How to Find Better Healthcare Partners for Your Startup

The Steps to Pilot and Commercialize Health Technologies with Large Organizations

Healthcare partnerships come in many forms, but they tend to share certain characteristics. Large organizations, i.e. payers, providers, pharma companies, universities, and other health corporates, might consider startups for channel partnerships, strategic investments, tech transfer partnerships, and less formalized aligned-incentive partnerships.

These partnerships usually entail a long-term purchasing agreement. Goals tend to be mutually beneficial to both parties. And the parties in partnerships work toward a common purpose. For a successful partnership, it’s crucial that this technology complements and improves the technology that is already in place at the larger organization.

Another common characteristic of partnerships is that they are very difficult to start and maintain. Here are some of the commonalities we see in successful partnerships. 

Spend more time listening than selling.
— Michael Goldstein of SwitchPitch
  1. Find your internal champion. Successful partnerships cannot be built on a matrix where many people are contributing; one person has to take the lead in both organizations. It is critical that you first find a person in the organization that will vouch for you, that knows you and that has a vested interest in seeing you succeed. Especially in healthcare partnerships, this champion will be crucial to scheduling time with busy clinicians. Build a relationship with that person. Make sure they know you well so that they have an incentive to represent you in the best light. In order to find the right person within the organization, you will need to do research. Do not be afraid to utilize LinkedIn. Find commonalities you have with the people within the organization, but also find people who have worked for or with startups in the past. 
  2. Make your partner look like the hero. Pay attention to how people or units in the organization get measured. Whatever solution you are offering, pay attention to how it affects the metrics of the business and how your internal champion increases his or her chances of success by bringing you on board. “This is how you create a compelling case. This is when they really become your internal champions,” states Glenn Robertelli, COO of health tech startup Admetsys.
  3. Know your customer and focus on solving a very specific problem for them. Make sure the goals and objectives of your partnership are clearly stated, shared, and signed onto by all the people who you are working with within the organization. This means working within the comfort zone and setting goals that are attainable. For example, if you know that integrating with their IT system will require more work on their end, create a workaround to solve their problem with a standalone solution that does not require an integration. Once you gain their trust, you can then push for the integration.
  4. Do your homework. Kim Krueger, Startup Innovation Program Analyst at PARC, emphasizes the importance of seeing references, both in terms of people and in terms of work results previously achieved by your product. For a company like Xerox, this kind of traction is important. And it goes without saying that you should be well-versed on your potential partner before pitching. “I once sat down with a startup who said, ‘So Xerox healthcare... you sell printers to hospitals,” recounted Krueger. Needless to say, this did not end well for the startup.  
  5. Set realistic expectations. That is to say, if you are a small company, don't act like a big one. Down the road, if you can’t achieve what you set out to do when you initially shared your objectives, it will hurt much more than if you manage expectations from the beginning. This means you have to be honest about what you can offer to a partner.
  6. Be prompt. Get information back as soon as possible. In healthcare, a million bottlenecks will arise that might slow down your partnership, so it’s critical that the founder does not create his or her own bottleneck. What this means in practice is responding immediately to document and information requests. If you get something on a Friday afternoon, you should not leave the office until you have completed that information request. Working at a startup is not a 9 to 5 job. 

  7. Coordinate your stakeholders. For clinical trials and pilots, you need your champion first, but you must build out from there. Make sure you are sharing data with additional stakeholders. Since your technology will affect their workflow, make them feel like they are part of the process. Ask for their input and show that you have their interests in mind.

  8. Be considerate of workflows. Mohit Prajapati, Manager of Strategic Initiatives and Innovation at Penn Medicine Center for Health Care Innovation, notes that many founders overlook workflow issues. “Something that often gets missed when creating partnerships are disincentives of everyone else outside of a startup's’ value proposition. For example, if your customer is the surgeon, startups generally develop a very focused solution. But everything else that has to fall into place often gets neglected. How do you de-risk things for the other parties?”

  9. Tell a story. You want to be able to tell a story and to make the benefits of your technology feel real to them. Give people a fundamental understanding of what you are doing, even if they are only working on a subset of the process. Show them what you have developed; tell them how you are changing healthcare. If you are speaking to a lawyer, for example, your story can turn a very dry contract into something tangible, something that could really help people. (For more on being able to effectively tell your startup’s story, check out our article on “Storytelling for Startups.”)

  10. Do not overstep or bypass your internal champions. If you disregard the process that your main point of contact has put in place, it can be a sign of disrespect and ultimately dis-incentivize your initial champion from helping you further. If your champion sees you going around them to move things forward faster, they might not try to hamper your efforts, but they might be less likely to help if your efforts fail.

In case you missed it, check out the full podcast featuring Mohit Prajapati, Manager of Strategic Initiatives and Innovation at Penn Medicine Center for Health Care Innovation, Kim Krueger, Startup Innovation Program Analyst at PARC, and Glenn Robertelli, COO of Admetsys. 

Author: Charles LaCalle