I first met Barry Shrier the year he founded GIANT health, through my work as the founder of Doctors 2.0 & You. While I attended the first edition, I had no idea until recently that Barry had been the founder of an electric car company from which he made a successful exit. Wikipedia led me on to that. Curious to know more, I interviewed Barry. As a communications partner, and having devoted the past twenty years to healthcare innovation, I support what GIANT is trying to achieve.
DENISE: What in your (non-healthcare) background led you to create Giant Health?
BARRY: I had several impactful “life changing experiences” between four and five years ago; these experiences led to the creation of GIANT health. My background is as an international technology entrepreneur. Years ago I created a group of five international technology engineering businesses creating carbon reduction solutions for the transport industry. We were passionately trying to develop new technologies to address the worldwide problems of climate change and global warming. I was lucky to have a very successful exit from that group of companies which I founded, and thus found myself able to retire with enough financial resources for me, my children, and my grandchildren. I went back to the USA to help my 86-year-old mother look after my 91-year-old father. This gave me extensive exposure to the healthcare industry for the first time in my life. I was seeing doctors, nurses, and visiting hospitals all the time… I realized how amazing, beautiful, noble, and passionate the healthcare sector is. I’m sure everyone in the world knew this already except me. I realized that you have millions of people working in healthcare who are dedicated to glorious motives like reducing suffering, saving lives, and improving the well-being of people without prejudice. Doctors don’t distinguish between the rich or the poor, between the clever or otherwise, they just work hard day in and day out saving lives, reducing pain, healing. Wow!
My father then passed away at age 92 and we celebrate our memories of his long, comfortable, happy life — due to health care services. I came back to the UK and decided to commit all of my entrepreneurial experiences, abilities, and resources into promoting health care and technology innovation. This was the origin of GIANT health.
While doctors can treat one patient at a time, technologies can help 100s, or millions. The promise of cost effectively delivering healthcare services to the poorest people around the world, at scale… how could you not want to dedicate yourself to this?
DENISE: What’s the origin of the name Giant Health?
BARRY: GIANT is the acronym for Global Innovation And New Technology. We like that and also we are thinking big and the word reflects that happily. I also like the phrase from the famous scientist Sir Isaac Newton: “if I have accomplished anything in my life it is because I stand upon the shoulders of giants. “
Every day at GIANT health we meet some of the world’s greatest healthcare professionals, and technology innovation entrepreneurs, and others. We all benefit from the magnificent abilities and accomplishments of all these talented people.
DENISE: How did you determine the formula, the venue?
/BARRY: We are about innovation. It’s in our name. We therefore believe strongly that our events themselves need to communicate innovation. We never want to hold our events at ordinary venues. We don’t want to be another international health care tech tradeshow in a gigantic, boring exhibition hall near some dull airport. This is why we have held our events in artistic, fashionable, trendy neighborhoods, using venues that are a little bit dirty, crumbling, …. communicating new,
different, challenging, innovation.
Let’s remind the largest pharma and medical device companies that the largest, richest, most successful business in human history was created by a 19-year-old in his father’s garage. It was not the output of global “innovation teams in huge corporations”.
We hope our choices of venues are useful to communicate central ideas about how innovation is itself messy. Innovation happens at the fringes. Innovation is multidisciplinary.
Our very first event two years ago, which was immensely popular and successful, was in a rather rundown nightclub, complete with smelly beer soaked carpet. I remember a very senior international leader from one of the top 10 Pharma businesses in the world talking to me at that event. He was disdainful about our choice of venue. He looked around and said “ I work for one of the wealthiest healthcare companies on Earth. Normally the events I attend are in five star hotels. His boss looked at him and then looked around at the GIANT health event and our innovative festival celebrating how innovation actually occurs. She then looked at her colleague the man who made the disparaging comment, and she said “yes that’s our problem.”
DENISE: How did you meet up with the amazing Pr. Shafi Ahmed?
/BARRY: One of the many wonderful, attractive, and endearing characteristics of Professor Shafi Ahmed is his genuine humility and his honest open approachability. I remember making contact with Professor Ahmed to talk to him about GIANT health, and he immediately invited me to his office and extended a warm welcome and listened passionately and with intent about my story. He then immediately agreed to join GIANT health and to serve as our chairman. He has remained our chairman to this day. Like most great people, Shafi seems to have endless time and interest in what you are doing whilst he is accomplishing hundreds of important things every day, every week, and every month,
We are privileged to have Professor Ahmed as our chairman and find it very motivating. His contribution to the success of GIANT health is immeasurable and we are grateful.
DENISE: What has been changing at every edition, in terms of how the event is conceived
/BARRY: GIANT health aim is to be Europe’s largest and most valuable annual event about healthtech innovation. Every year we update our agenda to make the program more attractive to a larger audience. This year we are introducing new whole day conferences at GIANT like one about nutrition technology. We also address the most important technology issues around the world as they relate to healthcare, such as blockchain and artificial intelligence.
And because GIANT is about innovation, we also deliberately throw in a few wild cards every year.
This year we have a conference about medicinal marijuana. What if in the next 10 years many hundreds of millions of dollars of painkillers sales will decline because of medicinal marijuana ?
So it might seem a little bit 1960s hippy to have a conference track about medicinal marijuana at an important serious international health care tech innovation event, but it is of fundamental importance to the global pharma industry.
DENISE: Running a conference is a lot of work. What is the most fun for you?
We love driving innovation as an event business focusing exclusively on healthcare technology. Last year we had a fashion show at GIANT. What we are doing is bringing illustrations of great technology innovation from other industries and helping people in the healthcare sector to learn about these innovations which can inform directly new health tech innovation. For me that is extremely enjoyable and rewarding.
Also, of course, every year hundreds of businesses tell us that because of GIANT they have found new investors or found new, superb, ambitious talent to recruit or identified a new international distribution partner. So it is extremely gratifying that people often tell us how directly valuable GIANT health has been to them.
And lastly, the greatest pleasure for me is to bring people together as a result of my passionate love of the healthcare industry. It’s a joy and a pleasure for me to create GIANT health every year alongside the magnificent team we have. I love everyone who works at GIANT. Over 175 people are involved in the design and production of GIANT health every year. From our 30+ full-time team members to the hundred+ ambitious medicine and science students who work hard to assist in the delivery of the event. Last year we had 310 internationally famous speakers. This year we have the largest most important diabetes company on earth as one of our valued sponsors. Wow! It’s a humbling honor for me to be able to bring all these people together and to deliver Europe’s greatest festival of health tech innovation.