Dr Mark Larkin is the founder and CEO of digital healthcare scale-up Vitaccess. He established the company in Oxford in 2017 to offer international real-world evidence (RWE) solutions to the biopharmaceutical market via smartphone apps and data science. Working with patients and their advocates around the world, Vitaccess is currently running studies in oncology, rare diseases and chronic illnesses. In just three years, the company has been recognized as a Tech Nation Rising Star and received loan backing from Innovate UK; the team has grown to over 40 experts in health economics, patient-centered science, product development, data science and localization. Vitaccess bootstrapped to profitability.
What is your background? What made you decide to become an entrepreneur?
I have nearly 20 years’ experience in healthcare consulting and finance. I became an entrepreneur as I thought there was an incredible opportunity to combine consulting and digital research, making use of digital technology and working with patients and patient charities in a democratic way:
- Of patients
- By patients
- For patients
What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
Building a business that we are all proud of; growing a varied team of people who like and respect each other, and who work in an honest and open way without pretense. If we can do all that, the details will look after themselves.
How and when did you know your idea was good enough to develop it?
When we started getting fantastic feedback from the different stakeholders in our projects: patients who use our apps; patient charities who support, and are supported by the projects; clinicians who understand the value of data; and the industry which commissions projects and uses them commercially.
What would you say are the top 3 skills that are needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
- Strength of convictions
- Sharing your vision
- Company development is strewn with ups and downs, so conviction is needed to make each “down” just a precursor to the next “up”.
- There are no successful one-person companies. Success is built by teams, so building a successful team means sharing your vision and getting teammates on-board.
- “It is what it is”… I don’t agree. It’s what each of us makes of it, and that includes all of us being ready to do anything.
What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
Working with people I like, doing something which is cool…which shows that work CAN and SHOULD be fun.
What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
Benoît de Nursie, 5th-century Italian Benedictine monk, who developed (from scratch and on his own) what could be considered the first set of management rules, mostly still applicable 1,500 years later. This shows what can be achieved with curiosity, creativity and integrity.
If you had 5 minutes with the above individual/company/organization, what would you want to ask or discuss?
It would be fascinating to discuss how his principles are still being applied today: many situations are different, but underlying human behavior is unchanged.
What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
A key lesson is be ready to change tack…and quickly. An initial plan is unlikely to be completely right, so responding quickly to new information or feedback is vital.
How have you funded your ideas?
Self-funded to start with. We are excited that Innovate UK are backing the next stage of our product development, allowing us to accelerate the incorporation of the latest in wearables, rewards and gamification, and the optimization of key strategic study modules to enable scalability in any condition, territory and language.
Are there any sector-specific awards/grants/competitions that have helped you?
Tech Nation Rising Stars, OXBA CIS Technology Excellence Award, Tech Tour Contest, BMWi RegTech competition and Innovate UK competitive loan competition.
What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire? Bad?
Being based in the centre of Oxford is ideal for us. The creative buzz of the city and the access to university hospitals and other businesses is a great asset for the development of the company. It is also an easy-to-get-to destination for our potential clients and the team loves working there. Clients love coming to Oxford, too – more fun than staying in faceless chain hotels!
If a new entrepreneur or start-up came to you looking for entrepreneurship resources, where would you send them? (Anything Oxfordshire especially!)
OCFI would be the first place to start. When I first started, and when our director of technology joined, we were working in the POD before taking office space as the company grew. The support for start-ups is second to none. Perch Co-Working is also fantastic for co-working spaces (some of our team use the Bicester facility for meeting space). We receive tremendous strategic and practical support from Tech Nation, particularly our Entrepreneur Engagement Manager for the South East.
Any last words of advice?
Believe and be curious!