M.D., M.B.A? That's not what it takes to become a healthcare entrepreneur.
In many ways, doctors are well-prepared to become entrepreneurs. They are professional problem-solvers. They understand patient needs, and they also understand healthcare trends and issues.
But for many doctors, like many of the rest of us, the trick lies in knowing what you don’t know. I work every day moving innovation from bench to bedside, and I’ve found there are few key areas that consistently get short shrift as physicians try to build growing companies.
You can have the best idea in the world, but if only five people need it, it’s best to move on. The innovations with the greatest potential are those that solve real problems for the largest populations.
Dr. Mark Kyker, an anesthesiologist, noticed multiple problems in keeping patients warm before, during, and after surgery. Cotton blankets offer no clinical benefit and must be cleaned after use, which costs money. Electric blankets and forced air warmers can be loud and require attachments, limiting mobility. Dr. Kyker thought the same technology used in self-heating hand warmers could be used for self-heating surgical blankets. The single-use blankets keep the patient at a consistent temperature throughout the procedure. They don’t require cleaning, are noiseless, require no attachments, and are affordable.
Market potential for Dr. Kyker’s brainchild? With more than 51.4 million inpatient and 57 million outpatient surgeries performed in the United States annually, it’s huge.
Starting a company requires skills not typically taught in medical school. Recognizing that you’re not an expert--even if you have an MBA--is critical. Listen to those with entrepreneurial experience and use what’s relevant to you.
Dr. Kyker enlisted the help of a serial physician entrepreneur, Dr. Steve Isenberg, who’s also a partner in StepStone Business Partners, an angel investment firm. Dr. Isenberg and Oscar Moralez, another StepStone partner, helped Dr. Kyker found his company, Apricity, and create a business strategy.
Respect for capital
Don’t expect investors to come running just because you have a great idea. Today, investors rarely look at early stage technology. Most start-ups are self-funded with help from family and friends. If you’re lucky and good, you might get funding.
The entire value chain
The healthcare value chain is often more complex than that of the typical startup, particularly if your product requires FDA approval.
Dr. Kyker and his partners recognized the challenges early on and partnered with Grabber, which makes self-heating hand warmers, to help perfect the technology and produce prototypes. Apricity found a second strategic partner after a meeting with representatives of Molnlycke, a European company that supplies a portfolio of disposable products to hospitals on a global basis, at a trade show. Molnlycke has since signed a licensing agreement with Apricity and is now selling the self-heating blankets in Europe, giving Apricity a powerful leg up.
No one likes to fail, and physicians often associate failure with life-or-death situations. Apricity’s self-heating blanket went through multiple iterations and three years of hard work before it could be successfully commercialized. The best advice is not to be afraid of failure. Get up, dust yourself off, learn from mistakes, and try again. Your next idea may be the home run.
Last updated: May 23, 2013
JULIE GOONEWARDENE: Julie K. Goonewardene is a recognized leader in technology commercialization, business formation, and public/private partnerships. She was recently elected to the Board of Trustees for the American Medical Association. She was the co-founder of Cantilever Technologies, a software company that was acquired in 2004.