Look to entrepreneurs for what’s next in healthcare

By: Katelyn Godoy
Healthcare professionals gathered around a tablet and table

The healthcare industry is highly complex and heavily regulated, but does that make it immune to disruption? “Absolutely not,” says Elspeth Murray.

Murray, associate professor and associate dean at the Smith School of Business at Queen’s University and visiting faculty at Johnson, argues that innovation across the industry is not only possible but increasingly necessary as patients become more demanding. “Consumer behavior has changed, and that will begin to push on the healthcare system,” says Murray. “At a certain point, healthcare practitioners are either going to lose patients or be forced to adopt new ways of treating and accommodating patients.”

From using smartphones to examine your own eyes to reducing hospital visits by expanding ambulatory care, opportunities to advance the healthcare industry are plentiful. In her course, New Venture Management, Murray encouraged students in the Executive MBA/MS in Healthcare Leadership program to consider starting their own ventures. But those who chose to work in established organizations can also benefit from the open-minded and flexible thinking that characterize the startup world.

Elspeth Murray
Elspeth Murray, associate professor and associate dean at the Smith School of Business at Queen’s University and visiting faculty at Johnson

Regardless of their path, students returning to school for advanced degrees have an ideal opportunity to try different things and define a new ‘what’s next’ for themselves and for the industry. “If you just focus on your specialty and only read the professional journals, you may miss the boat in healthcare,” says Murray. “You need to be open to taking risks and reframing your view of the industry, and to be aware of what is happening outside of your bailiwick.”

She points to Google’s foray into healthcare as an example of the powerful forces reshaping the industry. “Google is a formidable competitor that is well-funded, not constrained by history, nimble, adaptable, and forward thinking,” says Murray.

Think like an entrepreneur

In 2002, Murray and a co-author, Peter R. Richardson, offered a framework for rapid implementation of change in their book, Fast Forward: Organizational Change in 100 Days. The authors explored how bringing the startup ethos of speedy innovation to change management can jumpstart the process. “The entrepreneurial thinking gives you the creative ideas and the juice,” says Murray. “Design thinking helps you see the problems to be solved in the right way.”

Of course, innovating in established organizations can be far more difficult than in startups as they are larger ships to turn around. Murray suggests that employees view the rough spots of transition as ideal moments to transform. “When you have staff, and silos, and existing processes it is painful to change them but, in fact, a crisis is a terrible thing to waste since it can create opportunities for rapid change and advancement,” says Murray.

Find a problem worth solving

For those who want to start their own ventures, there is no magic formula that ensures success in healthcare or any other industry. Murray advises would-be founders to take a hard look at their ideas to make sure it is truly worth pursuing. Begin by asking yourself what problem you are solving, she says, but also ask if that problem is truly big enough to be worth solving. Design thinking can help you determine whether a problem is big or niche and if you are framing it in the best way.

A financial model that can sustain the company is, of course, essential. Getting to market at the right time is also key. “You don’t want to be too late and you don’t want to be too early,” says Murray. Most important, says Murray, is whether the team behind the idea has the ability to execute, the passion, the enthusiasm, and the know-how to succeed.

Build relationships for startup success

Good leaders know that no one builds a company alone. Returning to school for an advanced degrees is a great way to find and develop the relationships that will help your concept become reality. Dr. Andres Jimenez, founder and CEO of ImplementHIT, a software and consulting firm focused on physician-specific solutions, enrolled in the Executive MBA/MS program in 2017. Jimenez, who is a MD, already had a startup under his belt—an online education company for the industry.

In Murray’s class, he pitched the concept for his next venture. Murray became a mentor and is now an advisor for ImplementHIT. “I had the opportunity to spend time with her and refine the project,” he says. Jimenez had self-funded his first company, but wanted to explore other financing the second time around. Murray’s knowledge of venture funding, private placements and other financing options has helped him develop a strategy. Another highlight of her course, he says, was Murray’s emphasis on properly setting up the structure of a company from the get-go. “With my first company I just got going and though it hasn’t harmed us, I wanted to have a structure in place this time that would help me avoid any potential problems down the line,” says Jimenez.

The curriculum of the EMBA/MS in Healthcare Leadership program empowers healthcare professionals to be entrepreneurs—from inside their organizations to the industry at large,” reflects Dr. Geraldine McGinty, academic director of the program and chief strategy officer of Weill Cornell Medicine Physician Organization. She adds, “courses like Design Thinking and New Venture Management equip our students with the frameworks and tools they need to drive healthcare transformation.”

In this pivotal time for the healthcare industry, Murray advises all students to “take a good look around at what’s happening and go for it.” Be prepared for an exciting journey, one that will include moments of loneliness and frustration as well as exhilaration. “Persist,” she says. “Just persist. It is never going to be easy.”