Our NHS Clinical Entrepreneur story…just an urban legend?

Let’s cover the basics to start. The NHS Clinical Entrepreneur Programme (CEP) is an NHS England run programme that supports innovation among healthcare professionals, offering mentoring and entrepreneurial training. It’s the brainchild – and decade long passion project – of the wacky (in the nicest possible way) Prof Tony Young.

Following Tony’s own experiences of trying to innovate alongside being a practising clinician, and becoming increasingly frustrated at seeing innovative clinicians being told to choose one path or the other (often choosing to leave the NHS), the programme was born in 2015.

The agitator and the stubborn founders

There are many stories of the programme that Prof Young shares, and we’re pretty glad to be one of those stories. Building a startup from scratch can feel lonely at times, shouting into a cave and seeing if anyone will hear, let alone respond – so it always brings a smile to hear “oh I heard the story about how you guys started…” (Sometimes the recollections of the story are more accurate than at other times, or perhaps it’s the storyteller playing with his story 🙂)

Let’s ‘put pen to paper’, and share our story of ‘the agitator and the stubborn founders’.

Ed, a softly-spoken, precise, breast surgery trainee (at the time), had joined the Clinical Entrepreneur Programme in the first cohort - a tiny initial group of clinicians, the names of many of whom you’d recognise today – looking for guidance to progress a project around consent which had been inching ahead at Imperial over a couple of years.

Around this time, I, (Daf), a slightly more direct and at times annoying individual, earlier in surgical training, messaged Prof Young (let’s use Tony from now on) to say that I knew I’d missed the application process (and at the time there was no guarantee there would be a subsequent round), but hoped I could get some support regardless. I’d started building a consent information aide memoire for my own use, which seemed to be popular with other trainees, but looking back the whole thing was tremendously embryonic.

Tony, in his usual way, picked up the phone (some suggest this phone call was triggered by Harry Thirkettle, but we’ll let Harry and Tony battle that one out…) and said I should speak to one of the clinicians in the inner circle of his first CEP cohort – Ed (I wasn’t sure speaking to a ‘competitor’ particularly counted as support, but I went along with it). A number of emails followed between Ed and me. Coy, strategic emails; sussing each other out. 8 months passed, each inching ahead with our little plans.

I joined the programme in the second cohort. At the end of the first ‘pit-stop’ (the name for the CEP events) Tony sat us down on the edge of the stage and asked us what the plan was. We grumbled and mumbled that we weren’t sure (we didn’t even know at that point if we were friends!). Suddenly we were put in our place, told to stop dreaming and realise that if we were going to make a go of things, we were much stronger together, and to come back to him in a couple of weeks with a strategy that was no longer two individuals tinkering, but a lean canvas to really innovate in the consent space.

The rest, as they say… is Concentric… (with a few more bumps in the road, and more to come I’m sure!)

5 days to apply for cohort 8

The real reason for writing this today is that there are 5 days left to apply for Cohort 8 of the CEP, through the NHS CEP Application portal.

For us, whilst the origin story is the one that sticks in the mind, there are more than a few other elements of our CEP journey that can’t go un-mentioned.

Alongside the pit-stops, which cover a breadth across innovation and entrepreneurship, our mentors have supported right along the journey. The time Ed and I have spent with Prof Alf Collins, NHS England’s Clinical Director for Personalised Care, in particular, stands out.

So much of life is about ‘finding your tribe’. 10 years ago there really wasn’t much of a visible presence of clinicians innovating, but through the work of the CEP, Doctorpreneurs, and a few others, in the mid 2010s a tribe was formed; one that continues to thrive today.

Whilst we’re not tribal within Concentric, half of us have come through the CEP. Ed and Daf as discussed, and more recently Connor Moore in cohort 6 (Clinical Ontology Lead) and Patrick Hart in the current cohort (Clinical Operations Lead).

Innovative teams

The CEP is all about fostering the desire to innovate, guiding the path to do so, and partnering with others to create teams that can make change happen. A significant part of this has been broadening the ‘clinical’ part of the name CEP over the years, from that initial group of doctors, to healthcare professionals from all disciplines.

My own feeling is there is still an opportunity to involve technical individuals in some form - technical co-founders are vital to making most of the CEP innovations truly successful. Concentric wouldn’t have been possible without Martyn, my brother and Concentric’s CTO, and whilst the story above focuses on Ed and me, the fuel for the rocket in this story is the technical co-founder.


The deadline for applications for cohort 8 of the NHS Clinical Entrepreneur programme is the 29th of October 2023. Interested? Apply.