The goal of crowdfunding platform Wellfundr is to enable the general public to finance innovations in the health sector that could change their lives or those of their friends and family.
Interview with Fabrice Nabet, founder of the health sector crowdfunding platform Wellfundr, on the sidelines of the Health 2.0 2015 event, which took place in Barcelona on 18-20 May.
L’Atelier: What was your reason for setting up a crowdfunding platform dedicated to health?
Fabrice Nabet: To start with, I’ve always been immersed in the digital world. I used to work for [French multinational advertising and public relations company] Publicis, before joining [heath-tech web] startup Betterise, under the leadership of [French surgeon and radio and TV health presenter] Michel Cymès. I then founded my own consulting company for crowdfunding which led to the launch of the Wellfundr platform in April 2014. After moving around in the health sector funding environment for a while, I spotted what was going wrong: there were a good number of people putting forward health sector projects for funding that were rather amateurish, and that those who were supposed to be making the selections were simply not doing their job properly.
Our platform is geared to all types of audiences – startups, charitable organisations or students looking to fund a study trip linked to health, and also health sector professionals looking for funding to develop medical equipment. In September we’ll be launching an equity funding version of our platform and from then on we’ll also be reaching out to players in the biotechnology and ‘medtech’ fields.
This is why, despite the fact that we’ve received over eighty proposals since launching the platform, Wellfundr has put only fifteen or so online. The proposals were all scrutinised by our network of scientists and doctors and some were rejected for scientific reasons, some for ethical reasons – such as projects designed to study human cloning, or sometimes outright scams.
Isn’t there a danger that this kind of platform, coupled with the diversity and huge increase in medical apps, will encourage non-specialists to try to deliver healthcare?
Well, it’s true that limits on the use of technology need to be set. We have to remember that no technology can replace a doctor and no app is a substitute for proper screening. Only a doctor should be guiding preventative action or providing direct healthcare.
“No technology can replace a doctor and no app is a substitute for proper screening.”
However, technology can assist healthcare practitioners when it’s used properly. These days decision-making is a highly complicated task for doctors, and technology can help them take the right decision.
One would tend to think that major institutions such as pharmaceutical firms and universities ought to be funding this type of project. What role do such organisations play in crowdfunding initiatives?
Well, crowdfunding is a real profession in its own right, providing support to those seeking funds. Major institutions often lack the necessary skills in this field and crowdfunding is able to meet a need that cannot otherwise be met. As a crowdfunding platform, we don’t position ourselves as competitors to those organisations but see our job as a means of collaboration. The ideal scenario would be to get together with the major players that make huge investments in the health sector in order to streamline their approach. That would also help to burnish the credentials of our platform.
Crowdfunding also helps to meet the demands of society at large. People nowadays have enormous expectations. So we now need to involve the general public in health sector ventures, as these are the very people who are going to benefit directly from them.
‟We now need to involve the general public in health sector ventures, as these are the very people who are going to benefit directly from them.”
Do you believe that the current state of crowdfunding in France is conducive to this type of initiative?
Crowdfunding in France is still in its infancy, especially in the health sector, and many project owners struggle to obtain backing. The main obstacle to crowdfunding in our country is cultural. French people’s attitude to money is quite different from in the English-speaking countries, for example. Most pledges on our platform from French providers are anonymous, which goes to show that it’s still not easy to let it be known that you’re financing a business venture.
However, France is gradually opening up. Crowdfunding is basically all about trust, and – little by little – trust is now slowly building. There is clear evidence of this. Since we launched the platform, the two first projects that went online were a success, with pledges totalling around €26,000, whereas the average funding total on this type of platform works out between €3,000 and €5,000. So these initial results are highly encouraging.