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Nina Nashif of Healthbox: A Catalyst for Change

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Nina Nashif began her career working in textiles, but quickly moved into the healthcare space where she’s found that she can really make a difference. Photo provided.

Nina Nashif, the Founder & CEO of Healthbox, is becoming a prominent name in the digital health space. Healthbox is an accelerator that has helped launch 63 start-ups so far, of which 61 are still operating – an impressive streak for a sector still shackled by dated regulations.

Today, Nashif works hard to open up conversations with leading institutions in Boston and beyond, teaching them to embrace innovation and empower stakeholders through healthcare IT. Nashif’s leadership has earned her recognition as a Young Global Leader by World Economic Forum and she was recently named one of the Most Powerful Women to Watch by Entrepreneur Magazine. We caught up with Nashif to talk about her quick journey to the top and how she’s keeping Healthbox relevant, and we even got a peek into her past career selling towels in the textile industry.

Take us back to the beginning of your professional career. Where did you start?

From an early age, my career was defined by gaining unique experiences, building new skills and working for people who could help me grow. I’ve never taken a job with a “job description” but have always had jobs created for me or started new things. Through my job at The Methodist Hospital I spent a lot of time in Turkey and developed some great relationships. My colleague (and eventually co-founder) who lived in Turkey and I were brainstorming business ideas and how we could leverage our ties between the U.S. and Turkey to start a new business. We landed on an upscale cotton textile business. I was moving to NYC at that time and looking for the next big experience. It was the first time I didn’t have a “safety net” and it took a lot of risk. It built the foundation for my passion of building and growing businesses and was personally very rewarding as well. Following that, I founded Healthbox.
When you started Healthbox, what was your personal mission?

My original reason for starting Healthbox was to bring together a community and seed funding to support entrepreneurs trying to make a difference in the industry. There were and still are so many resources available for tech entrepreneurs but nothing at the time that was specific to healthcare. Building a business in healthcare requires unique considerations which is why a specific accelerator model was needed. I’m proud that even at the beginning, Healthbox really opened up the conversation and helped break many barriers within the industry. One of the most vital and challenging aspects for healthcare entrepreneurs is to get into the trenches and connect with all their stakeholders. We facilitated the communication between start-ups and the organizations eager to implement new solutions.

So you started traditional, but it seems like Healthbox is doing a lot of new things these days. How has the company evolved over the years? 

Most significantly, we are no longer only running accelerators; we have expanded our model to integrate our start-up community with the industry. We have developed new capabilities and services that enable healthcare organizations, especially hospitals, to build a more innovative culture internally and to embrace our solutions. The industry has been extremely receptive to the accelerator market. Healthbox is helping these traditional institutions learn how to work with early-stage businesses and benefit from the relationships.

We continue to evolve our model based on feedback from our entrepreneurial customers and the industry investing in Healthbox. We are hearing their needs, which is that “innovation can come from anywhere and at any stage.” That means, we are not just sourcing companies that are at seed-stage, but expanding our horizons through all developments. We have to be cognizant that the more mature companies will not work with us unless we add strategic value to their momentum, and we have customized our model accordingly.

What’s on your plate this fall?

We’re gearing up for our fall accelerators; we just launched one in Tampa, and we are continuing our programs in Chicago, Boston and Salt Lake City in the upcoming weeks. On September 8th, we are excited to launch a new partnership in Israel, too, with Microsoft Ventures and BD Medical. There’s untapped entrepreneurial talent in Israel, London and the rest of Europe, and Healthbox is keen on tracking innovation in the global market.

Many of our readers have big healthcare ideas. Say they decided to bring those ideas to Healthbox. What are the key ingredients for a successful pitch?

It’s a combination of the big idea intended to solve an unmet need and the team working towards it. I always get asked, “Is it the entrepreneur or the idea?” Simply put, it is the ability of the entrepreneur to execute the concept and navigate through the marketplace. Our investors help us evaluate the companies, and we are first evaluate the technical aspects, and whether the company’s core team has the ability to validate on the vision. Most importantly, it’s thinking big and igniting in others a passion for their product.

We’re featuring women in healthcare and medtech this fall. Can you tell us about your experience as a female in this industry?

Starting a business is hard, but I honestly didn’t experience any unique struggles based on my gender. I just focused on performing and letting my results pave my way. We all have an obligation to pay it forward, and the industry certainly needs more female founders. While I don’t think we necessarily need to create silos around women-only initiatives, females need to confident in their abilities, actively seek input and not be afraid to ask for what they want.

This interview is part of our fall series on women in medtech. Check back in for weekly interviews with women in the medical technology field. Do you know someone who’d be a good fit for this series? Let us know – email jenni@medtechboston.com. 

Shreya Iyer

Shreya Iyer

    Shreya specializes in health communications and is a copywriter for an advertising agency. She was previously at Bayer Healthcare, Janssen Pharmaceuticals and Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide

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