Andreas Fouras had a life-changing idea.
An award-winning professor at Monash University, he spent his days in the aeronautical engineering labs studying imaging, air flows and airplanes, but quickly saw another use for this technology that could help millions around the world.
“I was really passionate about using what I knew for a healthcare solution,” Fouras tells Startupsmart.
While experimenting with wind tunnel imaging technology, Fouras discovered it could be adapted to capture the air flow in human lungs.
“That turns out to be extremely useful,” he says.
Going all in
Now Fouras has gone “all in” on the idea.
After commercialising the technology into a company, 4Dx, Fouras sold his house, quit his job and relocated his entire family to the US, all with the vision of making a “life-changing” contribution to global healthcare.
4Dx works by combining two separate technologies: Imaging, which takes a photo of the lungs shape, and function testing, which tracks how much air goes through the lungs.
“It’s imaging the motion of their lungs as they breathe,” Fouras says.
“Really what’s important is how they work not what they look like so by imaging them as they work you get a much better view of what is happening.”
Until now, doctors have been limited to two ways of diagnosing patients: Function testing, which was invented in the 1850s, and CT scans invented in the 1970s.
“So you’ve got a choice between 40 year old technology or a 150 year old technology,” he says.
But with 1.1 million lung diagnostic procedures taking place in Australia each year and 72 million in the US, Fouras says 4Dx can quite literally save millions of lives.
“That’s 1.1 million times a year in Australia that maybe the wrong information is getting to doctors and patients to make a decision,” he says.
“Doctors are decision-makers but decisions are only as good as the information that is at the heart of that decision.”
With the vision of making 4Dx an international healthcare company, Fouras says he plans to expand the technology to the heart.
The startup holds a number of patents and R&D projects including in IVF, but for now Fouras is taking a lean approach.
“As a startup you have to be really focused on the first product,” he says.
Commercialising a great idea
4Dx has been gestating at Monash University for over a decade.
“I was fortunate that I was working at Monash University when I had the idea so I was able to develop that as a research project in the university system,” Fouras says.
Three years ago the time came to bring 4Dx into the world.
“The idea was ready for commercialisation,” he says.
Monash University was very helpful in getting the IP out under a license with attractive commercial terms so a company could be founded around it, Fouras says.
The next step was getting together an exceptional team, building a great business plan and bringing investors on board, he says.
“We had to do all those things startups have to do,” Fouras says.
Fouras travelled the world speaking with doctors, practitioners and potential investors.
“We spent time talking to investors about what their concerns were, what excited them and what scared them,” he says.
With that understanding, the team worked on improving their business model to make it more attractive to these investors while at the same time learning how to explain and pitch the actual value their product offers.
“To get that product and technology into the marketplace so that it can actually make a difference was really the hardest thing for me,” Fouras says.
He says that learning to see 4Dx from other people’s point of view was crucial in helping it gain momentum.
“The same business model appears like two different business models to the investor and startup founder,” Fouras says.
“Learning to talk in their language, and learning to see it from their point of view, you can articulate or explain how the business model really does fit what it is that they want – and where it doesn’t, it needs to be fixed, it needs to be adjusted because if it’s not investable, it won’t ever happen.”
Risking it all
Six months ago, Fouras relocated to America on the back of high hopes of breaking new ground with 4Dx.
Not only did he pick up his five children and partner and move them to Santa Monico, but Fouras also sold their house, with every last cent going towards to the business.
“There’s no stronger way to be all in,” he says.
He says that taking calculated risks like this is the underlying proof that you believe the product will work, giving employees security but it also sending potential investors and partners a strong message.
“When you commit, they feel better about committing,” Fouras says.
Before deciding to go all in, Fouras says he undertook a detailed analysis of 4Dx’s roadmap and any potential potholes along the way.
“There are all kinds of barriers to entry, we did a detailed analysis of what they are and how we can reduce the risks associated with all of those,” he says.
After travelling the world listening to and taking on feedback from health professionals and investors, Fouras says he now has overwhelming support for 4Dx.
“Not many people have the fortune of having started a business and then doing a detailed market analysis to realise there’s a $30 billion market there and you’ve got strong competitive advantage,” he says.
But none of it would have been possible without his closest supporters.
“It’s not easy to pick up and move your life to another country,” Fouras says.
“There’s a really significant contribution from [my] family into the business – they believe in it too and they’re doing their part to make it happen.”
The 4Dx team
As a first-time founder, Fouras says one of the most crucial elements to 4Dx’s development has been its people.
“For me it’s a combination of is it somebody that you can work with and that you can have a relationship with,” he says.
“You need things in common to allow you to work with that person but then you’re also looking for people with different opinions, different skills to what I have.”
At 4Dx, Fouras has made a dedicated effort to building a strong core team of talented, cohesive and complementary employees.
“It’s not easy working for a startup,” he says.
So building a strong team that is diverse, talented and willing to give it their all despite the risk is fundamental, Fouras says.
“I love that idea of a team of people where everyone’s good at different things and together you can be good at nearly anything because you work together,” he says.
A visionary with a plan
With a pre-money valuation of $32 million and an addressable market of $30 billion per year, Fouras says there’s a compelling case for 4Dx and the risks will pay off.
“We feel very confident that this is an opportunity to build a multi-billion dollar business downstream,” he says.
With a tech solution for the heart and lungs, Fouras says 4Dx could be used in 55% of healthcare.
“We want to provide the best possible information to the maximum number of patients and doctors that we can, which will lead to better decisions and better health outcomes,” he says.
While it’s good to have a plan, Fouras isn’t getting too caught up in the details.
“I don’t need to know where I’m going to be in ten years and that’s awesome – I didn’t know I was going to be here ten years ago,” he says.
“It’s great to have goals but for me it’s about what I’m going to achieve and that’s improving healthcare for millions of people.”