In conversation with Tech & Social Entrepreneur Mike Hudson

Mike HudsonAfter feeling determined to help make a difference during the global COVID-19 pandemic, tech entrepreneur Mike Hudson (BSc Systems and Management, 1987) is now using his wealth of experience in AI and marketplaces to create, develop and support non-profit, social good ventures.

From enhancing COVID-19 testing during lockdown to advising the CEO of a global science-led conservation organisation, while also launching his own charitable scientific research fund, Mike is extremely passionate about solving social problems. Find out more…

Why were you inspired to create TestRAMP and how did you find the process of developing this not-for-profit market-based solution for (and during) such a unique social issue as the Covid-19 pandemic?

In early 2020 there were no vaccines for COVID-19. WHO declared that every country should “Test, Test, Test.” The UK’s then health secretary, Matt Hancock, called upon British labs to increase PCR testing capacity. My partner, a primary care physician, was working in a front-line COVID-19 centre, whilst I was at home frustrated at being unable to contribute to the crisis. I began to wonder whether I could use my electronic marketplace experience to help increase the UK’s capacity of COVID-19 PCR testing.

Demand for PCR capacity grew dramatically throughout the pandemic until vaccines began to take effect. In the commercial sector, demand increased sharply when PCR testing was mandated for screening international travellers and pinpointing new virus strains.

In the pandemic’s initial phase, I observed that some of the UK’s PCR lab facilities were isolated, and not fully utilised. Having seen similar challenges in the financial sector, I wondered whether establishing a marketplace platform to bridge the gap between labs and healthcare entities could help to maximize COVID-19 PCR testing. This idea became TestRAMP. We reached out to as many labs as possible, identifying those already proficient in PCR and assisting other labs to get involved.

What were the key learnings from TestRAMP and how could they be beneficial to crisis markets generally?

Fortunately, the Covid vaccine programme has been very effective and TestRAMP isn’t needed for PCR testing. Looking back on our experience as a PCR marketplace in the Covid crisis, we wondered whether our experience might be applicable in other crises.

Some crises are characterised by an excess of demand over supply of a critical resource,  leading to scarcity. Many people are unable to obtain the resource they need to manage the crisis. Sometimes, scarcity may be exacerbated by market dysfunction. Generalising from our Covid experience, we suspect there will in future be other ‘crisis markets’ – critical markets in a crisis which would benefit from the introduction of a marketplace.

Markets are ultimately about information flows. TestRAMP introduced a marketplace for PCR testing whose function was essentially to provide buyers and sellers with better information. We believe this contributed, to a limited extent, to attracting more actors to the PCR testing market, thereby increasing the supply of testing and lowering its cost.

We think that for some types of crisis, the introduction of a marketplace analogous to TestRAMP may increase the supply, and lower the cost, of a critical resource thereby helping the community respond better to the crisis.

Please could you tell us about the Mike Hudson Foundation.

After TestRAMP, we’ve focused mainly on setting up my foundation.

Mike Hudson Foundation (MHF) is my charitable scientific research fund. We donate money & AI resources to support scientific research, including into climate change and biodiversity. MHF also advises on AI & marketplaces as powerful tools for solving social problems, and helps nonprofits to collaborate

MHF is a donor advised fund operating under the auspices of Prism the Gift Fund, registered charity no. 1099682. We’re very grateful to Prism; they provide extremely effective administration of our giving to the organisations we support, which include ZSL conservation and Alzheimer’s Society.

And what is Mike Hudson Associates?

Mike Hudson Associates showcases some of the projects I’ve been involved in, both commercial and not-for-profit.

With such a successful career as a tech entrepreneur, why have you decided to focus on social good ventures going forward?

Although TestRAMP was a genetic/genomic marketplace – which was very new to me – the underlying principles were the same as those of financial marketplaces I have built in the past. What was very different was the motivation, and the effect that had on me. It was enormously satisfying to get up every day and run something successful that was entirely non-profit, and doing a little bit to help during the pandemic.

Recently I’ve gone even further outside my comfort zone. Protecting biodiversity and supporting conservation are two of my passions and as well as supporting ZSL conservation financially, I’m now Adviser to their CEO on innovation. Who knows where that will lead!

Please could you share some of your other ventures prior to TestRAMP and the Mike Hudson entities?

I’m usually happiest about our most recent efforts, but of the older ventures I’m quite proud of Cscreen and Baymarkets. Cscreen was a joint venture company I owned with a Swedish partner. We built a global system for trading OTC equity derivatives – kind of a mini-exchange – and sold that to a large US exchange. It’s still in use today.

The Baymarkets story began as a start-up on a boat(!). We just about survived the 2007-2008 financial crisis, grew the business and eventually sold it to a Far Eastern stock exchange, having brought in leading venture capitalists along the way.

How has your BSc in Systems and Management supported you throughout your career?

That’s a timely question! Until recently I would have said there hadn’t been much connection. My final year project was a derivatives modelling decision support system, but other than that I hadn’t seen my degree as particularly relevant. However, I recently re-read Dana Meadows “Thinking in Systems” and realised that, yes, I had actually been thinking in systems all along. Somehow systems thinking must have become embedded in me without my realising it.

Looking back, why did you choose City to complete your degree?

It’s hard to remember exactly why. I think what I remember most is the spread; Systems and Management at that time was an extremely broad degree course, ranging from Peter Checkland’s Soft System Methodology and international relations, to economics and investment decision analysis. I think it gave us tools to get our heads around different types of questions quite quickly.

Do you have any standout memories from your time studying?

My first-year room in Northampton Hall of residence, in Bunhill Row. Long demolished, and no great loss to architecture. But the views of London from the 16th floor were fabulous, and very reasonably priced!

What advice would you give to others looking to follow in your footsteps?

Work hard, be nice and realise when you’ve been lucky.

Thanks to Mike for sharing his story and for all the inspirational work he is doing to solve social problems!