As part of Fogarty Innovation’s mission to advance human health globally by working closely with like-minded partners, the organization once again hosted fellows from Singapore Biodesign (SB) this month. SB is a global affiliate of the Stanford Biodesign program and has enjoyed impressive growth since its inception, seeing over 59 projects funded, celebrating eight company spin-offs and training over 1,000 healthtech innovators.
While the Fogarty leadership team has interacted with SB fellows for several years, the relationship has become even more robust recently. Now fellows spend two weeks immersed in a custom-tailored FI program, and Singaporean startups participating in the newly launched SB BOLT Initiative have the opportunity to benefit from an even longer-term mentoring experience.
This expanded partnership has been mutually beneficial, as Fogarty bolsters its contacts and knowledge in Asia and helps train innovators around the globe. “First and foremost, regardless of commercial success, we pride ourselves on developing and inspiring the next generation of innovators who will solve large unmet needs,” says Mike Regan, Fogarty Innovation chief innovation officer.
A successful program is launched
SB was founded by a group of pioneering Singaporeans, one of whom went through the Innovation Fellowship at Stanford Biodesign and felt the program’s successful methodology could be replicated to grow its own country’s talent pool. The Singapore-Stanford Biodesign program (SSB) began as a partnership between Stanford University and Singapore’s Economic Development Board and Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR).
The first SSB program was a fellowship that trained multidisciplinary teams of physicians and engineers in Stanford Biodesign’s need-driven approach to health technology innovation over the course of nearly a year. The fellows first spent six months at the Byers Center for Biodesign, then returned to Singapore to apply their training to identifying and addressing unmet health-related needs in Singapore and across Asia. After eight years as a joint partnership program, SSB “graduated” to independent status and became Singapore Biodesign (SB).
Since its launch in 2010, SB and its alumni have mobilized more than S$50 million in public and private sector funding for the local medtech ecosystem and connected with over 32 partners in Asia, including corporate members and clinical immersion institutions. This led to its eventual designation as a global affiliate, which is reserved for Stanford Biodesign’s highest quality programs.
“The landscape and local ecosystem in Singapore were changing, as we saw a rapid interest in the Biodesign methodology, coupled with steep growth in the country’s medtech ecosystem, which prompted the need to develop a more Asia-specific curriculum and program,” says Dr. Lee Phin Peng, SB deputy program director. “Today, we are proud to offer very broad training, thanks to our robust established network both here in Asia and the U.S.”
The SB program office also engages in several community-building activities in Singapore, including popular lunchtime webinars and educational workshops that are subsidized by the Singaporean government as an incentive to upskill and reskill adult professionals in the healthtech innovation industry. They have also developed a comprehensive training curriculum for their courses across the Biodesign methodology, along with case studies, training videos and other resources, which are openly shared with their partners.
Key role played by Singapore Biodesign in Asia
The need for an organization like SB is great in Singapore, as the healthtech and biotech ecosystem is very strong, with over 300 startups launched in the space over the past 10 years. Many medtech companies are getting good traction in funding, with several startups reaching Series B rounds to help them commercialize and take their products to market.
SB primarily assists translational project teams to navigate the many complexities of the ecosystem, including the numerous languages spoken in Asia and the different regulatory and healthcare environments. “SB plays a vital role in our region to train passionate health and medtech innovators who come from the multi-disciplinary public and private institutions within the Biodesign innovation process, so they are ready to hit the ground running,” says Mary Kan, SB program director.
Hosted at Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research, SB is part of a series of national health and medtech platform initiatives seeded by the National Research Foundation of Singapore, including the National Health Innovation Centre and the Diagnostics Development Hub, to advance the entire ecosystem.
Partnership with Fogarty Innovation
With a focus on learning more about the healthtech landscape in the U.S., SB fellows are mentored by the Fogarty senior leadership team, who help them assess their projects and offer guidance to take them to the next level. The fellows are also introduced to the organization’s companies-in-residence and outside experts who share their experiences about the startup environment and running a business in Silicon Valley.
“We see this as a really nice fit with our signature innovation fellowship program. As our fellows are getting ready for the implementation phase, they have the opportunity to learn more about the commercialization process, as well as the critical skills needed to be successful entrepreneurs and leaders, such as teamwork and communication,” says Mary. “This holistic approach championed by Fogarty will be vital as their SB fellowship comes to a close and they get ready to advance their projects.”
Fogarty is also involved in SB’s BOLT Initiative, a competitive acceleration program open to individuals and teams trained through Singapore Biodesign. The initiative provides mentoring and networking to the selected teams as a continuum to their training in the Biodesign process by advancing their innovation toward delivery to patients and their families.
First, Fogarty helps select eight teams who receive mentoring from SB to help them develop initial goals and milestones, with Fogarty faculty monitoring progress. Three of those teams then move to the next round when FI’s virtual mentoring role intensifies for three months as they progress to the final round when one team is invited to participate in an in-person mentoring experience in Silicon Valley.
“The winner comes to FI for three weeks during which we expose them to the ecosystem and polish their pitches, proposals and ideas,” explains Mike. “Then we introduce them to VCs, lawyers, clinicians and other experts to help them pressure-test their ideas in a real-world interaction.”
As SB’s programs grow, it remains committed to a singular focus on tackling evolving healthcare challenges. “This cross-border partnership further allows us to support entrepreneurs through their innovation journey, which will ultimately result in better patient care worldwide,” Mary says.
Photo caption: Singapore Biodesign’s 2021-22 Innovation Fellows (L-R: Dr. Mian Yi TAN, Dr. Peili TEO, Dr. David CHEN, Ms. Amy TAN) at Fogarty Innovation as part of their Silicon Valley immersion.