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Pitch Perfect Learnings

You may remember when Randy Newman sang in his famous song, Burn On, “There’s a red moon rising on the Cuyahoga River, Rolling into Cleveland to the Lake.  Today, I hope Randy would join me in singing about the rejuvenation of Cleveland with updated lyrics that could express how “Innovation is rising on the Cuyahoga River, Rolling into Cleveland and beyond!”

We would have been singing about the inaugural  Medical Capital Innovation Competition, an event produced by local and national stakeholders: The Global Center for Health Innovation (GCHI)Cuyahoga CountyBioEnterprise, and HIMSS

The Medical Capital Innovation Competition on April 25-26 in Cleveland featured “22 professional and five collegiate teams selected from 180 applicants to compete in the All Things Data in Healthcare business plan competition. Both collegiate and professional teams in beginning stages of commercialization pitched their innovative product or solutions to unlock the true potential of data and turn it into actionable tools,” according to a May 2 news release on the event.

With cash prizes of $100,000 split among six winners (three professional, three collegiate), the competition captured the competitive spirit among the members of the 27 teams. They presented their pitch perfect stories to an expert panel of judges that included these healthcare leaders and HIMSS volunteers:

  • Michael Zaroukian, MD, PhD, MACP, FHIMSS, vice president, chief medical information officer and chief transformation officer, Sparrow Health System. Dr. Zaroukian is HIMSS North America Board Chair.
  • Greg Wolverton, FHIMSS, chief information officer, ARcare/KentuckyCare. He is Chair, HIMSS HIT User Experience Committee.
  • Karim Botros, chief strategy officer, the MetroHealth System. MetroHealth is a 2015 HIMSS Enterprise Davies Award of Excellence recipient; MetroHealth Medical Center is a Stage 7 hospital.  

Mentoring Opportunities

The participants had the unique opportunity to sit with mentors dedicated to multiple facets of the pitch, including experts with experience in go-to-market, healthcare problem/solutions, and system scalability strategies.

I had the privilege to talk with some of these mentors for a better understanding of the biggest challenges our competitors faced, as well as identifying the most important advice they hoped to receive. I also spent time with one of the competitors for his perspective on the process.

First-hand Advice from the Mentors

Mentors Thad Meese, innovation manager, Cleveland Clinic Innovations, and David Sylvan, director, strategic innovation, University Hospitals of Cleveland, shared advice on go-to-market strategies with insights on meeting one of the primary challenges: identifying the audience for their innovation. 

Meese commented, “A recipe for disaster is a startup that has not crystalized their buyer, and is trying to be all things to all people.”  Sylvan supported Meese’s advice. “Your strategy must be relatable and compelling; motivate your consumer to clearly understand the benefit of purchasing your innovation.”

Both Meese and Sylvan emphasized the importance of telling a good story, including personal anecdotes, to help make the pitch relatable and compelling to the consumer.

From the Competitor Perspective

Competitor Jacob Sheridan, CEO, TPA Stream, provided insights on his company’s challenges with go-to-market strategies.

“Our current product is very niche,” said Sheridan. “We want to build a lot of other products, but don't currently have enough resources to do so.”

When meeting with the mentors, Sheridan hoped to learn:

  • how to sell our product better,
  • what gaps we have in our existing strategy,
  • what speed to take bringing different products to market, and
  • what products the judges from the competition are most interested in.

He left our mentors with resonating advice to “provide a timeline for products to-be-released.” He realized this approach helps communicate “what we're doing and why we are doing it, two factors that help investors and clients see the direction and vision for our company.”

Consistent Advice from Different Mentors

To my surprise, I heard mentors provide consistent advice, such as “know your buyer,” and “don’t be all things to all people.”

Mentors Matthew McBride, director, Cleveland Clinic Innovations, and William Fuller, chief executive officer-in-residence, BioEnterprise, shared lessons they have learned when dealing with the discipline of healthcare problem/solution strategy.

Fuller emphasized, “Prioritize your market and don’t get caught up in shiny object syndrome, meaning stay focused on your strengths, and be nimble when the market dictates,”

McBride advised the competitors to, “separate yourself from what you have done and look through the lens of the venture capitalist. When you develop your pitch, you may need multiple versions based on whom you are speaking with. Are you pitching to a CIO or a physician? Knowing your buyer and cater accordingly.”

Both Fuller and McBride wanted the innovation challenge competitors to realize that vetting their research is of highest priority. Fuller added, “Your research should be vetted by multiple institutions, physicians, and other key stakeholders for broad input and vital feedback on your solution.”

Jacob echoed the mentors’ insights noting the current challenges in understanding healthcare administration from the buyer and seller perspectives. “We want to show that we provide solutions for all of them, without diluting our value.” His company was hoping to learn how to “articulate the problem we're solving, and then, (know how to) better explain the products we're building that address those problems.” The resonating advice he gained from the mentors: “know who the buyer is and what data is most valuable.”

System Scalability Strategies

Finally, James Coates, senior manager, technical projects, HIMSS, and Adam Culbertson, innovator-in-residence, HIMSS, shared system scalability strategies. Coates advised the competitors to, “identify the right person within your team to discuss scalability; they must know who the buyer is and have a clear understanding of what consumer demographic will give you the biggest and best path to success.”

Culbertson added, “The biggest challenges are making sure that you have strong understanding of your market and your product solution. What works well for one customer may not work for another. Additionally, some teams needed to focus on capital for marketing efforts and management of ‘burn rate’, once at scale.”

Jacob identified his organization’s current challenges as “trying to anticipate and move ahead of potential issues in the scaling process.” Sitting with the mentors, he was hoping to learn the “things we should be thinking about from technical and organizational perspectives.

“We now have a better understanding of the different standards and protocols concerning the data we're working with; we have clear messaging around what we will and won't support.”

Collaborative Competition

Analyzing all the wonderful advice these thought-leading mentors provided to the competitors, I found clear similarities across all disciplines for providing the perfect pitch. The collaboration between mentor and competitor was a successful learning experience for these teams. 

This really became apparent to me, as I witnessed the collaborative effort put forth by so many organizations to ensure that all of the teams had the best possible experience. 

If you want support for your idea, product or business, come to Cleveland and you will find an amazing network and infrastructure to help you move forward. And learn more about upcoming events at the HIMSS Innovation Center.