StartUp Health Visionary: Unity Stoakes talks Golden Age of Entrepreneurship in Medicine

Unity StartUp Health

As Boston is getting ready to host The Economist’s second annual Health Care Forum in September, Jim and I thought we’d track down some of the keynote speakers. Since The Economist and health care in general is usually regarded as very conservative institutions, we were very pleased to see Unity Stoakes, President and Co-Founder of StartUp Health on the agenda slotted to speak about product innovation.

On entering StartUp Health’s New York City Headquarters, the energy buzzes through you as you enter an open floor of workers absent the dull grey cubicles and constantly moving on balance ball chairs and ducking ping pong balls, similar to the commons of my old college dorm. These workers are out to remove waste and inefficiency and optimize a Behemoth of a market, the US Healthcare System.

Unity is well-dressed in a slim-fitting suit, yet super friendly. Earlier this year, I had asked one of Boston’s own golden boys, Dr. Trishan Panch, Founder and Chief Medical Officer of Wellframe (which by the way just won the first ever Merck/Heritage Provider Network Innovation Challenge and the 100K that goes along with it), why this was a special time in medicine for innovation. Two of the four reasons he gave overlapped with Unity’s.

Trishan versus Unity

Are we actually in a Golden Age of Entrepreneurship in Medicine where the brilliant talent of the world focuses on healthcare instead of going to Silicon Valley or Wall Street and are now trying to bring medicine into the Age of Technology? Have we seen this reflected in the uber academic hackathons in Boston over the last year–from MIT’s Grand HackFest to Brigham and Women’s innovation hub and now annual fall hackathon?

Within this Golden Age of Entrepreneurship, start-ups today are much different that the traditional medical innovators where the focus was on medical devices, biotechnology, and pharmaceutical development. The traditional medical innovation had much more regulation and a long development cycle. In our interview, Unity emphasized that he felt there were two types of companies. One type are the large healthcare companies (hospitals, insurance companies, pharmaceuticals, etc) who are very focused on an innovation agenda. They are impressed by the lean start-up methodologies and trying to learn new ways of designing businesses within their systems. These companies tend to invest in early stage innovation and enjoy interacting with entrepreneurs. On the other hand, there are a large number of companies who are outside the sphere of innovation altogether and aren’t paying attention to it. StartUp Health believes that the companies who are learning how to keep pace with these rapid cycles of innovation are going to be the companies of the future that are going to be most successful.

Unity and Gong

For those doctorpreneurs out there, we made sure to ask how StartUp Health differs from traditional incubators and accelerators. Unity tells us that StartUp Health is a global start-up platform with a long-term approach. They want to build 1,000 digital health and wellness companies over the next 10 years! They currently have 71 companies in their portfolio. (Hint, apply now since they have 929 more companies to go!) In healthcare, it takes longer than other digital start-ups to get figure out a successful business model. It can take 12-18 months to simply get a pilot program running. Thus, they feel that a 3 year commitment would provide the most support. You can participate in StartUp Health anywhere in the world. With technology, it’s easier to virtually mentor and network. Thus StartUp Health doesn’t believe that you need to uproot yourself to build a company. Finally, StartUp Health takes companies at all stages, from seed to series B to pretty mature.

This fall, The Economist Health Care Forum’s theme is “A global business in flux,” and Unity Stoakes will represent entrepreneurs around the country. Does this signal that big business, academic hospital powerhouses, and government agencies believe that brilliant and nimble minds in start-ups are changing medicine for the better? You’ll have to come to the conference to find out!

Don’t forget your MedTech Boston Discount Code “EMPMPMED” to save $350. If you’re a physician or medical student, join www.medstro.com for $400 off!

Jennifer M. Joe, MD

Jennifer M. Joe, MD

    My passion is healthcare optimization, whether that is with innovation, making scientific discoveries, or improving delivery. I love bringing people and ideas together and making projects work. With this, medicine exists to improve lives, and I will strive to always help patients and those around me.

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