Ian Chapman-Banks, a physicist and coder by training, set up a business when he was in his early 20s, when he was runner-up business person of the year.
This was followed by a career in the business world, when he worked for well-known companies including Xerox, Apple, Microsoft, Motorola, and Dell before founding HealthTech startup, SQREEM. Among the people from who he learnt; he includes Steve Jobs.
He says that SQREEM has developed an AI engine that can look for unknown unknowns. The startup has contracts with governments, US states, and the 12 largest pharmaceutical companies, spread across 40 companies. Its AI engine’s purpose is to understand what doctors are thinking and how to put content in front of them.
The SQREEM engine is also applied in digital marketing and digital media buying.
About Ian’s Early Life
Ian is British born, was educated in Britain right up to university, but his business career has primarily focused on Asia Pacific and the Middle East. He has lived in the UK, Middle East, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Shanghai and Singapore. He was in the process of uprooting from Singapore to New York when the COVID virus struck. He had no health insurance, and because of the virus, he found it hard to get the insurance. And the virus made him “very nervous.” He returned to Singapore where he is at this moment of this interview.
After graduating from Sheffield Hallam University with a degree in Applied Science and Coding, Ian Chapman-Banks setup a The Cheese and Wine Company, which provided the first cheese and wine shop on the high street in the UK. It was during his time running that when he was runner up for business person of the year.
Despite the plaudits of featuring so high in the business person of the year award, he says that he “didn’t know much about business.”
After selling The Cheese and Wine Company and then taking a pause in his career, he worked for Xerox in Dubai. He looked after Middle East business, before moving to Hong Kong where he focused on building and growing high speed, black & white and colour printing business in the emerging markets.
It was from Xerox that he joined Apple. His background in retail combined with experience at Xerox made him attractive to the company. As the man who handled Asia he used to attend many meetings at the Apple headquarters in Cupertino where he would listen to Steve Jobs and Tim Cook and other senior Apple people.
This was during the stage of Apple’s evolution when Steve Jobs had recently rejoined the company. He says that Apple was still a small company, with less than 100 people in the management team.
“I was in the groundbreaking discussions on digital hubs,” he says.
The 9/11 disaster led to an issue with his Visa application which “got in the way of working for Apple.”
Between Apple and founding SQREEM, he worked at Microsoft, where he was the Asia Regional Commercial Director. He then had a four-year stint at Motorola, followed by Global Foundries and Dell. For Dell he was GM, Executive Director & Head of Dell’s Commercial Partnership Development team and the smartphone/tablet business in Asia Pacific & Japan region.
An Inside Look Into His Personal Life
When Ian was working at Apple, the company was at the early stages of developing the iPod and investing in iTunes. “People used to ask Steve (Jobs) if he was going to do some research. And he replied ‘You can’t research something when people don’t know what they want.'”
Ian says that this was the best advice he has ever received.
Steve Jobs was an inspiration to Ian. He cites a video of Steve Jobs’ Commencement Speech at Harvard where he dropped out of college because he couldn’t afford it. Famously, Jobs said that “the moment I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn’t interest me and begin dropping in on the ones that looked far more interesting.” Among the lessons he did attend were classes on calligraphy where a Jobs says he learned about different fonts.
As for how Ian relaxes — the method be employs sounds very appealing. Since lockdown, he has saved himself 90 minutes a day commuting. He now spends this time exercising in Singapore’s botanical gardens. “That clears my mind,” he says.
And on Friday and Saturday nights, he “indulges in a Netflix binge with a small glass of wine.”
But because SQREEM works with several European clients, he says that he works until late, but that it is often quiet during the day.
Ian is a great believer in what he calls ‘connecting the dots.’ He says that without his retail experience and then his time at Apple, he would never have been able to connect those dots to create an AI tool focusing on consumer behaviour. He adds to that his experience in the B2B world and in e-commerce.
So it Steve Jobs is one source of inspiration, another is Ian’s 16-year-old daughter. She was a pre-professional ballerina at Boston before COVID, but moved with Ian to Singapore. He says that his inspiration is to help design a future for people like his daughter, where she can fulfil her needs.
In this near future, he says “You will either be a scientist or be creative in a TikTok kind of way.”
From a business perspective, however, Ian says that he is aligned to the British advertising guru, Sir Martin Sorrell, founder of marketing agency WPP. He says that “we are in some respects an independent agency in the digital advertising world, and it is hard for an independent to gain traction.”
But like Sir Martin Sorrell, Ian believes that many of the larger agencies have passed their sell-by-date. They don’t have digital native understanding.”
He contrasts this with SQREEM’s position in HealthTech. “For our clients, for big pharmaceuticals, we offer them a granular insight into what doctors are thinking, what they need, what patients are thinking and what they need.”
It is these insights from data that Ian says excite him. It ties in with the Jobs concept of people not knowing what they want. “Even if you interviewed someone on the street” you would miss important insights through asking the wrong question.
Ian Chapman-Banks had enormous and relevant experience before setting up SQREEM.
Maybe, however, there was a gap in his experience, and that was is in money raising. He has been raising money for the business since 2013, but had never done it before. “It is very difficult and soul-destroying,” he says.”
And for this reason, the book he recommends, is the ‘The secrets of Sand Hill Road’ by Scott Kupor. It’s a book venture capitalists and what they are thinking when investing in a startup.
On this theme, Ian also subscribes to several blogs, by venture capitalists Ben Horowitz, and Fred Wilson and technology and digital media analyst, Benedict Evans.
Where Is the Best Place to Run a HealthTech Business?
Ian says that Singapore is an amazing place for HealthTech, it’s small, and the ecosystem is well built. “But you have to go outside to scale.”
On the other hand, Ian says that the pharmaceutical companies have very collaborative cultures. Once a region or department within a pharma adopts an idea, they push it through many companies. SQREEM, for example, has worked in 40 countries with GSK.
“Once you get in, you can go global.”
On the other hand, Ian says that the US and in particular, New Jersey is where the big opportunity lies — “80 per cent of the healthcare ecosystem is in New Jersey,” says Ian. But it is a difficult market to crack. “You have to have a brilliant product, business model and be able to hit the ground running. And the meetings where you make your pitch are just 20 minutes long.”
Journey of the Company
Ian says that the SQREEM AI engine is designed to find what Donald Rumsfeld, the former US Secretary of Defence, calls “unknown unknowns.”
The platform can predict human behaviour; it is used by 12 of the largest pharmaceutical companies in 40 countries, and provides insights on what doctors are thinking and how to put content in front of then.
Ian says that the engine will morph into a product that can sit on a healthcare professionals desk or in a rural community. “We are currently reading every medical textbook and finding the commonality.
“The engine will be able to diagnose with 95 per cent accuracy — that is our mission.”
But to tell the story of the company’s journey, we begin with COVID. It is not the beginning of SQREEM, which was founded in 2013, but it does mark the beginning of one of the more important applications of its AI engine. And the take provides good insight into the business.
Ian was nervous, “terrified,” about COVID. After his rapid departure from the US to Singapore (he took the last plane out before lockdown,) he realised that no one in the US understood what was happening. “There was no conception of hygiene, of handwashing — people weren’t even talking about it.”
And it was in February that Ian realised how serious the virus could become. It was this experience that led to the development of a products building upon the SQREEM AI engine to be employed in the battle against COVID.
One of the core principles behind the SQREEM product is that to catch COVID; you have to be near someone who is positive for thirty minutes.
Ian says that in “the few months since we built the platform we have learned a tremendous amount about behaviour, especially geo/spatial and the platform has become very accurate at predicting high-risk interaction between people based on their devices.
The COVID tool builds on data SQREEM already had access to via the adtech ecosystem.
It is programmed so that anyone who is diagnosed as COVID positive in a hospital, are asked to provide their address and telephone number. The engine will calculate “with 95 per cent accuracy” and determine who they have been in contact with for more than 30 minutes. The engine then compares the movement of each device against every other devices. Ian says that the number of interactions are the same as the number of atoms in the universe.
The platform can trace the movements of people from their devices, but without knowing the identity of the people, so the data is anonymous. The platform is GDPR compliant respecting privacy.
The tool scores over traditional Bluetooth because Bluetooth can throw up false positives. For example, it may identify two people who have been in close contact, unaware that they were in separate cars in a traffic jam. The SQREEM tool can identify this issue.
The SQREEM tool is being employed in a Singapore, and Ian says that if it combined with existing track and trace solutions if can yield results that are 99.9 per cent accurate.
The resulting data can provide backward tracing — it plots the journeys of all people who have been in close contact with the device pertaining to the person who tested positive. But there is also a forward tracing solution, that can identify where the next outbreak will be.
Thoughts on COVID-19 Pandemic
When considering COVID, Ian looks at its impact from a HealthTech and digital marketing point of view.
He sees COVID not only accelerating digital technology in HealthTech but in advertising too.
“Three years ago the healthcare world had not really adopted AI, but since COVID it is astonishing how rapidly healthcare has gone digital,
“Healthcare has moved faster than banks, automotive and even e-commerce.”
He also believes that offices consisting of rows and rows of seats are past their sell-by date. He also thinks that even co-working is phasing out.
Instead Ian sees remote working continuing but with regular get-togethers in the style of a clubhouse, once or twice a week, “celebrating and solving problems. This will replace talking by the water cooler that feels so outdated, like a 1950s black and white movie.”
Partnership During Unprecedented Times
Ian says that for companies like SQREEM, relatively small companies, with limited resource, the Galen Growth Cohort acts as a multiplier.
The Cohort “can take what we do and magnify it across clients and investors.
The Cohort also put us in a room with Novartis, with whom we have now signed a contract.
About the Galen Growth HealthTech Cohort
Child Health Imprints is part of the Galen Growth HealthTech Cohort, the only acceleration programme built to scale digital health startups to be the next generation powering healthcare innovation in the New Normal in Asia. In 2020, Galen Growth is working with 25 HealthTech startups which will benefit from Galen Growth’s long-established and unmatched curated community of investors, corporate leaders and innovation teams and other essential stakeholders through our proven multi-channel tools. For more information, visit Galen Growth’s HealthTech Cohort webpage or read this article on the launch of the Galen Growth HealthTech Cohort.
Read our previous interview with Harpreet Singh, CEO & Co-Founder of Child Health Imprints here.
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