillars of what Howard Group is about in place now means that when they hit the Centenary anniversary in 2035, they will be shaping the future positively and profitably. I’m proud to be a part of that – proud to work with forward-thinking people who can see over the horizon.