Single use medical devices. Photo: Medsalv

The man behind NZ’s sustainable healthcare start-up talks business

His idea to reprocess used medical devices is already helping reduce waste in the New Zealand healthcare sector. Now Oliver Hunt of Medsalv discusses plans for the future and what’s needed for a small business to hum.

In healthcare, the need for sanitation and sterility has dictated a throwaway culture, where millions of single-use devices – including expensive items worth hundreds of dollars – are disposed of every year. Canterbury start-up Medsalv has made a business out of recovering those devices, cleaning and reprocessing them to industry standards and sending them back into the healthcare system to be reused.

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Oliver Hunt is Medsalv’s founder. With the heart of a doctor and the brain of an engineer, the 25-year-old stumbled on the idea to reprocess used medical equipment way back in 2017 while searching for a master’s project at the University of Canterbury.

After successfully pitching the idea to the university’s centre for entrepreneurship, it has evolved into something truly effective and desperately needed to reduce the abysmal volume of healthcare waste and save hospitals a lot of money. Along the way, Hunt’s ingenuity and research has earned him and his company a slew of grants, media attention and accolades including the NZI Sustainable Business Network’s Going Circular Award. 

With its prodigious growth and unique strategy to involve clients in the manufacturing process, Medsalv has been able to harness developments in technology and the opportunity of having ultra-fast broadband to connect to more customers, and provide New Zealand hospitals and DHBs a solution to their waste woes.

Hunt spoke to The Spinoff while working on a new device at Medsalv’s Christchurch plant.

The Spinoff: What kind of device are you working on?

Oliver Hunt: It’s a function-testing device. All the devices we take in and process have a requirement to be clean at a certain level and they also have a function that they need to perform.

You originally wanted to become a doctor. Is your role with Medsalv satisfying those aspirations?

I initially wanted to be a doctor but then I realised I was probably more interested in being an engineer and maybe an engineer working in healthcare. And now to have this business that is doing that, it’s really good.

Have you always had a mind for sustainability?

So I needed a project for my masters, and I thought this was a fantastic thing. This business maybe 20 years ago might not have had as much of an opportunity to succeed in New Zealand because the attitudes at the time were different. But I just thought, you know what, they’ve just banned single-use plastic bags and this is probably a bigger issue in terms of net waste. It’s good timing and obviously timing is so important in business.

How do you see your business growing over the next decade?

There is so much potential for other products. We are in contact with the leading firms in America and figuring out how to bring New Zealand up onto that playing field. In America I think it’s worth close to half a billion dollars in savings. One reprocessing company is earning north of US$330 million with waste savings to boot.

I’ve been to the American Trade Association. There are ten companies on that and I sat around the table with them in 2018, which was a bit of an experience for a 23 year old at the time. It’s an interesting proposition where you’re a start-up company and you’re sitting across the table from someone who’s got 1500 people in their company.

Oliver Hunt at the Sustainable Business Network awards. Photo: Medsalv

How important do you think sustainability is for New Zealand businesses?

I think if you talk about what brand New Zealand is and how people overseas think of New Zealand, then the less that New Zealand businesses take care of the environment the less that brand is worth.

How can New Zealand companies better contribute to society?

Smaller companies should be looking to make a bigger difference. Our core business is taking waste away from landfills or stopping it from getting there in the first place, and delivering a cost saving back to hospital and not compromising at any point on the quality of the product.

How integral is digital connectivity to your business?

It’s really important. I spend a lot of time away from our plant and talking to customers and basically the entire business is on the cloud, backed-up as well, so that anyone who is working at Medsalv can have the most up-to-date documentation.

It’s also really important because we’re not a company where you’d put up with a flimsy connection. Having a good connection is being able to hear what the other person has said when they’re giving you their time, CEOs of big companies for instance. It also means that if I’m out visiting a customer I can actually log in and show in real time what’s happening with the product that they will be using.

So you use technology to provide customers that transparency?

Yes, it’s a unique thing that I use because we have to demonstrate our commitment to quality so I can actually log in and show what one of the guys in the plant has done that morning and what is currently being manufactured. We have a huge number of files and documents that I can just pull up on my phone and my laptop within a matter of seconds and show them exactly what the answer to their question is.

Do you think developments in technology, such as ultra-fast broadband will help grow your business?

Definitely. Every single one of our products, we track it. Every single time anything happens to it, that gets traced and then put into a database in the cloud and so that it’s already there and that will only get even higher fidelity.

Every product that comes out of the plant is tested to the same level, and so we can tell the DHB down here for instance that they used 956 of these products on this day. That data helps us deliver more value to the customer. It will help us help them.


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