Industry Voices—How leveraging established organizations can lead to healthcare startup success

There are resources available to healthcare startups if they know where to look. (Getty/wutwhanfoto)

Startups are scrappy by nature, often forced to do a lot with very little. This often leaves founders in a frenzy to find funding, generate interest and deploy a product or service as soon as possible.

On the other hand, doing so too quickly, especially in the healthcare space, can lead to a startup’s untimely demise. From networking to research and development, successful startups need to strategically utilize available resources to drive sustainable growth and bolster success.

Those resources are often available right in your own backyard if you know where to look. 

Space race

If you find yourself building your startup in your own home, you’re not alone. In fact, you’re in good company with Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. But you now also have co-working space as an option. 

RELATED: Cigna launches new $250M venture capital fund

The term “coworking space” can mean a desk membership at WeWork or some similar rent-a-room arrangement. This alone may or may not be valuable pending the stage of your healthcare startup. But it can also refer to a designated campus for high-growth startups, with support to help them scale.

This kind of coworking space is often associated with “incubators” and “accelerators,” which are two very different things. A good description from Inc. explains that incubators are a tool for the childhood of a startup, while accelerators guide them from adolescence to adulthood.

In exchange for partial equity in your business, incubators do exactly that—help you grow your startup until it’s ready to “hatch.” They typically provide free resources to startups, including office facilities, legal counsel, consulting, and in some cases, seed money. 

Meanwhile, accelerators, such as MedTech Innovator, move startups that already have a minimum viable product (MVP) toward profitability, connecting them with mentors and additional funding. Some provide advice on business plans, branding, or go-to-market strategies, too.

The Plug and Play Tech Center in Silicon Valley is an example of an accelerator that acts as a matchmaker for startups and established corporate partners. Plug and Play does not require startups to give up any share of ownership, and it accepts businesses of all levels into its program. Its network of more than 300 venture capitalists and 220 major corporate partners have been paired with over 2,000 startups since its inception. 

There are also incubators and accelerators focused specifically in the healthcare space, both as standalone entities such as IndieBio or corporate initiatives such as JLABS and Illumina Accelerator.  If these align with your specific area of interest, they could be a great option.

If you have a big idea but lack the space, equipment, or business savvy to take it to the next level, consider exploring incubators or accelerators in your area.

RELATED: Providence St. Joseph Health announces new $150M healthcare fund

Technical expertise

Sometimes good ideas and the ability to bring them to life come from the same people—but not always. A partner with the ability to create or improve upon a prototype or MVP can help, and there are lots of enterprise companies looking to team with inspired startups.

Open innovation programs are created by enterprise companies as distinct initiatives to advance business goals through partner collaboration or make progress on a specific, mutually beneficial development. 

Startups can often collaborate side-by-side with enterprise scientists and researchers to work through challenges, while leveraging resources and expertise that would be hard to find elsewhere. For health-related ventures, such expertise may extend beyond technical capabilities and also include access to invaluable experience, for example, navigating the complicated regulatory and quality requirements or access to customers and hospital systems. 

Financial support

Even the best ideas will struggle to get off the ground without the right amount of cash flow and financial guidance. It is possible to “bootstrap” (self-fund) your startup, but organic growth is typically slower, and can be challenging with the long timelines for bringing healthcare products to market. If you’re willing to invite investment partners to your business, you can find third-party funding (via crowdfunding, angel investors, business grants and venture capitalists) to accelerate growth.

Some venture capitalists focus on one or a few sectors, which may increase your chances of procuring financial support. For example, investors such as Aberdare or Pacific 8 are exclusively interested in health tech and life sciences. These organizations participate in focused networks that typically host and/or attend events and forums that showcase innovation in the sector—a good venue for discovering potential funding sources.

RELATED: Venture deals, funding for digital health companies reached $9.5B last year

Culture is key

A final word of advice when exploring this potential bounty of resources: It’s key to weigh value and utilize only the right resources for your business. The structures of longstanding organizations and scrappy startups can greatly differ.

Culture increasingly defines “how” things get done, so ensure you understand and align with the priorities and values of any enterprise partner. This is essential to ensure a value-added working relationship for both parties.

Be thoughtful about the partnerships you enter into and the resources you decide to leverage to ensure maximum benefit to your healthcare startup.

Linda Elkins is a co-leader of the Gore Innovation Center in Silicon Valley.