Roberto Ascione is a serial entrepreneur and global thought leader in digital health. With 20 years of experience, he has been focusing on marketing and communications, business transformation and innovation in health and wellness. He is currently CEO at Healthware International, a next-generation healthcare communications agency, combining in a unique blend consulting and creative services with innovation and technology capabilities able to deliver value to existing and emerging healthcare stakeholders. He is also very active in the digital health start-up ecosystem in various advisor capacities both in Europe and USA.
Passionate for medicine, computer science, and human-technology interactions he believes strongly that digital innovations and technologies will be the most impactful drivers of change in the healthcare industry. He nurtures this vision by speaking at a number of conferences, as well as contributing to several research organizations and start-up accelerators. Born and raised in Italy, Roberto transverses the globe. He enjoys the mash-up of different cultures along the way.
How did you get into the industry?
Ours has been a pretty interesting path into the healthcare marketing industry, which interestingly enough started with an early passion for how technology could improve healthcare itself. In our early days (1997), we began by developing medical records software for hospitals as well as digital platforms and other services in support of clinical trials. From there was the realization that the pharma industry itself was in great need of these new technologies to be able to communicate with its audiences. At that point, Healthware was launched and we have not looked back since.
Any emerging industry trends?
We are living through perhaps the most dynamic, disruptive and exciting time in healthcare; one where the status-quo no longer applies. Some of the most significant changes are happening in how technology is helping doctors diagnose disease, and how certain diseases can be addressed, or in some cases prevented, via digital technologies, but the most dramatic change of all is how people themselves have an ever growing amount of software tools and personal devices to help them take charge of their own wellness.
Said that, the very role of agencies in this shifting landscape is being put to the test as the traditional pharma marketing communications model no longer fits the new dynamics of the healthcare industry it serves, and the changing needs and of its target audiences.
Any industry opportunities or challenges?
As with any disruption, there are myriads of opportunities that present themselves. In the case of Healthware International, we have been fortunate to embrace, and in many cases, lead the types of changes in our industry. As the need for innovation in healthcare increases, we have launched Healthware Labs, whose main purpose is to design and build novel digital health programs for our healthcare industry clients either with in-house efforts or by partnering with startups who benefit from our agency services and healthcare industry knowledge and contacts.
Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?
I firmly believe that the human-digital technologies are the driving force behind the transformation of healthcare and the only concrete way to deal with the growing demand of healthcare services driven by aging and desire for higher standard of health and wellness. Healthware is uniquely positioned to contribute to this transformation by delivering value on multiple sides of the future health ecosystem.
What's next for the Business in the near future?
I cannot get into the specific details, as conversations are still ongoing, but look for some very exciting announcements from us coming up into the new year on both the agency and innovation side of things!
Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?
I think one of the things that makes Healthware International unique is how it has not been afraid to take on challenges that could be seen outside the norm for a healthcare communications agency. From that point of view, many of the outlier projects we have embarked on have significantly contributed to the know-how and growth of the business from both a capabilities but also agency offering point of view. It is this approach that has put us in our current position of leadership in our area and we will continue to take on uniquely challenging projects as key to our ongoing success.
Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)
I think that one of the most difficult moments came with Healthware once being acquired by a large holding company. Despite many of the great advantages that can come by being part of a very large global organization, one thing that inevitably happens is the need to integrate vertically and horizontally across its entire geographic footprint. Taking a regionally focused business to a global scale is a challenge in itself and that challenge was compounded by having to figure out how to integrate operations with other established agencies and their own individual business cultures. At the end of the day, the types of things that needed to be managed took a significant amount of time and effort away from the actual operations and client servicing needs and created more problems than the ones it meant to solve.
I think the lesson learned is that an organic and gradual expansion into a global footprint is probably a more successful recipe for agency growth than one based solely on acquiring and trying to merge many different mature shops and cultures into a single entity.
How do you motivate others?
I have been blessed with an overabundance of energy, and enthusiasm, and I think that these things tend to be contagious in a team setting. We run a fairly flat structure in our agency so many of the people in the trenches get to experience it first-hand depending on the project they are working on.
Career advice to those in your industry?
My advice to people in our industry would be to dedicate 20% of their time and efforts into things that directly challenge the 80% of what they would consider their “tried and true” approach.
The ability to change and grow in our fast-paced industry requires a methodological approach to transformation so if they can find a way to include this in their own career path they will always stay relevant and be successful no matter what.