Q&A: CancerAid

This week ISB spoke with Dr Nikhil Poovia, co-founder of healthcare app CancerAid. Since its launch barely a year ago the app, that provides information and support for cancer patients and their families, has become the number one cancer app in Australia, the UK and the USA.

ISB: Who is the CancerAid app aimed at and how does it work?

Dr NP: The app is for cancer patients, their support network and those treating them. It was developed in collaboration with all these stakeholders, with the goal of reducing the hidden burden of cancer; the overwhelming, isolating and confusing emotions that come with diagnosis.

CancerAid helps patients navigate through each stage of their cancer experience by providing them with an organisational platform detailing their diagnosis, a medically reliable, peer reviewed source of information on treatment options, a symptoms journal to help providers the side effects of treatment and a unique connection to nominated personal; and medical “champions”.

ISB: How and when did the concept for the app come about?

Dr NP: In 2014 I was playing around on a chemotherapy calendar app and felt that we could design a more sophisticated model to help patients we saw experiencing issues in the hospital.

ISB: You and your co-founder – Dr Raghav Murali-Ganesh – trained as medical practitioners and worked in hospitals until embarking on the CancerAid project, so who developed the app itself?

Dr NP: Raghav and designed and developed the concept of CancerAid and, with the help of digital development studio Papercloud, we launched the app on the App Store and Google Play Store.

ISB: How did you fund the development and launch of the app

Dr NP: We were selected for Slingshot’s HCF Catalyst accelerator in 2016 were we received initial funding of $50k. This enabled us to craft our business model, which in turn generated investor interest enabling us to embark on a second seed investment round where we raised $1.25 million for full development of the product to take it to market.

Once the product was available in Australia Raghav, I and our Chief Technical Officer, Dr. Martin Seneviratne, went onto the Shark Tank show to seek business mentorship and the expertise to scale our company internationally, and came away with important investment from Andrew Banks.

ISB: And, bearing in mind the app is available to patients at no cost, how does it generate income?

Dr NP: Cancer hospitals, research groups and private specialists buy a commercial licence that provides them with premium components of the app, allowing them to offer a value-added service to the patients they look after.

ISB: What was the single biggest challenge the faced in going from concept to reality?

Dr NP: The most difficult challenge, and one that we are still working through, is dealing with the rapid growth in the volume of users downloading the app – since our appearance on Shark Tank was aired on 20 June we have had over 5000 cancer patients download the app, 20 per cent of whom have engaged directly with us via email, with feedback and questions. We want to respond to everyone as promptly as possible, and are working incredibly hard to do that.

ISB: Finally, what was the most valuable piece of advice you received, or lesson you have learned on the journey, you could pass on to others with an idea they’d like to turn into a business?

Dr NP: At a start-up conference I attended in the US, eMERGE Americas, I was told, “it doesn’t matter what others say about your idea, if you believe in it 100 per cent you will find a way to make it work.”

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