Successfully scaling digital health startups is tricky business

There are many startups in the digital heath space but few manage to truly establish themselves as key partners for patients, HCPs, and insurers 

Startups are trying to disrupt a traditional and slow-moving industry

There are hundreds of startups with a digital health focus, from wellbeing tools to fully fledged medical devices.  

Whether they are driven by a desire to tackle a niche patient need or an eagerness to bring a new technology from a different context into the healthcare industry, there is no shortage of new ideas.  

Established players in the industry are also trying to understand the extent of the disruption that will be caused by the fresh faces on the block that are changing patient expectations. 

At the same time, many founders are struggling to have the impact that they desire

The healthcare industry presents founders with challenges that don’t exist in other industries.  Hence, many founders struggle to adapt to the new context, torn between wanting to bring disruption and having to accept the pre-defined rules of the game.

Some startups flipflop between B2C and B2B business models as they struggle to pinpoint revenue sources and gatekeepers to patients.

Others question how they can best show the value of their innovation to a diverse group of stakeholders with differing needs.

Many wait too long to tackle regulatory hurdles or find they lack adequate understanding of how to get over them. 

The industry still sets the tone with its rigorous regulatory standards and desire to see scientific validation in results.  It takes time, a strong value proposition, and real results for startups to gain the the trust of different players and to build the credibility needed to succeed in the long haul. 

Whether founders are struggling with industry understanding or just to have the cash necessary to live long enough to prove their worth in a slow-moving industry, the contrast between the new kids in their micro-companies and the old guard in their global establishments is stark. 

What do startup leaders need in order to successfully navigate in this challenging industry?

Communicating vision and purpose is an important skill for all startup founders, but for those in digital health, it’s especially important to be able to convey to diverse stakeholders how the startup is uniquely posed to tackle a niche challenge.

Managing complexity, especially when it comes to considering stakeholder needs and demonstrating value to different stakeholders. 

Partnership building, or connecting with potential partners, communicating vision and purpose, and moving towards collaboration and trusting relationships. 

Team building is a crucial task for any founder, after all many say the first 10 employees are the ones that determine the culture of any company. It’s essential for the team to have the right skills (including people who have a HCP background and a deep understanding of patient and/or insurer needs) as well as the right level of diversity (ensuring that all stakeholders are adequately represented) to achieve its goals.