Introduction: Health 2.0 Buffalo
The event was kicked off with a quick pitch from Health 2.0 Buffalo. First, we laid out the goals for our group:
- Get entrepreneurs looking at healthcare
- Support those that take the leap
- Foster collaboration in our Healthcare Community
We also gave an overview of our multi-step approach:
- Get the creative juices flowing with peer-to-peer demos from front-line healthcare workers that are already getting tangible value from their technology.
- Extract ideas from the healthcare community through panel discussions and “problem pitches”.
- Validate those ideas against existing community solutions
- Reverse pitch validated ideas to the startup community.
Next Steps: We’re planning a meeting in the coming weeks to review our plan in more detail and get some ideas simmering. Then we’ll come out swinging in the fall.
Main Event: StartupGrind Fireside Chat w/ Niall Wallace
Infonaut is a healthcare startup born out of the Toronto SARS crisis. After spending almost 6 years doing disease surveillance for public health, they’ve developed a unique approach to tracking and controlling the spread of infections in hospitals. Today, Infonaut is commercializing their product for the U.S market and they’re doing it right here in downtown Buffalo. Niall Wallace, Infonaut co-founder and Chief Innovation Officer, gave a thoughtful and entertaining account of how they got here.
The Canadian Healthcare Startup
Wallace started off by saying that “being a Canadian entrepreneur is great… and it sucks.” It’s great because there’s a lot of opportunities to execute paid pilots within the healthcare system. This gives you capital to work with and an opportunity to validate your ideas in real world scenarios. It sucks because Canada is a single payor system that buys through RFPs and as Wallace put it “You don’t see too many RFPs for things that don’t really exist yet”. That’s a huge road block for the innovative startup.
Given that single-payor road block in Canada, Wallace and his team decided to look south. They hooked up with Dr. L. Nelson Hopkins at the Jacobs Institute and asked him to help them enter the US market. This led to Infonaut taking up residence in the Jacobs Institute at BNMC, hiring a new CEO in Thomas Quinn and most importantly, acquiring paying customers. Wallace described his current situation as a “sweet nirvana spot for a co-founder”.
Wallace pointed out that Buffalo has an amazing opportunity to bring in more companies like his from Canada. Buffalo should collaborate as a community to lure these companies who’ve refined their business through a series of paid pilots in Canada, but who are currently struggling with commercialization in that single-payor system. Let’s bring these companies in via BNMC, VCAMP, 43North, StartupNY, etc. Wallace said, “the hard work has already been paid for”. The ideas are validated and refined… we can help take them to market.
Wallace is working with Buffalo leaders to create momentum on this front by introducing Canadian entrepreneurs to resources available to them here in Buffalo. Last year a Buffalo contingent went to MaRS Discovery District in Toronto to talk about our growing medical sector. More recently, BNMC welcomed entrepreneurs from MaRS to tour their campus and will be hosting a similar group from Hamilton later this month.
What it takes to be a successful healthcare entrepreneur
Wallace sites his team’s non-healthcare background as a huge advantage in coming up with new ideas in the space. The existing players may be good at “grabbing budget”, but they’re stuck in an old mindset and “aren’t close to cracking the nut”. Wallace recommends that startups assemble diverse teams with experience in many industries. Reminiscent of the Medici Effect, this type of team will have perspectives that healthcare alone just won’t. He adds “healthcare is operating 10-12 years behind the technology curve”. Simply put, a team with only healthcare experience may not be aware of all the possibilities available to them.
With your team in place, Wallace advises that you “never give up” or “give up early”. There was a bit of humor here for sure, but it’s a powerful message. Work your idea, but be open to the possibility that it’s the wrong one, or maybe just the wrong time. This won’t be your only idea… if you’ve got entrepreneurship in your blood, then you’ll always have the “next thing” to work on. Don’t be afraid to get to the fast no and let this one go. That said, if you get past the early validation and you decide to make a run at it, then plan on at least 18-24 months of grinding it out before you can hope to get a paying customer (maybe more). This is the nature of selling in healthcare and it’s especially true if you’re selling something that didn’t previously exist. This isn’t a bad thing, but it’s certainly something you need to plan for both in your execution and in the management of your energy and emotions.
“Innovation is commercialization… it happens when you start selling what you’ve got”.
Finally, it’s important to know that “R&D is not innovation”. R&D is experimenting, learning and validating your ideas. It’s paid pilots. It’s the grind. According to Wallace, “Innovation is commercialization… it happens when you start selling what you’ve got”.