Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Teams Pitch Once More at Culmination of CIMIT/B-BIC Boot Camp, Sure to Not Be Their Last

The program ended as it had begun: with a pitch. Just as the teams had done on day one, except this time armed with loads more insight on the value of their innovative business concepts garnered from a combined 500 customer interviews, they assumed their place in front of a room full of strangers turned peers and mentors to present how, with their idea, patient care would be forever changed. 

Over the course of the seven-week intensive program that was the CIMIT/B-BIC i-Corps Healthcare Commercialization Boot Camp - a life sciences version of the "Lean Launchpad" course developed by Steve Blank at Stanford, now widely adopted by the NSF and NIH - ideas and the individuals behind them were put to the test. Through an iterative process and interactive course design, the teams refined their business concepts, in some cases making a complete 180 (or “pivot” as the entrepreneurs like to say) from where they started, as they received guidance from expert coaches from CIMIT and B-BIC and invaluable feedback from their fellow participants – entrepreneurs, technicians and clinicians in their own rights. Though without a doubt, the most valued perspectives were that of the potential customers (“buyers”) and consumers (“users”) of the product or service.

The process teams underwent during the course of the i-Corps program falls entirely under "Search" in the above diagram. The threshold created by the dashed line, marks an organization's transition from the "Search" to a phase of "Execution", i.e. from a start-up / early-stage to a more developed company. 

In the complex world of healthcare, the nature of buyers and users can change dramatically depending on the product. This meant that teams had to be intentional in targeting their interviews for specific players who could help address key questions related to their product and its potential application. While one group is interested in polling clinicians, another is focused on hospital administration, and still another is isolating the government and NGO funding community. In reality, most cast a net that covered some mixture of the above, with one prevailing commonality being the shared interest in bringing the benefit to patients.

In ritualistic fashion, Mike Dempsey, Accelerator Program Lead at CIMIT and Entrepreneur-in-Residence at B-BIC, succinctly summarized the experience by reminding the group of what drove them to be here: “patient impact” as their “metric for success”. Traditionally, the ideas themselves, the fodder of innovation, are what receive the lion’s share of attention in the forms of financial backing (e.g. NIH funding) and mainstream media coverage. But, as Mr. Dempsey asserted, “patient impact requires a two-part equation”, with the idea itself occupying one space, and the “path to patients, in some cases through commercialization” filling the other. In the latter area, money has tended to be more difficult to come by, especially for early-stage companies or technologies (pre-company formation) - labels appropriately suited for nearly all in attendance - coming out of academia.

What the Boot Camp sought to do was flip the traditional dichotomy on its head – turning attention away from the particularities of the technology, to instead focus almost exclusively on the path to patients. This required getting outside of comfort zones, and in a literal sense, getting outside, period, as participants were pushed to talk to increasing numbers of people and seek an excess of information over a dearth of it. The resulting difference seen in the second-go at their team pitches was obvious, as all who spoke that day exhibited greater confidence in their ideas and validation for their unique approaches to improving the patient experience.

At the culmination of the program, the usual undertone, all too familiar on the hallowed grounds of the surrounding institutions of higher education, was made clear; that this is not an end, rather it’s a beginning. With the knowledge and experience gained from their rigorous training, the next time these participants take the stage they could be vying for the potential to bring their innovation to an even greater scale, in an effort to meet patient need.

* Those interested in learning more about the "Lean Launchpad" approach to building Start-Ups should visit the online course site at Udacity for a detailed curriculum outline and the opportunity to take the course online for free!