By Fernand LendoyeImagine if cancer could be detected from your breath; or if artificial intelligence (AI) enabled wearables were monitoring your health 24/7, could alert medical staff and get you treatment even before your condition deteriorates. These may sound far-fetched, but are key technologies that Aviva Ventures has invested in over the past 12 months.

Early diagnostics and preventive healthcare is one of the most dynamic and exciting areas for insurers to explore and potentially broaden their propositions. Especially aimed at driving better customer outcomes through enhanced quality of care, and at lower costs – Aviva has been dedicated to identifying and nurturing the companies that will make this possible.

In 2015, Aviva set up Aviva Ventures – a venture capital (VC) fund targeted at investing in early-stage technology businesses at the forefront of innovation in insurance. First launched in London and then Asia, our plan is to deploy £100 million by 2020. Beyond the capital injection, we seek to develop a strategic relationship with these high-growth start-ups by cultivating their ideas, providing access to our customer base, insurance expertise, and helping them to scale up quickly.

It has proved to be a powerful model, and we are currently invested in 10 such companies worldwide, including three in Asia.

Catching It Early
Greater demands are being put on Asia’s healthcare services, driven by factors such as aging demographics and higher income levels. Lifestyle-related illnesses like cancer, heart disease and diabetes are also on the rise. To ensure better quality of life and manage healthcare costs in the long-term, it is vital to improve existing healthcare solutions – key to this is enabling prevention and early intervention, which Aviva Ventures is keen to support globally.

In March 2017, we invested in Owlstone Medical. The UK-based company is developing a breathalyser that can detect illnesses at an early stage, with a focus on cancer, inflammatory and infectious diseases, with the goal of saving 100,000 lives and $1.5 billion in healthcare costs.

Such disruption is also playing out in Asia, especially as healthcare hubs continue to emerge across the region. Countries such as Singapore, home to Aviva Venture’s Asia headquarters, are looking to provide industry-specific support, infrastructure and financing opportunities. The positive impact is already being felt – figures from Galen Growth Asia show that HealthTech funding in the region hit a record US$2.6 billion in 2017, with the number of deals almost doubling to 230 from 2016, according to Galengrowth.asia.

More recently, Aviva Ventures invested in Singapore-based Biofourmis. The digital healthcare firm has developed a sophisticated health analytics platform called biovitalsTM, which uses AI to integrate and analyse physiology data from clinical grade wearables. By monitoring the data, medical professionals can intervene before a critical medical event takes place, thus improving health outcomes and lowering costs.

Both Owlstone and Biofourmis define the type of companies that Aviva Ventures wants to invest in – visionary start-ups that harness technology to tackle real problems, can potentially disrupt the industry, and will ultimately benefit end consumers.

The Road Ahead
Part of our role at Aviva Ventures is to act as the window into the future of our industry. Our unique position as a VC fund allows us to support Aviva’s core businesses directly by sharing insights on trends and new directions, whilst actively looking to solve the issues our customers are facing.

While central to our investment mandate, healthcare is not the only area that we wish to explore. To us, insurance is an enabling catalyst for various emerging technologies and business models – be it autonomous vehicles, block-chain, or the sharing economy – as it provides a safety net for possible risks in these new technology-driven sectors.  

We are actively looking for ambitious entrepreneurs who are building leading companies in what we term ‘InsurTech 2.0’ – which refers to the next phase of InsurTech as we progress from propositions focusing on lead-generation and digital distribution, to those that seek to reimagine traditional insurance models.

The role of technology as well as how it improves our business and customer experience will be central to any investments we make. At Aviva Ventures, we want to open the door for start-ups that are solving real business problems with innovative solutions, and nowhere do we see more potential than in Asia.

Digital.aviva.com

About The Author
Fernand Lendoye is currently a Managing Director with Aviva Ventures, the £100m corporate venture capital fund of Aviva. He is passionate about new venture strategy and start-up financing, and is actively engaged in advising, mentoring, investing and partnering with ambitious entrepreneurs who have the drive to disrupt industries.

Prior to Aviva Ventures, Fernand was a seasoned financial services executive with global transactional and significant operating experience in shaping growth strategies and business development, opening new markets and driving business turnaround in Asia, Europe and North America. His broad transactional experience ranges from a £5bn+ transformative acquisition in the UK to a $20bn+ IPO in Asia.