Working towards a future where people can live (and die) healthy

An interview with Tomoko Inoue, CEO of OMRON Ventures.
By Dean Koh
01:45 am
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Above photo: Tomoko Inoue, CEO of OMRON Ventures. Credit: OMRON Ventures

With a background in biomedical science and rich experience in medical device venture capital investment, Tomoko Inoue possesses the technical, operational and business knowledge of what makes medtech startups successful – a role perfectly suited for her current role as the CEO of OMRON Ventures. 

She believes that in a hyper aging society like Japan, there is a big need for smart infrastructure in order to make healthcare deliverable remotely by transcending time and space, something that nations with aging populations could do well to learn from.

Could you tell us more about OMRON Ventures and your role as CEO?

OMRON Ventures is the corporate venture capital arm of OMRON Corporation and its affiliated companies. OMRON Ventures was founded 5 years ago and I was appointed as the CEO in April 2018. So far, we have invested in 12 startups globally, of which 2 have exited. Our mission is to find and develop OMRON’s future businesses through venturing activities. My role as CEO is to lead these activities and to realize strategic and financial returns for the OMRON group. 

Could you share with us about your background and experience in investment, and in particular, in the healthcare industry?

I have been in investment for more than 10 years. Before OMRON Ventures, I was a founding member and was running a medical device venture capital under a Japanese government-backed investment firm. I invested in several seed to early stage medtech startups, mainly in Silicon Valley and Japan. I’m a lecturer at Tsukuba University’s medical school, and I give lectures and conduct workshops for medical entrepreneurs, to help develop the startup ecosystem in Japan. 

I played a role in the creation of the Japan chapter of the Biodesign Program, which is a program at Stanford University for medtech innovators. I have a PhD in Biomedical Science, an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, and I am a faculty fellow of the Stanford Biodesign Program.

In terms of health tech investment developments and trends, what opportunities do you see within Japan domestically and more broadly, in regional markets like Asia Pacific?

Healthcare is evolving to become more and more personalised, preventive and patient-centric. Furthermore, data and AI technologies are becoming increasingly important. This is both a global trend as well as the trend in Japan.

Japan is at the forefront of the aging society. There is a big need for smart infrastructure. The Japanese government is actively promoting activities to make health and medical infrastructure connected, and to make healthcare deliverable remotely by transcending time and space. Also, there are upcoming technologies to enhance and support people’s physical abilities and to autonomously control their health conditions. These are some of the areas that we are closely watching and in which we are actively supporting innovation.

What are the short term and long-term goals of OMRON Ventures?

Our short-term goal is to realise strategic returns for OMRON from our investment activities and long-term goal is to create the future of healthcare by leveraging OMRON’s timeless strengths and by joining hands with entrepreneurs all over the world.

OMRON Ventures recently became a strategic investor of Israel-based biomedical technology company Theranica. Could you tell us more about how investing in Theranica aligns with OMRON Ventures’ broader goals?

OMRON’s healthcare business is a pioneer in innovative home medical equipment and therapeutic devices. We believe that Theranica’s forward-thinking approach of investing in science, building strong physician-community relationships and developing health products that center around the patients and their ability to improve their own well-being is the right model for today and the future, and one that strongly aligns with our mission.

OMRON Ventures aims to achieve a society where people can live healthy and die healthy, by using modern technology to enhance people’s inherent abilities. We believe that we can achieve such a future by collaborating with innovative companies like Theranica.

Which trends or developments are you excited about in the healthcare industry in the next 3-5 years?

I think in 3-5 years, AI will be increasingly embedded in medicine and healthcare, and smart infrastructure will become prevalent. We are in the initial innings of democratised, patient-centric and personalised healthcare. I am very excited for a future where people are able to understand and control their health conditions, and thereby live a productive life to the fullest extent possible. 

In this future world, with assistance from devices, a person’s body will always know its condition and will be able to manage and diagnose itself. Related to this is precision medicine: I believe medicine will be increasingly optimised to the individual person. I also believe subconscious behavior change will become increasingly important: devices and apps will subtly nudge people towards healthier lifestyles.

Furthermore, I believe that such innovations would become globalised and make the other side of the world feel closer. If each country and region develops the technologies it is good at and globalises them, we can raise the level of global healthcare and make our world even better.