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With all eyes on vaccines and treatments for COVID during the last two years, almost everyone now understands the importance of clinical trials to the scientific discovery and drug development process. Without them, life-saving treatments don’t reach the hands of everyday people. Yet most clinical trials are flawed, concentrated in urban areas with participants not representative of the true population.
Only about 2% of doctors today participate in research, lacking the time, funds, and support to launch structured trials. Topography Health wants to fix this problem. Their tech-and-service platform trains and supports community physicians to conduct diverse and inclusive clinical trials in their communities.
BCV led Topography’s $21.5M Series A because we recognize the power of a distributed clinical research model, but also because we believe in the founding team. We recently sat down with Co-Founder and CEO Alexander Saint-Amand to discuss how to get go-to-market right in the healthcare industry.
Before co-founding Topography, you worked for nearly 20 years at industry insights company GLG, where you assembled a network of 170,000 physician experts. Why did you make the jump to entrepreneurship?
For me I’m back to my roots. My co-founders Andrew Kirchner and Mac Parish are all connected to our mission. My mom got very sick when I was in college. She had two problems, on top of her illness itself. First, doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Second, after we figured it out, we couldn’t get her into a trial to test whether a new treatment might help. My mom’s first problem led to starting GLG, with a network of physicians.
Now at Topography we’re tackling the second problem, which is the severe lack of physicians involved in trials, and, as a result, the subsequent lack of access for patients.
What unique challenges do startups in the medical field face and how are you tackling them?
Focus is a tough concept in a healthcare startup. You have to focus on one challenge, but you have to engage the whole ecosystem, and the whole human experience for a patient or provider. We focus on creating a new and incredible experience for doctors doing research, and their patients. But we work with doctors who work in practices and systems, with highly varying degrees of experience and infrastructure.
We’re building Topography around how doctors already work, integrating it with the tech platforms they use, and ensuring that the overall experience is, for lack of a better word, joyful. That takes both focus and breadth.
What is one decision you got right in the early days of company building?
Our team. My co-founders and I have distinct and complementary skills, but, most importantly, we really like one another and work well together. We’ve all built companies and products at different stages, from seed stage all the way through to large companies.
This is my second company and I bring global scale and experience with physicians to the table, but Andrew and Mac recently co-founded a company together and have led product and operations at early and mid-stage companies. Their company-building experience was critical. And, more importantly, our other earliest team members were the best decisions we’ve made as a team so far. They bring deep experience in so many aspects of clinical research, data science, and digital health.
What is one thing you got wrong and how did you fix it?
We learned the hard way to never end the learning phase. Before we launched Topography, we were full-time students of the clinical trial space. We did a lot of work to understand where trials go wrong. We’re really happy with our conclusions from that phase. But then we went to market and stopped the formal learning process.
It’s not that we weren’t listening, we just stopped carving out deliberate time to probe new ideas, look at adjacent products, or better understand a customer space outside of our pitches and meetings.
After six months in the market, we reinstated an “entrepreneur in residence” mindset. It’s amazing what a difference this has made.
What is one piece of advice you would give to any new founder?
Make sure you are focused on a solution that makes sense for actual human beings, from the start to the end of their experience with you. Lots of products — in B2B healthcare in particular — are good for the system, but are not great for the people who actually use them. So many doctors told us about clinical trials software they were forced to use that just didn’t fit with their workflows.
Many clinical trials platforms are more of a hindrance than a help. Some 98% of doctors don’t do clinical research, but that’s not because they don’t want to, and it’s not because others haven’t tried to help. But almost all that help has been piecemeal. Topography is 100% focused on delivering an incredible experience for doctors, and therefore for their patients.
Topography is a full-stack, white-glove clinical trials product and service experience that identifies, trains, and supports community physicians to expand their clinical research capabilities and scale clinical trials in their communities. Here’s our take.