Vensa entrepreneur on how to create a culture of innovation
An Auckland-based technology entrepreneur is making going to the doctor as easy as pushing a button
Words: Emma Rawson
This article was first published in the March/April issue of NZ Life & Leisure.
Ahmad Jubbawey doesn’t mind being outside of his comfort zone. In fact, he thrives on it. When he moved to New Zealand from war-torn Iraq with his family at age 12, Aotearoa felt like a very foreign land.
“Everything was just so different,” he says. Now 33 and the CEO of medical tech company Vensa Health, Ahmad says his early experiences have made him better at business in the ever-changing technology sector.
“Growing up in Iraq there were bombs and explosions in our neighbourhood all the time and there was a constant element of uncertainty,” says Ahmad.
“An experience like mine makes you appreciate life and realize it’s easy to get too comfortable and to rest on your laurels. I think traveling and experiencing other cultures challenges you. My experiences have certainly helped me to tackle uncertain things in business such as managing cash flow. It also helps you to be innovative.”
Vensa Health is an Auckland-based technology company that provides text message and online booking services for medical centres and government health organizations throughout New Zealand.
Vensa’s TXT2Remind system allows medical staff to text patients their appointment reminders and lab results, and enables patients to reply back to the medical centre. The service is now used by 70 per cent of the 1010 surgeries in New Zealand – not bad for an idea that began as a university assignment 12 years ago.
The idea came when Ahmad was receiving treatment for a wrist injury. His physiotherapist complained that the absent-minded computer science student was missing many of his appointments. “It began as a six-week assignment with a colleague, and we built a text message reminder system. At the end of the project, my physio said to me, ‘You need to create a company so I can send you an invoice for this work.’ That hadn’t even occurred to me.”
Vensa Health’s TXT2Remind system is a subscription-based service. The price varies depending on the number of patients signed up for reminders and results messages. The service is designed to improve appointment attendance and reduce the amount of phone calls for medical receptionists. In November, Vensa Health launched Vensa.com, a new technology resource designed to integrate with other health apps. The first service available through the system is a free online booking programme allowing patients to book their own appointments. Vensa will be rolling out other services on Vensa.com over the next few years.
Tailwinds: There is significant uptake of the TXT2Remind service. Short-staffed medical centres have been quick to utilize the technology. A large contract with a government health organization in Vensa’s early years helped bring in other big clients.
Headwinds: Vensa Health’s new online booking service on Vensa.com is free and is currently generating no revenue. Ahmad plans to grow this platform into a “freemium” model, where some customers pay for specialized premium services. There is a skill shortage of software engineers in New Zealand, and funding developments like this is expensive. So far, Vensa Health has paid for its research and development through its own revenue, and with Callaghan Innovation grants. In the future, Ahmad may need to seek further investment.
“Kiwis are very entrepreneurial, but we don’t have a lot of investment capital to go around. At some point, our business might need to look overseas for investment, although we’d prefer to stay in New Zealand.”
What next? Ahmad is looking to launch Vensa Health’s services in the Australian market shortly, and he’s eying other offshore markets. The United States is a huge opportunity. But for the meantime he’s staying clear due to the uncertainty in the American health sector. “I always dreamed of breaking through to the States but there’s too much political turmoil right now.”
Lessons: Hiring staff with the same values has been key to our business. If someone has no passion for what we’re doing then new ideas won’t happen.
70% of medical centres in New Zealand use the TXT2Remind system.
40% growth year-on-year.
$1 million annual spend on research and development.
20% of R&D costs are covered by a three-year grant from Callaghan Innovation.