What’s driving millennials to health tech?

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The lovely Judy Wang wrote this blog post, which originally appeared on VectorJudy Wang, MS, is a program manager in the Telehealth Program at Boston Children’s Hospital. She is currently serving on the Mayor’s ONEin3 Council, which works on projects dedicated to maximizing the positive impact that young people have on the City of Boston. 

young health tech entrepreneurs

If you Google the term “millennials,” you’ll see that Google automatically fills in such search terms as “millennials lazy,” “millennials spoiled,” “millennialstrophy kids” and “millennials entitled.” Ouch.

As part of the Mayor’s ONEin3 Council and a Founding Hacker for MIT Hacking Medicine, I could not disagree more with this assessment of my generation. I’ve observed young people increasingly drawn to civically minded work with public impact—including work in health tech.

Several successful startup companies that formed out of MIT Hacking Medicine hackathons, for example, were launched by entrepreneurs under the age of 35 (Smart Scheduling and PillPack, to name a few).

Given that talented young people could be working in other industries, why choose to be an entrepreneur in health tech? I posed this question to some young Boston-based entrepreneurs.

Drawn to a challenge

“After school, I wanted to explore my options, but a lot of the options had to do with business or general consulting,” says engineer Liz Asai, 22, co-founder and CEO of the teledermatology company 3Derm and a Healthbox graduate. “For many college students, Wall Street is seen as the ‘safe’ route. With entrepreneurship, you’re doing something new and exciting.”

Millennial entrepreneurs

Asai and her co-founder, Elliot Swart, were sophomores when they explored the possibility of engineering a 3-D surgical probe that could assess a tissue’s tactile properties without exploratory surgery. They pivoted to exploring how 3-D imaging technology could be used in dermatology, so they could enter an entrepreneurship competition around primary care innovations. They ended up winning a $100,000 primary health care prize from the Center for Integration of Medicine and Innovative Technology (CIMIT).

“We thought we were millionaires,” Asai laughs. “We weren’t just playing around in the lab anymore.”

Other young health tech entrepreneurs report similar motivations: The health care space is challenging and exciting, with the potential to impact a wide audience.

“From a scale perspective, health is a major issue for so many people,” says Cole Boskey, 27, co-founder and Chief Growth Officer of Wellable, which uses consumer technology to help employees be proactive about their health. “I can’t think of another space that is as complicated and challenging: how people think about and manage their health.”

“At the beginning, it was just a desire to have fun—a lot of really smart people are at hackathons and interested in health care,” says Crystal Law, 29, co-founder and CEO of Twiage, which leverages mobile devices to provide emergency room physicians with up-to-date information from paramedics in the field.

Millennial entrepreneurs

Twiage is one of many startups focused on unsolved “pain points” that physicians, patients and consumers experience in their everyday activities. The company began last year at a H@cking Medicine hackathon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital as a way to ease the patient handoff and clinician communication processes.

LeanBox, a food services company, grew out of co-founder and CEO Shea Coakley’s difficulty in accessing healthy, affordable food near his workplace. “This is a major gap,” says Coakley, 30. “How do we tackle this healthy food piece that is one piece of the grander health care problem?”

Age discrimination?

While all health tech entrepreneurs encounter barriers as they grow and fund their businesses, young entrepreneurs often face another barrier: age.

“A lot of people don’t trust young entrepreneurs in this space, even though young entrepreneurs have changed other [technology] spaces,” says Asai. She points out that Facebook, Google and Uber were all created by young entrepreneurs and didn’t seem to receive the same scrutiny that health tech companies face.

Law agrees. “We’re met with more skepticism because we’re younger and trying to implement change with people who sometimes like things the way they are,” she says. But there are supporters as well. “Many people we work with have been exceptional champions for us and are hungry for change.”

Boskey feels that his age is an asset: It’s allowed him to commit to building Wellable full time and take bigger risks. “If you’re older, you might have a larger network and you might be more successful more quickly, but I don’t really see that as a barrier to entry,” he says. “There are a lot of resources to help younger entrepreneurs.”

While Boston has a supportive startup ecosystem, and health care is ripe for disruptive innovation, all four young entrepreneurs caution that health care still moves relatively slowly.

“It’s not the type of startup that you can turn around in two years,” warns Asai, “but it’s definitely worth it. Even incremental changes can have a large impact.”

Despite the challenges, all four entrepreneurs see exciting possibilities. “That’s the great thing about disruptive innovation,” Boskey says. “A lot of health care startups are innovating in spaces where larger companies might not have the opportunity.”

At the same time, he adds, “seeing companies like Samsung, Apple and Adidas getting into wellness on the consumer side is a huge win for us. I’m excited about their ability to educate consumers and make [wellness technology] more mainstream and normal.”

What excites Coakley most is the growing number of entrepreneurs who are passionate about the health care space and want to make a difference. “Health and wellness is one of the most direct and obvious ways that you can do that,” he says. “You can make a very tangible effect on your customer’s life.”

We invite all health tech entrepreneurs—from millennials to boomers—to attend the Boston Children’s Hospital Global Pediatric Innovation Summit + Awards. The Summit kicks off October 30 with a panel on mobile and digital health, and will feature an Innovation Tank (October 31) where entrepreneurs can pitch their ideas. #PedInno14

Why it’s the best time in history to be a healthcare entrepreneur

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By Zen Chu 

Now is the best time in the history of the world to be a healthcare entrepreneur, and those with fresh eyes on healthcare problems — young health professionals along with patients, engineers, designers and entrepreneurs — are able to make large and rapid clinical impact.

As healthcare reform changes the way we pay for medical products and services, today’s clinicians and health professionals are entering the field amid fundamental transformation and new opportunities. Government and the private sector are adopting new models of measuring healthcare value and quality — along with new payment models to bend the cost curve. Hospitals and insurers finally have stronger incentives to invest in new technologies for preventative care and efficiency. Pharma and large med tech firms have pruned their own R&D efforts while partnering with smaller nimbler companies. These tectonic shifts favor smaller more agile companies to design new solutions to fill these gaps.

While NIH and government science funding is waning, new funding sources are enabling the testing of new solutions and business models. Funding sources for healthcare startups have expanded beyond traditional venture capital to powerful angel investor networks, venture philanthropy, and crowd-funding by engaged patient communities. Beyond the established healthcare markets, a new global middle class is driving demand for existing healthcare products and new services in emerging economies.

Amid these tectonic shifts in healthcare globally, medical students, young health professionals, engineers and patients have a unique ability to be healthcare entrepreneurs. They’re on the front lines of healthcare delivery — working inside hospitals and healthcare facilities — everyday. As new clinicians navigate antiquated workflows, artificially expensive products, and entrenched habits of both clinicians and patients, they’re asking an innocent question: Does it really have to be done this way? That simple question opens the door to redesigning products and services that existing hospitals, academic medicine and industry have failed to address.

Inspired by the rise of Silicon Valley lore and the social impact of new technologies, young health professionals now view startups as a vehicle for meaningful impact. A clinician’s impact has traditionally been limited to the patients she can touch with her own two hands. New technologies such as sensors, medical devices, diagnostics, software, mobile applications and services enabled by these technologies hold the promise of “scalable medicine.” New inventions that economically improve diagnostics or simplify treatments result in scaling medicine beyond our doctor shortages and amplify a public health impact.

But clinical insight is insufficient. For a new solution to make a real world impact on patients, it requires proof of clinical efficacy, a sustainable economic model, a willing buyer and a team that can bring it to market. Most health professionals cannot succeed as healthcare innovators alone. They have been selected and trained in ways that dampen creativity and entrepreneurial muscles. Especially in the USA, most clinicians lack an understanding of payments and costs to drive the business model insight to match the clinical insight of a new invention or process. Hierarchical training, poor hospital management, glacial reimbursement changes,  and fear of liability are just a few of the factors that breed a culture where superior solutions can fail to be adopted even when the evidence supports it. Often a product that works well in the US or European healthcare system fails when transplanted to a lower income country and needs to be re-engineered for the local clinical context.

Enter the Healthcare Hackathon — a process, toolset, and gathering which accelerates the creation of teams and solutions to tackle the complexity of healthcare’s toughest problems. Over the past three years, the H@cking Medicine Initiative at MIT has held more than a dozen events on four continents, in partnership with the Harvard Medical School teaching hospitals and leading healthcare institutions around the world. Hacking culture — meaning clever exploration and engineering — has a long history at MIT and is now being adapted to healthcare challenges.

Through these hackathons, our teams and faculty have honed a process to identify and validate unmet medical needs while assembling diverse teams to tackle solutions with both clinical impact and a sustainable business model. Our health hackathons bring clinicians together with entrepreneurs, engineers, and designers to collaborate openly in events that span a few hours or an entire weekend.  Most important, more than 200 teams have formed to taste the entrepreneurial process and tackle a complex health problem, resulting in dozens of teams continuing after the events and a handful of venture-financed start-ups formed around reinventing solutions to problems such as medication compliancepatient scheduling, and lab report delivery.

On the weekend of March 14-16, we’re kicking off a Grand H@ckfest at MIT’s Media Lab, in partnership with the Kauffman Foundation and a few leading healthcare institutions. Healthcare leaders will present some of their biggest problems, in an effort to identify testable solutions and fundable teams in a single weekend. Tracks will encompass telemedicine, health info tech, rare disease diagnosis, diabetes, and global health.

(originally published on Kauffman Foundation’s Entrepreneurship.org)


Fall Hackathons: BWH and Children’s!

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Brigham & Women’s hackathon: September 20 – 22, 2013.


Apply to BWH  | Details

 Follow @BWHiHub | @hackmedMIT for the latest

Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis after September 4th!


 hack_pediatrics_website master page logo

Apply | Details

Follow @HackPediatrics | @hackmedMIT for the latest.

BWH & MIT H@cking Medicine – Joint Hackathon | September 20-22nd

By | agenda, brigham and womens, hackathon, hacking, healthcare, hospital, MIT, Uncategorized | No Comments


Sept 20-22nd.  @BWHiHUB @HackMedMIT

Engineers, Entrepreneurs, Physicians, Designers, and Scientists:

You are invited the inaugural joint hack-a-thon between Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and H@cking Medicine!

This event brings together innovative, forward-thinking minds to change the status quo and create disruptive solutions in healthcare today. You are needed to help drive the much-needed change in healthcare.

The weekend hackathon takes place September 20 – 22. with a kick-off social event Friday to meet the other attendees at BWH with light bites and refreshments. The hackathon will start Saturday morning and will take place at the Shapiro Cardiovascular Center at BWH.  In addition, BWH will provide nourishment for the weekend. Please see the agenda below for more details about the logistics for the event.

To participate, apply by Monday, September 16th. Bring your skills, your ideas, or both. 110 of applicants will be selected to participate.

 Click here to apply

This hack-a-thon will bring together a diverse, multidisciplinary group to “pitch” problems impacting healthcare, develop solutions over a two-day period, and then present demos of your solutions to a panel of judges for recognition and honors.

Don’t miss this unique opportunity to collaborate with experts in a variety of fields and novices with infectious passion, pitch an idea for transforming a current health care process and together, ‘hack’ or devise a real solution. These solutions could be as straightforward as a wireframe sketch, or might require running to a local store for parts to build a prototype, or reaching out to a physician to ask a pressing question for a mobile app. The ultimate result could be the beginning of the next big health care transformation.

End the weekend with a team, new connections, and prizes with potential access to BWH’s iHub resources (see below), and a hack on its first steps towards disrupting healthcare. Past teams at hack-a-thons just like this one have gone on to found companies, enter business plan competitions (MIT 100K), join an accelerator, and secure venture funding.


About H@cking Medicine

H@cking Medicine seeks to create an ecosystem at MIT, hosting the Boston medical community and beyond to teach entrepreneurs and clinicians the skills necessary to launch disruptive healthcare businesses.  They have been hacking healthcare since 2011 with several successful Hackathons.