Interview with Barry Shrier – Founder of GIANT Health Event
Barry Shrier is a tech entrepreneur who founded the GIANT Health Event with co-founder Shafi Ahmed in 2016. Barry has had a very successful entrepreneurial career before turning his attention to the healthcare industry. The GIANT Health Event is an annual conference and celebration of medical technology and innovation. The third GIANT Health Event took place on the 21-22nd November 2018.
What is the GIANT Health Event about?
BARRY SHRIER: GIANT is an acronym which stands for: Global Innovation and New Technology, and our visitors refer to it as Europe’s greatest festival of healthcare tech innovation. So basically, it is the largest event in Europe, bringing together a very wide spectrum of people who are all passionately involved in the business of healthcare tech. It isn’t an academic event, it isn’t a scientific event, if you’re a specialist doctor you wouldn’t come to GIANT to learn how to be a better doctor. It’s a business event. And we’re celebrating and supporting and facilitating innovation in the world of healthcare tech.
How did you get into healthcare, Barry?
BARRY SHRIER: Well I’ve been lucky, I’ve had a good career as a tech entrepreneur. I’ve designed and launched and scaled internationally, and then successfully sold tech businesses in various sectors including the telecoms industry, and the clean tech industry (creating new technologies to tackle global warming and climate change). About 6 years ago I had a big exit. I had built a group of 5 engineering businesses across Europe developing carbon reduction solutions which I then sold. I thought vaguely about retirement. I had enough money for the children, the grandchildren.
Around that time, I went back to the states to help my mother, who at the time was 87 years old, looking after my father, who was 91 years old. When looking after a 91 year old, you end up engaging very very heavily with the healthcare industry. We were seeing doctors and nurses every day of the week, hospital visits all the time. My father passed away, but he was 92 years old and had had a good long comfortable life, and I had just fallen in love with the healthcare industry. I realised something that everyone else in the whole world probably knew already, which is that the healthcare industry is just amazing, it is noble and it’s about saving lives, reducing pain and helping people to be more comfortable. So I decided that this concept of retirement was quite non-sensical. I should take all my experiences as an entrepreneur, and work in the world of healthcare and try to make a useful contribution. So I fell in love with healthcare, launched GIANT and this is our very successful largest ever third year.
So how did you know there was demand for a conference like this?
BARRY SHRIER: Well what we want to offer is something, which in business you would refer to as having good product-to-market fit. We want make something which people want and all the evidence overwhelmingly points to the fact that there is a really big demand. And it’s a really big cross section of people. Often people say that GIANT is a bit like the olympics. For example, you might be passionate about iceskating and go to the Olympics but you have no interest in ice hockey, Nordic racing, alpine ski jumping, or whatever but you come anyway. So GIANT has all these people with lots of different interests. Of course we see lots of of clinicians – many with special interests. We had an entire conference track about diabetes and tech innovation relating to that.
We also see people attending GIANT from large global businesses. Lots of people are here from companies like Google and Amazon, as well as medium sized businesses. And then of course startups – GIANT is referred to as a magnet for innovation. That’s what we’re about: it’s in our name. So this year we had 133 startups applying for our annual startup competition (Beanstalks) to win prizes. The finalists pitch their ideas to judges, and the winners end up on the main stage on the last day. The announcement of the winners of the beanstalks competition celebrates the end of the GIANT health event. And in that respect, to answer your question, yes, we’ve got product-to-market fit.
So how did you pick your team? You have a great team around you, many of whom are entrepreneurs in their own right.
BARRY SHRIER: I’m very fortunate, because I am passionate about healthcare and about trying to make the world a better place, and people seem to agree and share my love of healthcare. We have people like Professor Shafi Ahmed as our Chairman, who is a world famous cancer surgeon, as well as an extremely high profile international tech entrepreneur in his own right. He is the co-founder of medical realities (the virtual reality healthcare education business). And in November 2018 he performed the first hospital operating theatre procedure broadcast live on television.
Our vision is to improve the health and the wellbeing of people around the world by promoting and facilitating innovation in healthcare as well as supporting health tech entrepreneurs. That’s our purpose and people seem to subscribe to that. So this year we had approximately 160 people involved in delivering the GIANT health event 2018, including 85 extremely talented, and motivated students who were what we call the ‘conference maker team’. And they’re amazing! – they’re all brilliant students at the top universities in the United Kingdom, France, and Germany. They come to GIANT as volunteers, and I hope it is interesting and rewarding for them. So I’m very lucky and extremely grateful for the team.
We also have people like Maxine Birmingham, who is our head of strategy, and she was the director of all the conferences. We had 6 conferences this year. 125 hours of content over 2 days, across 6 different stages with speakers from around the world. Our speakers are from China, America, Ukraine and all over continental Europe. So it is a great team.
So what happens tomorrow? Does the GIANT Health Event 2019 start right away?
BARRY SHRIER: Well, GIANT 2019 has already started – we’ve been planning that for the last 6 months.
We believe that there is a strong and growing demand, around the world, to bring all of the stakeholders in health tech innovation together. The investors; the startups; the global companies; the clinicians; the nurses who have an idea for a business; and the patients who themselves have launched businesses. We want to follow Michael Seres’ community vision from 11 Health. And these people need a voice, they need help, coaching, mentoring, consulting, investment, guidance.
So all around the world, people have these interests and want to get together. This year we had a delegation from Jinan city, China, who came specifically to GIANT from China, because they have agreed to work with us next year in running GIANT Health 2019 in China in parallel to GIANT Health 2019 here in Europe. And so we’ve got lots of exciting plans for next year, which are already in the making.
GIANT has grown pretty rapidly, from your first event at the Coronet night club in 2016.
BARRY SHRIER: Yes, year one was only two years ago, and we held it at the Coronet, a derelict night club in South London. And I loved it!! Innovation – that’s what we’re about so we felt like we should be in a place which somehow communicates change and a uniqueness. We had a great experience there, but it was a derelict night club. We had over 1,000 people come to our first event, and we had sponsorship from big global companies, such as the pharmaceutical company, Reckitt Benckiser (RB).
I had a funny experience in year one, when we were looking at exhibitors, and talking to people, and two people came up and said ‘Thank you Barry’ and I asked them about their experience at GIANT, and they were both senior directors of one of the big pharmaceutical companies. And one of them looked around and he lifted his feet up and down, and he was standing on a sticky, beer soaked carpet, because this event was in a derelict night club. And he said ‘normally, the events I go to are in 5-star hotels…’ and obviously his body language and look was that of distain. And his boss, looked at him and looked around at the GIANT event and she said ‘Yeah, that’s our problem!’. So I think there is certainly room for doing things differently.
What’s your favourite thing this year at GIANT 2018?
BARRY SHRIER: That is easy, it’s all the people who come. Everybody is so enthusiastic, supportive, and ambitious to collaborate. And that’s just joyful, the fact that we have created a meeting place for people from around the world who are all madly committed to making the world a better place by coming together to improve healthcare through tech innovation. It’s just unbelievable, its magical, it sends shivers up and down my spine.
Beyond that, I personally have an interest in a few things, which aren’t the most important things, but of course AI is extremely interesting and will continue to have a growing impact on the world. The wearables conference track was amazing, and I hope one day to have a nice microchip implanted in my head, so I’m not so forgetful.
In tech, we seem to cycle through trends so quickly, how do you pick themes for your conference?
BARRY SHRIER: Yes trends do get cycled through quickly and it’s important for us not to just be on the bandwagon. We don’t merely want to be a mouthpiece for this year’s sexy topic. But many of these trends are here to stay, such as AI and blockchain (that powers bitcoin) and that’s why we feature those heavily in our event. Robotics is also here to stay and growing, but it has kind of lost its exciting hype – but this year we had the autonomous robots on display at GIANT and that’s very important as we still want to showcase new innovations in these less hyped tech fields. We also want to be helping the next trend develop and connecting them with other companies. I’m unbelievably grateful about all the startups who dedicate their time and energy to come to GIANT each year, and many of them have successfully raised money for their businesses after their experiences at GIANT last year and the year before. So that’s good news for us.