David Sim from OpenBrolly took part in the Pathfinder pilot along with business partner Geoff Wilcox. Their idea was an app with a dual purpose: it allows patients to keep a diary of their symptoms, and shares that data with clinicians and nurses so they can track changes and anomalies to ensure patients are getting help when they need it most.

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Why did you want to take part in Pathfinder?

We’ve put a lot of resources into building up products in the past, to find out at the end that there’s a possible market of five companies! We thought, if we’re going to invest in this product, how can we tell if anyone’s going to buy it? It was about setting realistic expectations from the start.

How did your business proposition change during the programme?

The emphasis changed quite a lot. We’d seen our product as being all about the app, with a dashboard that happened to show clinicians what was going on. What we found during Pathfinder was that the demand was for a care management system with an app bolted on. Lots of patients will never use a mobile phone, and lots of clinicians work differently to how we’d imagined. 

How does Pathfinder compare to other training you’ve experienced?

I’ve been on loads of courses over the years, but Pathfinder is miles above any training that I’ve done before. A lot of other courses were theory focused. Pathfinder taught us not to try to sell, but to focus on gathering information. Achieving the goal of 100 interviews was much easier when you were asking for a research interview rather than a sales meeting. This approach got us in front of the Chief Executive of NHS Highland, and we’re using the same approach now with other products.

What were the weekly group presentation sessions like?

They were the highlight for me; it was a key part of the programme. We were quite cynical at the start about how much value they’d be and how we’d be able to take that much time away from the business. It was a challenge, but the value was huge. If you know that you have to stand up in front of people every week and tell them what you’ve found out in the previous 7 days, it provides a focus. Nobody ever stood in front of a blank slide. And then you got all the feedback, not just from the mentors, but from the other team members too. You suddenly went from being a 2-person team to a 10-person team; that’s massively beneficial for a small business. It’s the kind of input that you’d pay a lot of money for.

What was the hardest part of taking part in Pathfinder?

We went through a stage of having almost too much information. You get mixed signals, and the hardest thing is to relate all of that information to the product and decide how much it should shape the product development.

Who would you recommend it to?

You have to want to grow, to be ambitious for your company. You also have to be willing to take constructive criticism, to constantly justify yourself and collect evidence to support your assumptions. If all you want to do is validate your product, go and do some market research. If you want your product to match a market and give you growth, Pathfinder is ideal. The life science and tech sectors are probably some of the best sectors in which to try out ideas in the Highlands. There’s a huge willingness to make good business ideas happen.

What advice would you give to future participants?

To go into it with an open mind about where you might end up. You’re still in control, but the emphasis of your product and your target market may well change. For the first 3 or 4 weeks you feel a bit lost, which is normal. But all you have to invest is your time; it’s a unique opportunity. Go for it!

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