The best startup incubators for physicians who want to lead healthcare transformation

Last updated Aug 25, 2020 | Published on Aug 31, 2020

When you spend all day, every day in a healthcare delivery setting as a clinician, you can’t help but identify problems, inefficiencies, and unmet needs. But then, ideas for solutions, answers, and improvements start emerging. Many ideas are just fleeting thoughts, though a select few have real promise. To move an idea past the “idea” stage is a big undertaking. An incubator or accelerator program can help make this happen. This article introduces some of the best startup incubators for doctors.

What is a startup incubator?

A business incubator provides support and infrastructure for a startup company. There are various configurations and a range of ways in which incubators facilitate startup teams. Generally speaking, they offer expert advising and mentoring, capital funds, office space, administrative and IT support, and networking opportunities.

Some incubators are a formal program of a set length, in which a group of startup teams join together for a period of several months. They often include some sort of curriculum, lectures, activities, and social events. Others are more flexible in when and how a startup utilizes their resources.

A business accelerator is a similar ecosystem with subtle differences. Incubators tend to focus on innovation and disruptive ideas, while accelerator programs aim to accelerate the growth of an existing company. So, depending on where you are in getting an idea off the ground, this distinction could be important.

The best startup incubators in healthcare address barriers that doctors face

Doctors are bursting with promising ideas that could potentially transform healthcare delivery, but we face major barriers in moving ideas to actual solutions, products, and functioning companies. Here is where clinicians tend to run into road blocks:

  • Limited time to work on a startup outside of day to day job responsibilities
  • Lack of funds to dedicate to a startup
  • Limited knowledge of how to start and grow a business
  • Uncertainty of regulations pertaining to the idea
  • Lacking in certain areas of expertise and knowledge

When done right, the best startup incubators address all of these. They provide funding, mentoring from experts, a structured program to build and grow a startup, and the resources needed to bring the idea from one stage to the next.

Most incubators are industry-recognized, competitive programs that are fitting for inclusion on your resume and represent relevant professional experience. This means that, if you need to resign or take time off from your clinical job, you’re not leaving a gap on your work history.

A handful of the best startup incubators and accelerators for doctors

Some incubators cross industries and sectors to focus on startups that meet certain criteria, such as mobile technologies or young companies that are based in a certain geographic area. Other programs concentrate on particular fields or business types, such as medical devices or digital health.

The list that follows includes a range of emphases and requirements. What these programs have in common is being particularly well suited for medical doctors and clinicians who are motivated to bring a health care idea to fruition.

Sling Health

This first option is fitting for doctors due to both its focus on clinicians and its flexibility. Sling Health was founded at Washington University in St. Louis with the goal of bringing entrepreneurs together with faculty, staff, and students to address problems in medicine and healthcare delivery.

They invite both physicians and nurses to submit clinically-related issues and unmet needs, as well as their ideas for solutions to these problems.

The formal program runs from September to May, but doctors can choose whether to play an active role or act solely as a mentor.

Health Wildcatters

A Texas-based healthcare accelerator, Health Wildcatters, takes 8 to 12 health startups for a 12-week program each year. They boast the ability to connect teams to a deep network of mentors and investors, as well as provide other resources for startup growth.

HealthBox

The Foundry Program at HealthBox helps turn projects into real products and working solutions. Participants complete a commercialization program that is rigorous and market-tested, focusing on the digital health market. What sets this program apart from others is that they work with employees to help their current organizations drive innovation. (So there’s no need to quit your job!)

In addition to their accelerator program, HealthBox offers workshops and consulting for healthcare organizations who want to foster innovation.

MATTER

Joining MATTER allows clinicians to develop the knowledge and skills needed to navigate the complexities of growing a business within the healthcare industry. Their program incorporates a curriculum, guidance from industry experts, and other resources. Startup types include health IT, diagnostics, and other health solutions.

Cedars-Sinai Accelerator

We all know the name Cedars Sinai. They’re well-known as a clinical leader, but many doctors don’t realize they’re a resource for physician entrepreneurs. The Cedars-Sinai Accelerator Is a 3-month program run twice per year in Los Angeles. It provides generous funding and mentorship for startups, aiming to transform patient care and healthcare delivery.

This accelerator is primarily focused on technologies that improve clinical care, the patient experience, and processes used in care delivery settings. Alumni companies include Sway, WELL, and Invio.

Henry Ford Innovations

The Innovation Institute at Henry Ford Innovations offers a renowned test bed for medical care innovations. Their program includes access to subject matter experts, engineering services, education, physical space, and other resources. They have a focus on commercializing and licensing intellectual assets, including medical products, therapies, and systems.

Boomtown Accelerators

Most of the accelerators discussed here concentrate on health care. Boomtown Accelerators is somewhat different in that their program is open to a wide variety of industries, which includes health and wellness, medical devices, and health care systems.

They have partnered with COPIC to offer a special program – the Patient Safety Health Tech Accelerator. This program supports innovations in patient safety and risk management with twice-yearly, 12-week programs in Boulder, CO.

Athenahealth MDP Labs

MDP stands for “more disruption, please.” Athenahealth’s MDP Labs aims to offer healthcare entrepreneurs exposure to Athena’s resources, including leadership, mentors, and R&D teams in order to help health IT startups get their products off the ground and be successful.

This is a great option for physicians who already use Athenahealth products in their clinical practice and have an idea for a health IT solution that may integrate with their existing platforms.

Cambia Grove

Targeting “communities of healthcare changemakers,” Cambia Grove focuses catalyzing solutions to system-level challenges in healthcare. They have a few different offerings:

  • a competition to provide health startups access to real-world testing and application,
  • an Innovator Fellowship focusing on health data interoperability, and
  • a Solutions Lab that supports entrepreneurs in their trek toward health care transformation.

There are many more incubators that might be a fit

This is by no means an exhaustive list of incubators that work with healthcare startups and clinicians. If you have an idea or a prototype for a product, service, or solution that you want to run with and just need some support or funding, be sure to explore your options.

Also, if you are affiliated with an academic institution, considering checking whether they have an innovation center that works with staff to get ideas moving, bring new products to market, or make changes within the organization. UPenn’s Innovation Accelerator Program is an example of this.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself to get started in thinking about what incubator may be the right fit for you:

  • What is the most relevant need that you have – capital or expertise?
  • What is your long-term vision for your business – do you want to lead the company yourself as it grows, or sell it?
  • Are you willing to take 3-12 months off from your clinical career for a formal, full-time program, or do you want to be more of a consultant while you continue your job?
  • Are you willing to temporarily relocate?
  • Do you already have a team working with you, or do you need to build one?

Every incubator has advantages and disadvantage for any given startup. Consider your own situation and what the definition of success would be for you and your idea.

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