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Meet the women building a new way to deal with cancer

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The latest in our Ambition A.M. series sees Jennifer Sieg speak to the women behind a virtual cancer support centre

A pot of coffee wasn’t the only thing brewing in the background the day Kelly McCabe and Morgan Fitzsimons sat down to chat at their local cafe. “There’s a thing…” Fitzsimons recalled hearing her colleague say before being presented with an out-of-the-blue business opportunity.

As one ‘thing’ led to another, the now-co-founders of Perci Health – a virtual cancer support clinic – quickly realised the difference in their skill sets would soon become their formula for success. Especially when the mission is to leverage technology in a way that easily connects patients with human practitioners.

The two agreed the past three years have been worthwhile – thanks to the resilience that comes with “throwing spaghetti at the wall” – but launching a paid-for healthcare platform in Britain wasn’t an easy task.

The formula for success

Disruptive innovation often comes when two entrepreneurs are committed to making a change. At least, that’s what happened when Fitzsimons and McCabe realised there was a gap that needed filling within the healthcare sector.

McCabe, who spent over a decade working in the NHS and private sector, spotted the need for digital innovation when she noticed a growing number of cancer ‘survivors’ – a word Fitzsimons admitted not everyone likes – still seeking guidance after their treatments ended.

But, like any new business venture, the idea to provide accessible healthcare options to these patients could only go so far without a strong plan in motion.

McCabe knew she needed Fitzsimons’ digital-led background to make it work. “Leaning too heavily into clinical without thinking about the member experience, or building a great product but without the clinical know-how can all be disastrous,” McCabe said.

“I believe we’ve got the perfect balance, further complemented now by our growing team,” she added.

Fitzsimons agreed as she said the two often laugh over how she has personally “gotten really good at getting people to buy stuff they don’t need” throughout her previous digital marketing roles within online retailers, including a full three years at Asos.

Now using what she called her “evil skills for good,” Fitzsimons said much of what Perci Health had as a barrier from the start was the need to educate others on what they were trying to achieve – and in this case, what patients needed.

“There’s an assumption that this is being taken care of somewhere, everyone assumes that someone else is doing it,” Fitzsimons said.

“So you talk to private healthcare, and they’re like ‘oh, don’t the NHS do it?’ and then you talk to the NHS and they’re like ‘don’t charities do it?’ and then you talk to charities, and they’re like ‘don’t GPs do it?’” she continued.

Fitzsimons considered much of this back-and-forth to be like a game of tennis, but it wasn’t until they spoke with the patients directly that they realised they were the first to offer this post-treatment guidance.

Despite inevitable challenges on the horizon, the two worked their way through to “regroup, regather and pivot,” Fitzsimons said while hand-gesturing a bumpy ride.

Leveraging technology

With little hesitation, Fitzsimons said the biggest challenge to date was setting out to build a paid-for healthcare system in a country where healthcare access is available for free.

“Who is going to pay for this is the hardest thing,” she added. “Obviously we found some routes to market, and I guess that’s my bread and butter, but healthcare is a specific challenge.”

The ultimate goal, Fitzsimons said, is to give everyone affordable access to the healthcare they need – hopefully through a future partnership with the NHS – but to do that they need to get their feet off the ground, first.

“Working out who is willing to pay for this care so that the person with cancer doesn’t have to and so we can reach the scale we want to has been challenging,” McCabe added.

So far, Perci Health has partnered with large insurers – including Healix Health and L&G – to allow each insurer’s patients free access to their platform’s support.

These continued achievements and partnerships throughout the hardships help make way for Perci Health’s “longevity,” Fitzsimons continued.

“It’s the best start to Perci,” she admitted. “If we can do it here we can do it anywhere.”

Indeed, the two aren’t the only ones confident in their abilities, as Perci Health closed its most recent seed funding round of £3.4m by Octopus Ventures with plans to grow their technological roadmap, and team, even more

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