“I’ve set up a med-tech company called Aparito”… exclaimed Elin while we were storm bound in Calvi at the North West corner of Corsica hiding from a November mistral. This was the first time I’d heard the name. Like so many things that creep up on us in life, I had no idea what a big part of my life it would become! The same could be said for Elin…
“What does Aparito mean?” I asked, not wanting to admit I was not even sure what med-tech meant! “Apar is derived from the Latin “apparatus” Elin replied. That sounded very high brow I thought… “what about “ito?“ I asked…. “it rhymes with my favourite drink Mojito!!”.
“What will Aparito do?” I asked… “It will make a positive impact for patients living with a life-limiting rare disease through technical remote patient monitoring and data collection/analytical solutions” was the reply.
Little did I know then, that the structure of the name described the values Elin lives her life by, which has enabled her to achieve so much, and those same values would be transferred into the business as it grew from strength to strength. Those values included an immense drive, professionalism combined with an understanding and respect of regulatory/compliance, compassion and a massive sense of humour, especially at the most challenging of times.
Elin had demonstrated those attributes the night before as we had sailed up the West coast of Corsica in a full gale combined with a massive thunderstorm. A regular occurrence in the Mediterranean in November, but hard work in a 36-foot, 50-year-old classic yacht. That was when I realised Elin was the real deal….
That night was mid-November 2014, just two weeks after Aparito had been incorporated and just eight weeks since a bubbly soul, with bright red lipstick approached me after a prize giving in Sardinia and asked if I would teach her how to sail two handed. At the time I laughed it off, but somehow, two weeks later we were competing in our first short-handed yacht race on the Solent.
Early in 2015 Aparito received its first modest investment from Bethnal Green Ventures along with an office space in Somerset House. Elin had formed Aparito with her co-founder Ed Freed, and the team of two soon grew to five, building the tech which would become Atom5™. The team secured its first commercial sales in that first year – a rare achievement within the med-tech space to become revenue generating in its first 12 months.
In the same year, Elin and I raced 2 handed together completing a Royal Ocean Racing Club season including the epic Fastnet. At the end of November, we found ourselves in Lanzarote preparing to race across the Atlantic alone. As we prepared to leave I remember sitting in the marina splicing some new sheets when Elin popped her head out of the hatch to announce Aparito had been selected to join a Merck Sharp & Dohme/Telefonica backed accelerator
Our Atlantic adventure was a magical 19 days at sea. But as so often happens when you arrive ashore after a long trip at sea, challenges awaited. Perhaps Aparito’s first major hurdle. Whilst we had been at sea the contracts for the accelerator had been produced but Ed Freed had also been offered a new job in the Big Apple.
As we sailed north through the Windward islands and on to the Leeward islands and Antigua over Christmas 2015, it became apparent as emails and messages crossed the Atlantic that Ed was going to have to leave Aparito and that the accelerator contract terms were very onerous.
I have learnt from my own hard experience that when business partnerships come to an end it’s very easy for the situation to become extremely acrimonious. It was a great endorsement of Ed’s character that they parted on such good terms. Ed’s unselfishness to act in the best interests of the company’s vision and not be obsessed by personal gain was humbling. I know that Elin will forever be grateful to Ed for what he did back then.
The negotiation of the accelerator contracts was my first involvement in the commercialisation of Aparito. Although we managed to achieve a few concessions our negotiating position was not great and Elin and I both knew the terms were not great but Elin needed the investment to grow the business, and a lot of mentorship and partnership opportunities were promised.
Our Atlantic and Caribbean adventure concluded on better terms as I proposed to Elin on the dock in Antigua (where she had previously finished her Atlantic rowing challenge in 2008) and she said “YES”. We were back in Antigua two months later when we were one of the first 2 handed crews to ever complete the Caribbean 600 yacht race.
Back in London, Aparito now had to become VAT registered. Aparito’s bookkeeper had recently left to have a baby so I volunteered to step in. I set Aparito up on Sage and the rest is history! I think it is fair to say 2016 was a stagnant year for the company although the prime offices in Warren Street and then Air Street in Piccadilly were plush and there were some great social events. But the promised mentorship and partnerships did not really materialise. Our reservations were proved right, and we negotiated termination of the contracts in early 2017.
Personal highlights of 2016 however included Elin and I getting married in a Welsh lighthouse as well as finishing 2nd overall in the Royal Ocean Racing Club 2 handed points championship. During this period Elin realised that the labour cost of building the tech would make it impossible to scale the business organically and the long process of raising equity finance began.
2017 was a brutal year for Elin, with meeting after meeting ending with a “come back and see us when you have a revenue of £1m +” or even worse; broken promises and unanswered emails. For me, this period was spent building endless financial models with varying revenue forecasts, burn rates and runways to find a viable way forward for her.
The first breakthrough came when the signing of a major commercial study led to a commitment from the Development Bank of Wales, but this required match funding so the hunt to find investors continued. The situation was compounded by cashflow pressures to grow and deliver the tech.
Then a breakthrough seemed imminent… a social impact life science investor committed to invest! It appeared all the hard work was finally done, but little did we know, with the verbal commitment a decision was made to invest in an office for the tech team. The investment from DBW required a head office in Wales and with the tech team all living in NW England, Wrexham was chosen as the HQ (Elin was also born at the local hospital there)
The promised investor then stopped replying to emails and was never heard from again. This happened in August 2017 during the Fastnet race in which Elin and I were racing in, and again after a great five days at sea, challenges awaited
A change in strategy was required and a meeting with Adelpha led to that change. Rather than one big institutional investor, Adelpha would introduce Elin to several high networth individuals willing to invest.
“Do you want to come and live in Berlin for three months?” Elin asked in September 2017. The end of 2017 and the start of 2018 was certainly an intense time for Aparito. Some strategic investment from Bayer Pharmaceuticals came with a three-month stint for Elin and I exploring partnership opportunities in Berlin. Adelpha delivered, and by the end of November the finance round was fully subscribed and would complete in January 2018 in the nick of time. A trip to Helsinki to attend the tech extravaganza was followed by a trip to Cape Town to kick off Aparito’s biggest study at that time to study epilepsy in African children.
Aparito really suffered again in 2018. Elin was exhausted from the investment chase. Atom5™ was developing and received classification as a SaMD in 2018, but the challenges were taking their toll. The team in Wrexham was growing – but so was the burn rate and digital health was only just getting traction, so new contracts were very slow in closing.
Business pressures meant Elin and I had not raced in the first part of 2018, but wanderlust led us both to desperately want another adventure and we decided to have a crack at the Round Great Britain and Ireland race. As we had not raced for a while, we decided not to attempt it alone. Elin had sailed with our friend Pip Hare to become the first all-female crew to win the Three Peaks Yacht Race in 2017. Pip agreed to join us in our round Britain adventure.
It was some adventure, but the pressures ashore took the gloss off for Elin. The funds which had been so hard to raise were evaporating fast and all the pressure of new sales was sitting on her shoulders alone.
For most of the 10 day voyage we were out of radio contact but as we approached the Norfolk coast on our way down the North Sea, we were running later than planned and email exchange started to arrange for one of the team to cover Elin for a meeting in Sweden two days later. But none of the team would go so as we sailed along the south coast, we had to pull into Eastbourne so Elin could travel straight to Gatwick and fly to Sweden. I continued single handed to complete the lap, but we had to retire from the race.
Those who know Elin will know how much that hurt her, she does not ‘do’ giving up, and it was painfully hard for both of us. But the experience was a watershed and we realised things had to change. The hard decision was made to cut the head count and raise another equity finance round to take the business to the next level.
A second larger investment round closed in April 2019 – Thanks to Wealthclub. In September 2019 I started to be involved with Aparito full time, and the last year has been an immense adventure. One that I could never have imagined.
As Aparito approached it’s 5th Birthday, a birthday conference was held to showcase its clinical achievements. Although the company had grown particularly in offering innovative clinical solutions since the dark day a little over 12 months earlier as we pulled into Eastbourne and aborted our lap of the UK, our tech was still not where it needed to be to take it to the next level as the digital health market started to mature.
Little did we know at the time but global events in 2020 would make that a very poignant decision. Up until this point Elin had found being CEO of Aparito a very lonely place, therefore the first job was to restructure the board into one that could support and advise top management.
Next was to invest in our tech platform Atom5™ so that it truly delivered its 5 features of: Patient facing app, Clinician dashboard, Patient dashboard, Wearable integration and Data analytics to deliver tech solutions driven by clinical and regulatory requirements and not a clinical solution driven by tech. The tech team was restructured and reliance on outside contractors reduced. To deliver our operation the team has grown 200%. Data science and medical writing colleagues have joined the team to maximise data value for our clients. Our footprint in Wrexham doubled – all during a period of a global pandemic.
This investment in Atom5™ has paid dividends as we have been able to rapidly deploy studies in all four corners of the world in ground-breaking studies such as gene therapy and stem based therapy. As well as delivering our first NHS contracts within just two weeks. We have also been able to provide a tech solution to Pip Hare as she faces her greatest challenge sailing around the world single handed competing in the Vendee Globe 2020.
Our next mammoth task was to ensure our Atom5™ tech and process was regulatory compliant. Over the last three months we have achieved both ISO27001 and ISO13485 accreditation to compliment our CE+ certification.
Now Aparito enters its seventh financial year, we are focused on building our Business Development and Sales teams to ensure that we deliver Elin’s vision of ‘making a positive impact to patients living with a life limiting rare disease through technical remote patient monitoring and data collection/analytical solutions.’
As I contemplate the last six years from a personal perspective, whilst I was always very happy to give Elin the benefit of my hard earned business experience, both successes and perhaps more importantly, failures, I didn’t think a full time position would suit me; however being a part of this adventure has been amazingly rewarding and I am looking forward to being part of growing Aparito into a viable scalable business, that achieves the company’s mission to make a positive impact to patients. I am also very much looking forward to more sailing adventures with my wife… one day soon!