HT World assesses the jobs market for high growth health tech firms, in conversation with expert Simon Benson, founder of specialist recruiter Wilson Grey.
The health tech start-ups and scale-ups Simon Benson works with have this year been in one of two modes – “a holding position, or powering ahead with growth.”
Benson runs Wilson Grey, a UK recruiter specialising in early-stage and high-growth health tech businesses in the UK and Europe.
“The majority of health tech firms we work with haven’t downsized,” he says. “They’ve been able to freeze and hold on to the talent they’ve got. Alternatively, they’ve grown. Health tech, along with fintech, is one of the most active sectors in terms of venture capital investment going into tech currently.
“Health tech firms have been able to close funding during the pandemic, and so still have to deliver on their targets and promises to investors. They still have to grow the teams they need to do this.
“Of course, some clients have pivoted their offering over recent months, but because they are agile they have been able to do this successfully.”
Corporate venture capital investment into digital health alone hit US$8.8bn globally last year, CB Insights reports. This was up from US$5.2bn in 2019 and double 2018’s total. The volume of these deals also hit a new record high of 320 last year.
Behind the numbers are the health tech entrepreneurs fighting for the best talent. And their search may well have been eased by COVID’s impact on working life.
“It’s definitely opened up the talent pool for everyone,” says Benson.
“Clients across the board are opening their minds to flexible working. A lot of companies in London are keen to get back to the office after COVID but they’re not going back to five days a week. It could be two or three days.
“This means someone from Leeds or Manchester, for example, that is happy to travel down to London and stay for a couple of nights could access roles there.”
The pandemic has also impacted salaries, says Benson.
“A lot of the health techs are in and around London and the golden triangle with Oxford and Cambridge. To some extent they have had to pay a premium in salaries in the past.
“But now they can open roles up to product designers anywhere in the UK who may want 70-80 per cent of what a London designer wants. So it’s making talent more affordable. I’ve not seen people shifting jobs rapidly, I’ve just seen the market open up more in terms of where people will consider working.”
Benson, who has a background in recruiting senior, non-clinical roles into the NHS, founded Wilson Grey in 2017. Its “sweet spot” in health tech, he says, is working with companies from the seed funding to series B fundraising stages.
And having its own start-up days still fresh in the memory, gives it an advantage over larger, older healthcare incumbents, he believes.
“We don’t have any of the legacy issues of older recruitment agencies so we’ve been able to be agile in our approach. Post-COVID we’ve seen a number of agencies jumping on to health tech and looking to diversify into the sector, but they’ll probably move on again in six months. I expect next year, travel tech will boom, for example. COVID set us back initially in the first lockdown as things were so quiet, but then the last quarter of 2020 was one of our busiest to date.”
Wilson Grey is heavily involved in recruiting product development and sales professionals within health tech.
“We’re really focused on senior product managers, product designers, C-suite leaders and commercial talent. Our biggest health tech market is digital solutions for managing long term conditions, although we’ve worked with clients with physical med tech devices too.”
A common challenge in filling product-focused roles is finding skilled individuals able thrive under the restraints of regulatory considerations.
“It depends on whether you’re working on digital solutions related to nutrition, fitness or telemedicine, for example. But some projects will be part of a regulated industry, much like fintech [another of Wilson Grey’s target sectors].
“So if you’re working and designing for a regulated industry, the people you hire have to understand what is and isn’t possible under those regulations.
“One challenge clients have, when it comes to building product teams, is finding people that understand the legislation. The client’s preference is usually for people that have worked in early stage businesses in the health tech space, because they understand what it is to be part of a start-up and to be agile, wear a lot of different hats and so on. But there is obviously a finite number of people that understand the specific legislation.
“Health tech clients will, therefore, be open to take people from financial services, because they understand the restraints, or the constrictions of, working in a regulated industry.
“This approach, alongside graduate recruitment programmes, also helps to bring fresh talent into the sector. Otherwise it’d become quite stale if they only hired from within the industry.”
Another valuable commodity in the hunt for product talent, particularly in terms of mobile app development, is empathy.
Benson, who has a keen interest in collaboration and sharing of ideas via the health tech product professionals LinkedIn group he helped to set up, says: “This is what a lot of clients ask for. If you’re developing an app for older people who are not tech savvy, for instance, it has to be designed to be intuitive for them to use. It must be appealing enough for them to come back again and again and not have a frustrating experience; whether it is recording their medicine, symptoms or how they’re feeling.
“Product designers in health tech definitely need to have a lot of empathy with their users and understand the specific groups they are designing for.”
In terms health tech bright-spots where demand for new hires is at its hottest, Benson cites mental health and fitness apps; amid rising self-awareness of personal health and wellbeing during the pandemic.
“Another big success story at the moment is femtech, which is really booming. What’s interesting is that they’ve got a number of challenges because, historically, women have probably been left out or ignored from some of the medical studies so they don’t have those historic data sets.
“So they are building up that understanding and collecting data in lots of different ways. We’re certainly seeing more femtechs being funded so there are lots of opportunities out there.”
Read more health tech leadership insights and opinions here.