Columbia Health Tech Assembly, a boon to the NY digital health/life science community

Last week, I attended a meeting of the Columbia University Health Tech Assembly (http://www.healthtechassembly.com/) which brings together students from Columbia’s business, law, engineering, and medical schools for health-focused entrepreneurial endeavors. The event featured NYC-based health incubator Blueprint Health and Venkat Gullapalli M.D., the founder of pharma marketing platform (and Blueprint porfolio company) Medikly.
 
The idea for the Assembly started last year and its goal is to bring together people from different disciplines who are interested in building digital health and life science companies. What the founders of the Assembly recognized was that clinicians are often the ones who recognize problems, engineers are able to develop solutions, and the MBA’s recognize the link between problem-solution and possible monetization.
 
Full disclosure, I’ve been to Blueprint many times before for meetups, demos (including Medikly’s) and digital health events as I am an active member of NY’s life science, tech and digital health community and I have met the Blueprint founders before. The Blueprint speaker spoke about what the incubator looks for in companies that are accepted into its classes and this includes 1) a strong value proposition (translation: what does your company do and why is it relevant and of value to people using it) 2) Market (translation: what/who is the market and what are they willing to pay for your product/service). 3) Stage (translation: Where are you in developing the company? Ideas stage, seed stage, growth stage). In exchange for access to resources and its mentor network, the incubator takes a percentage of common equity. In looking at its porftolio, and as was mentioned at the event, enterprise companies rather than wearables tend to have more preference. And like any investor, incubator or firm, team is incredibly important.
 
Dr. Gullapalli spoke briefly about Medikly, which streamlines marketing to physicians and is rapidly growing. What was most interesting to me, was his founder insights. He talked about generating insight vs generating data as well as knowing yourself well, inclusive of your passions, strengths and weaknesses. Indeed, entrepreneurship is an upward climb into often unchartered territory and requires commitment and the ability to tolerate risk.
 
I think that the Assembly is a really great addition to the NY digital health and life science ecosystem. The timing is right, as healthcare is undergoing a digital transformation and an unprecedented era of innovation and open collaboration. I also like the university element of the Assembly as it will give the students the ability to collaborate and gain real world experience while still in school as well as leverage the resources the university has to offer (i.e.space, alumni network, venture fund, research facilities.) Life is a very good teacher, but she tends to give the test first and the lesson later. Plus, it’s always helpful to be connected to individuals who are actively working in the field; for example in my field, there is a large experience gulf between a practicing physician and a med student.
 
The Assembly attracted students who were just interested in what it was about and had an interest in health, to people who already had ideas and product proto-types in the pipeline. At my table, I had a computer scientist, MBA student, engineering students, and a PhD, who were all at different stages. What’s great though is that the Assembly has 2 tracks, an Explorer track for people with ideas they would like to develop and get feedback on, and a Launcher track for those who are ready to start building viable companies.
 
I think that the Assembly reflects what you need when you build a life science or digital health venture. When I look at companies, I look for domain expertise, a business/marketing person, and a technologist because it’s hard to do it all and do it well. In addition, each domain has its own language. For example, these are word associations and titles written in my usual tongue-in-cheek style ;P
 
JD: IP, Delaware, Disclaimer
MBA: Market share, Market cap, Use Case
MD: ICD-10, ACA, meaningful use
CS: Pivot, Disrupt, JAVA, HADOOP, RUBY, UX/UI
 
One of the questions that was asked during the Assembly, was what kinds of companies/trends are there in the field? It’s pretty much the same as in general tech: Cloud, Big Data, Mobile, Social. Enterprise is especially hot because of the market and monetization potential and because it is helpful in streamlining and cutting costs in an often inefficient and broken system. A lot of non-health companies in enterprise could apply their technology to healthcare and do very well with some tweaking. I would also look at HIPAA-compliance and HIPAA in a box, hardware and 3D-printing, security measures and cryptography, pricing transparency,actionable data analytics, building out platforms, information curation as relevancy in terms of time and content are important, communication (which is a core component in healthcare), companies that incorporate outcome and cost-effectiveness measures).
 
My advice to people starting healthcare or life science companies is to read as much you can and really try to take the pulse of what’s going on in terms of policy, new platforms, and client pain points. Whenever possible, pilot, test and be open to feedback and questions -especially the hard ones. Failure can be a good thing in that it can get you closer to where you want to be…. Don’t make design an after-thought, because it’s incredibly important. When I helped design and do product development for the upcoming NYS patient portal (http://www.patientportalfornewyorkers.org/), I really thought about clinical experiences and the needs of the people who would be using the portal (visual/hearing impairments, languages spoken), their demographics, digital access, and what features were available in the consumer markets that could be applied to enterprise and would make the product easy to use, aesthetically pleasing and something people would really like using…Last, build for the present and the future. Think about what people need and use today, and what they will need and potentially use in the future, because as we’ve seen desktops gave way to laptops to tablets to smartphones.
 
Entrepreneurship can be hard in terms of time commitments and financially (not getting paid and watching your savings drain), but it can also be incredibly fulfilling when you see people really benefit from and enjoy what you’ve help build.
 
Good luck to you all and I look forward to future HTA meetings.
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