The Problems (and Possibilities) of Health Startup Partnerships

indexHealthXL is a partnership of 11 of the biggest corporations in healthcare, including Cleveland Clinic, IBM and Janssen Healthcare Innovation, to name a few.  They have “audacious” goals of solving some of the biggest problems in the industry.

In preparation for their Silicon Valley Gathering, held about 6 weeks ago here in San Francisco, they polled both large corporations and health startups to find out what their concerns are regarding partnering with each other.  The findings are quite striking.

For the corporations, the biggest concerns mainly fell into 2 areas:
–    Opportunities with startups being too small/not strategic
–    Startups having an unclear business model

On the part of the startups, their main concerns landed in 3 areas:
–    Corporations moving too slow in their decision-making
–    Getting access to the right level in a corporation
–    Navigating complexity in a corporation

What can we learn from this research?  It appears there are some key takeaways for both parties.  Let’s start with startups.  As I’ve said many times, there is no shortage of healthcare problems to solve in today’s world.  Take a hard look at what you’re working on your own health startup.  Is it really a broad, strategic game-changer?  And does it have ramifications for other aspects of the healthcare ecosystem?  Or is it so narrow and specialized that, to a large organization, its impact will be too small to justify partnering or funding?  How can you widen your focus, hone your go-to-market strategy and possibly leverage your healthcare solution so that it impacts more people and, in the process, becomes more attractive to corporate partners?

Now on to the established organizations.  Moving slowly – certainly as compared to startup time – is a common issue, and few sectors move quite as slowly as healthcare.  (HealthXL did some additional research, comparing how long it takes from project initiation to partner engagement and – surprise! – corporations take 2-4 times longer than startups do).  It’s also easy to see how a startup would feel daunted by getting to the right person in a huge healthcare or business organization – it’s a bit like the villager trying to make their way through the royal palace.  If you are on the corporate end of things, what can you and your colleagues do to make… the process easier and faster?  The experience less daunting?  The access to the appropriate people more straightforward?  (Hint: take a look at what the 11 HealthXL partner companies have done – you’ll probably find some interesting answers!)

A word that is coming to mind is empathy.  Strategic partnerships between startups and big companies can be amazing – each has what the other lacks and together they can definitely be more than the sum of their parts when they team up.  The real winners will approach their future partnerships only after they have looked at the opportunity from their partner’s point of view first, and adjusted their plan accordingly, showing real empathy for the others’ situation and needs.  To learn more about HealthXL, click here.

Hilary Weber, founder, Opportu Startup Leadership.

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