TIN Member Spotlight: Volpara Health Technologies

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Annual Technology Investment Network (TIN) survey launches this week into a changed world

Volpara Health Technologies has created a groundbreaking integrated breast care platform, powered by AI for better breast cancer imaging and screening. It is technology that made the company the star of the 2020 TIN Report.

Volpara took out the top position on the Absolute IT Supreme Scale-Ups list last year with revenue growth of 152.8%, and climbed an impressive 54 places up the TIN200 rankings to win the TIN Rocket Award. 

Still, these achievements were but minor milestones on the journey that the ASX-listed company led by Dr Ralph Highnam has been travelling since its founding in 2009. In Highnam’s view, the company’s greatest achievement has been helping millions of women around the world get better screening for breast cancer and saving lives.  

Since buying rival US companies MRS Systems in 2019 and CRA Health in February 2021, Volpara has grown a dominant market position in the US and benefitted from the increased acceleration towards digitalization and personalization that has occurred in the healthcare industry since then. 

We asked Dr Highnam to share more about what’s happened with the company this year, and what’s in store for the year ahead. 

Volpara has had another big year, following your stellar performance on the TIN200 in 2020. What have been the key business decisions that have kept the company on track in these challenging times and driving towards growth?   

FY2021 (to end March 2021) ended very strongly for us with substantial organic and inorganic growth, but we had to make hard decisions throughout the year to ensure we got that growth and continued to meet our purpose. 

When the pandemic first hit, we did nothing for the first few weeks, but once it became clear the world had changed, we acted quickly to become “digital first” – no more trade shows and no more site visits meant on-line advertising, remote calls, webinars and so on were the key to sales. To achieve that, we ended up switching out one high-performing traditional US sales team for another more digital-friendly version. That meant letting some friends go, but emerging stronger for it. 

In parallel to that, we’ve also done a lot of work on scalability. That meant launching a new platform that allowed us to much more easily install, monitor and maintain our software in hospitals across the US. The downside was increased cyber-security forms to work through, but we’ve been committed to information security for many years now and its an investment we’re starting to really see bear fruit as a differentiator versus competitors.

Volpara was founded on your breakthrough research in medical physics and artificial intelligence at the University of Oxford and continues to this day with the strong results received for your ‘Project DENSE’ breast cancer detection trial in the Netherlands. How do you keep Research & Development as a core focus for Volpara, while also delivering results for your shareholders?

At our core we are a science company and it’s that science that gives us a key edge over any competition. We have over 400 publications now, with close to 200 peer-reviewed publications, most of them reported by independent academics granted access to our software.  

A recent survey of AI companies in medical imaging by some Dutch academics demonstrated clearly that Volpara is a world-leader in building AI that actually works. Those papers are needed to convince public breast cancer screening programs to seriously consider changing how they run, and they are key to us getting the early-adopters in the US. So, we remain committed to science and seeing people test out our work, because we know that’s the route to commercial success and shareholder value. 

In terms of R&D, we are a very innovative company and we take the view that we will not rest until deaths from cancer are far lower than they are today. We are also aware that if you stop innovating, you will get caught in our field, so we are always looking to change the game before anyone gets close. We have so much more to do. 

You’ve made some announcements recently around Board changes that show you are looking to build on the company’s growth in the US over the year ahead. What are your goals for this market in the year ahead, and how do you see maintaining your New Zealand base as supporting those efforts? 

Dr Ralph Highnam -  Volpara Health Technologies

90% of our revenues come from the US, and about half of our employees are now based in the US. We recently appointed Ann Custin, former CFO at Siemens to our Board to bring in even more US expertise. Currently, 33% of US women are screened using at least one of our software products. That’s a good start, but we’re committed as a company to getting that number north of 50% to ensure many more women receive the benefits of Volpara-level breast care.

Now, being a half NZ/US company does have its challenges, but also its benefits, and our HQ is firmly in Wellington and most of our funding comes via investors on the ASX. The core culture of the company is Kiwi. We have weekly Whānau meetings for example, and “Being Whānau” is one of our key values that we look for in employees. During the pandemic, having the Wellington office mostly open has presented normality to our US employees and been a real source of strength to the wider company.  

Also, many of the innovations we’ve done were very normal for Kiwis to do – move to the Cloud, use a SaaS business model – but were revolutionary in the US medical imaging market. So Volpara is winning because we have a winning culture and a blend of Kiwi/US perspectives. Diversity is strength! 

Your listing on the ASX in 2016 was clearly a significant moment for Volpara in terms of sourcing capital for driving growth. What are your top business priorities for this coming financial year that will help the company continue to raise capital and increase your share price?

We’ve raised over $130M and acquired two US companies over the last couple of years.  

Our priority currently is getting the full company integrated and focused onto one vision, and for us that’s changing the paradigm of cancer from early detection to prevention through what we term ‘Predict | Monitor | Detect & Empower’. 

Our high-level goals for this year include: 

  • Hitting over NZ$25M in accounting revenue 
  • Doing more in Lung Cancer 
  • Starting to collate and use the phenomenal amount of data we have available to us
The hunt for talent and skilled staff continues to be one of the biggest challenges reported by many New Zealand-based tech exporters this year. Is this also true for Volpara?  While you have around half your staff in the US, what strategies have you adopted to find new local talent and retain staff in this challenging environment?
Talent is certainly harder to find, but we’re on a mission to Save Families from Cancer, and that’s a pretty powerful motivator for people to come and join us. We’ve also, of course, added benefits and been competitive on wages, and have stunning offices in downtown Wellington, whilst allowing people whatever flexibility they need. 
Click here to view the TINTech Directory listing to learn more about Volpara Health.

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