NZ Life & Leisure - - Contents - WORDS E M MA R AWSON

En­tre­pre­neur­ial clev­er­ness

AH­MAD JUBBAWEY DOESN’T mind be­ing out­side of his com­fort zone. In fact, he thrives on it. When he moved to New Zealand from war-torn Iraq with his fam­ily at age 12, Aotearoa felt like a very for­eign land. “Ev­ery­thing was just so dif­fer­ent,” he says. Now 33 and the CEO of med­i­cal tech com­pany Vensa Health, Ah­mad says his early ex­pe­ri­ences have made him bet­ter at busi­ness in the ever-chang­ing tech­nol­ogy sec­tor.

“Grow­ing up in Iraq there were bombs and ex­plo­sions in our neigh­bour­hood all the time and there was a con­stant el­e­ment of un­cer­tainty,” says Ah­mad.

“An ex­pe­ri­ence like mine makes you ap­pre­ci­ate life and re­al­ize it’s easy to get too com­fort­able and to rest on your lau­rels. I think trav­el­ing and ex­pe­ri­enc­ing other cul­tures chal­lenges you. My ex­pe­ri­ences have cer­tainly helped me to tackle un­cer­tain things in busi­ness such as man­ag­ing cash flow. It also helps you to be in­no­va­tive.”

Vensa Health is an Auck­land-based tech­nol­ogy com­pany that pro­vides text mes­sage and on­line book­ing ser­vices for med­i­cal cen­tres and gov­ern­ment health or­ga­ni­za­tions through­out New Zealand. Vensa’s TXT2Re­mind sys­tem al­lows med­i­cal staff to text pa­tients their ap­point­ment re­minders and lab re­sults, and en­ables pa­tients to re­ply back to the med­i­cal cen­tre. The ser­vice is now used by 70 per cent of the 1010 surg­eries in New Zealand – not bad for an idea that be­gan as a univer­sity as­sign­ment 12 years ago.

The idea came when Ah­mad was re­ceiv­ing treat­ment for a wrist in­jury. His phys­io­ther­a­pist com­plained that the ab­sent-minded com­puter sci­ence stu­dent was miss­ing many of his ap­point­ments. “It be­gan as a sixweek as­sign­ment with a col­league, and we built a text mes­sage re­minder sys­tem. At the end of the pro­ject, my physio said to me, ‘You need to cre­ate a com­pany so I can send you an in­voice for this work.’ That hadn’t even oc­curred to me.” El­e­va­tor pitch

Vensa Health’s TXT2Re­mind sys­tem is a sub­scrip­tion-based ser­vice. The price varies de­pend­ing on the num­ber of pa­tients signed up for re­minders and re­sults mes­sages. The ser­vice is de­signed to im­prove ap­point­ment at­ten­dance and re­duce the amount of phone calls for med­i­cal re­cep­tion­ists. In Novem­ber, Vensa Health launched, a new tech­nol­ogy re­source de­signed to in­te­grate with other health apps. The first ser­vice avail­able through the sys­tem is a free on­line book­ing pro­gramme al­low­ing pa­tients to book their own ap­point­ments. Vensa will be rolling out other ser­vices on over the next few years. Tail­winds

There is sig­nif­i­cant up­take of the TXT2Re­mind ser­vice. Short-staffed med­i­cal cen­tres have been quick to uti­lize the tech­nol­ogy. A large con­tract with a gov­ern­ment health or­ga­ni­za­tion in Vensa’s early years helped bring in other big clients. Head­winds

Vensa Health’s new on­line book­ing ser­vice on is free and is cur­rently gen­er­at­ing no rev­enue. Ah­mad plans to grow this plat­form into a “freemium” model, where some cus­tomers pay for spe­cial­ized pre­mium ser­vices. There is a skill short­age of soft­ware en­gi­neers in New Zealand, and fund­ing de­vel­op­ments like this is ex­pen­sive. So far, Vensa Health has paid for its re­search and devel­op­ment through its own rev­enue, and with Cal­laghan In­no­va­tion grants. In the fu­ture, Ah­mad may need to seek fur­ther in­vest­ment. “Ki­wis are very en­tre­pre­neur­ial, but we don’t have a lot of in­vest­ment cap­i­tal to go around. At some point, our busi­ness might need to look over­seas for in­vest­ment, al­though we’d pre­fer to stay in New Zealand.” What next?

Ah­mad is look­ing to launch Vensa Health’s ser­vices in the Aus­tralian mar­ket shortly, and he’s ey­ing other off­shore mar­kets. The United States is a huge op­por­tu­nity. But for the mean­time he’s stay­ing clear due to the un­cer­tainty in the Amer­i­can health sec­tor. “I al­ways dreamed of break­ing through to the States but there’s too much po­lit­i­cal tur­moil right now.”

70% of med­i­cal cen­tres in New Zealand use the TXT2Re­mind sys­tem. 40% growth year- on- year. $1 mil­lion an­nual spend on re­search and devel­op­ment. 20% of R& D costs are cov­ered by a three- year grant from Cal­laghan In­no­va­tion. 20 staff

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