Public health. It’s a sector that we can all agree is exceedingly important in a world that has become increasingly sedentary, but somehow continues to fall by the wayside. Governments are wrestling with the question of how to encourage populations to become more active and engage in healthier lifestyles. It’s win-win, too. People live longer and better, and the state has less of a burden from public health costs. Here in the United States, for instance, First Lady Michelle Obama launched “Let’s Move!”, a program aimed to combat the woes of childhood obesity. But the US isn’t the only nation taking steps towards embracing a more active lifestyle. Across the Atlantic, the UK Department of Health is teaming up with startups, capitalizing on human behavior by using a classic economic tool: incentive. People respond to incentives.
According to this article by TechCrunch, the UK government has raised a call to arms for the fight of positive public health, rallying startups with a health and fitness bent. The competition, known as Health X, promises the winner state-sponsored support and business development from funds of Public Health England (PHE), a division of the UK department of Health. Health X was announced on during a conference on Friday, and submissions will be accepted throughout the month of July up until August. A finalists round will begin August 1, and the winner will be announced later that month. In December, the winning products will begin to receive promotion on a number of websites, including that of the National Health Service. Such promotion will run onwards throughout 2015. In addition to this heavy promotion, the top startups will have access to a heavy marketing database of several million registered citizens who have expressed a desire to lead more active lifestyles. Seed capital will be made available to the startups. Ultimately, Health X is promoting healthy living, and stimulating the national economy by targeting existing startups in an early stage of development. It is also a proactive move by the PHE to embrace a more digital prerogative, and they hope this collaboration with startups is the final push to get British citizens to become more active.
Dan Metcalfe, PHE’s Director of Planning and Product Development, has acknowledge that the government has a trove of amazing resources for startups (such as that marketing database and the seed capital), but the best way to capitalize on it is to enter into collaboration with some of the sharpest minds involved with health-oriented startups.
The conference included presentations by two startups. The first was Sleepio, an app that aims to combat insomnia via cognitive behavioral therapy sessions, using a virtual assistant. The second was TicTrac, which is focused on digital visualization and analytics. It collects different health metrics, and contextualizes that data to build a dashboard view of the users lifestyle, so they will know where’s there’s success and room for improvement.
That’s the beauty of it all. The fact that there can be this mutually beneficial collaboration between the government and the entrepreneurial tech/startup world can prove a model example in the future. This is also pushing innovators at these startups to engage in creative solutions for public health problems- the goal here is to design and create a product that will prove accessible for anyone. It’s no secret that socioeconomic gaps are correlated with health. Coming up with a product that can be made available to people across that spectrum will be the biggest challenge these startups face; they need to avoid creating something that borders on exclusive. The CEO of PHE addressed this, saying that people with less choices still have choices nonetheless, so it is paramount to reach them in a meaningful manner. Simplicity is key here because this is not a project designed to appeal to a niche health community, but to anyone pursuing a healthier lifestyle.