Now more than ever, it is important to promote innovation led by nurses and front-line providers. As a nurse entrepreneur, I’ve seen how nurses innovate every day by improving processes and services directly related to patient care.
And innovation can come from a variety of settings, including nurse-led teams within hospitals, payor systems, and pharmaceutical and medical device technology companies. Oftentimes, nurses need to collaborate with an interdisciplinary team in order to create novel technology or service offerings.
For nurses interested in better understanding entrepreneurship and innovation, you can grow your knowledge through increased education and mentorship. Taking courses outside of a typical nursing curriculum in technology development, programming and business are beneficial to expanding knowledge of the ecosystem surrounding innovation. Additionally, graduate nursing programs focused on nursing innovation are appearing in several nursing school programs, and can supplement nursing knowledge and skill in developing and launching new ventures.
But developing an idea is just the start. Pulling from my own experience as a nurse entrepreneur, there are five important components to implementing a successful innovation, with building and selling as the two most important skills to get your idea off the ground.
As a nurse entrepreneur, understanding how to build and design a new technology or service is critical to bringing an innovative idea to life. It is important to learn how to create a minimal viable product (MVP), high fidelity mockup, or prototype. These initial MVPs and initial prototypes contain basic functionality and design to show the value of your idea to users and convey your vision.
These initial steps can also help you get early customers, recruit team members, and receive funding and resources to bring the idea to life.
If your idea is software technology or hardware, it is also beneficial to learn basic programming skills in order to communicate and work with engineers and developers. Taking a few computer science courses online or at a local university can give you an opportunity to learn new skills or even transform your career. Full-stack developer coding bootcamps can also be useful in obtaining these skills quickly.
Identifying a need and empathizing with customers is a valuable skill to a nurse entrepreneur. Nurses are naturally good at identifying clinical needs and communicating them to others. These skills can be applied to selling and commercializing an idea because oftentimes, purchasing decisions and resource allocation are made by other nurse and clinician leaders in an organization who have experienced the same clinical needs and pain points. In this sense, a deep understanding of clinical operations and patient care can be more beneficial than a traditional sales or business case approach.
In order to sell to hospitals, it is important to:
If you are selling a product directly to consumers, it is important to understand:
In the case of my company, our co-founding team consisted of nurses, doctors and engineers who worked on healthcare technology in the past. We were able to use our past experiences to identify a huge problem in the healthcare supply chain, and we quickly built technology to solve waste and inefficiency in this area. Our clinical experience came in handy when pitching our idea to clinical leaders, healthcare investors and in recruiting more team members. We used our network to gain early adopters of our product because we were selling to champions and healthcare professionals who had similar stories and pain points as we did.
Getting capital and resources can help bring your innovation to market. There are several ways nurse entrepreneurs can finance innovative ideas today such as bootstrapping—funding your own idea with your personal capital, friends and family, loans or debt financing, grants, angel investors, accelerators, or venture capital. All of these ways of financing your project have their benefits and drawbacks—use caution and carefully review all options before financing your project.
If you are creating a product for an organization that you are working for, you need to understand the cycle of the fiscal year, operational budget and capital budget structures. Finding the right time to approach an organization when resources are available is important because modern healthcare organizations are oftentimes limited with resources and funding to implement new technology. Getting a champion, someone who will promote your product within the organization, and buy-in from organizational decision-makers is key to getting staff and resources on your project.
Building a successful company or innovative technology requires a motivated and passionate team. Hiring people who can both sell and build can help accelerate company growth and create a balanced interdisciplinary team.
It is beneficial to have collaborators or co-founders with differing skills, expertise and networks in order to build and create a product or service that customers will love to use. The network and affiliations that your team has can also help augment the team’s capacity, bandwidth and aid in forming synergistic partnerships with other companies.
In order to build a larger network to aid with recruiting efforts, it is helpful to attend events through a professional organization or university. Conferences, healthcare hackathons and online social networks are also useful in finding co-founders and high performing team members.
Some of the most successful innovators and entrepreneurs would not have been as successful if it were not for mentors, advisors and peers guiding them along the way. Getting another view on an innovative idea and how to implement it are critical to the success of launching a new venture. Ideas often evolve through multiple iterations and a good mentor or peer can you navigate through technical or commercial roadblocks.
Promoting and supporting nursing innovation enables organizations to build new products and capabilities that solve critical problems in healthcare. Additionally, nurse-led innovation efforts within an organization can help increase recruitment and retention.
As front-line workers, nurses know where the problems lie in inefficiency, waste and cost. Nursing innovation often involves nurses building their own solutions to solve problems that they have personally experienced or their patients’ experience. Having that personal connection and passion for solving a critical healthcare problem can make all the difference in bringing an innovative idea to life.
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