An Inside Look at Enterprise Digital Innovation: Highlights from the Rock Health Spring 2021 Member Retreat

We recently had the privilege of hosting over two dozen digital health executives from major healthcare organizations across the world for our virtual Spring Member Retreat. While representing a diverse set of organizations (provider, payer, biopharma, retail, tech) and roles (innovation, corp dev, venture), each retreat attendee shared one important characteristic—a passion for driving digital innovation within their organization. Rock Health Member Retreats are designed to be interactive, candid conversations that foster community building and generate ideas for enterprise digital innovation initiatives. And the timing of the retreat couldn’t have been any better.

Digital health continues to see $1B funding weeks driven by mega deal after mega deal, all alongside a tsunami of exit activity via SPACs, IPOs, and M&A. Needless to say, velocity is the theme of 2021 digital health venture funding so far: velocity of capital investment, exits, consolidation, vertical integration, big tech’s continued entrance into digital health, and partnership opportunities. All of this movement means that digital health leaders must regularly reevaluate how to guide their organizations toward new opportunities and where to keep an eye out for competitive threats.

With no shortage of appealing investments, partnerships, and innovation ideas, digital health executives feel increased pressure to make bolder (and faster) decisions. This sentiment rang true at the retreat, as Members shared thoughts on what it takes to overcome big company inertia, evaluate new partnership possibilities and keep successful ones going, and shore up internal buy-in for initiatives that set their sights on long-term value creation.

A few key perspectives and takeaways from our Members that stood out:

1. Get clear on individual business unit needs and gaps.

When it comes to pushing digital solutions forward, Members highlighted the importance of internal relationship-building. Within large organizations, there’s often a tension between the short-term needs of individual business units and the 5-10 year transformational goals set by enterprise innovation teams. To turn that tension into alignment, our participants suggested meeting regularly with business unit decision makers to gauge their top needs, discuss short- and long-term opportunities, and reach a common understanding of what digital transformation means to the enterprise as a whole. One Member organization created a digital health council comprised of decision makers from all business units and regions. This council meets monthly to provide updates on the organization’s digital innovation initiatives, hear from business units on their needs, and stay aligned on org-wide innovation goals. Innovation team members set the agenda for the two-hour meeting, while business unit leaders provide meaningful updates about their work to the entire group.

2. Choose your partners wisely.

From a quick Zoom poll during the retreat, 44% of attendees said that across a range of innovation activities, their organizations spend the most time evaluating external partnerships. In addition to evaluating the immediate need for a potential partner, Members advised their peers to keep a keen eye toward the long-term sustainability of partnerships. One Member shared that their partnership innovation cycle includes the following steps: creating problem statements that map to unmet needs, sizing and prioritizing opportunity areas, and sourcing potential partners. Another Member organization creates steering committees for each partnership, co-led by the Member organization and the partner; these committees execute a defined process to scope the partnership, evaluate its success, and adjust goals throughout the partnership. Members stressed the importance of having a clear, repeatable strategy to source, evaluate, and maintain partnerships.

But a consistent process doesn’t mean one-size-fits-all. One Member shared that the term “partnership” often means something different for each startup or vendor relationship, and that enterprise organizations should lean into this reality. For example, a company could partner with an earlier-stage startup to offer product and/or clinical validation and then diversify and advance the relationship through an equity investment down the road.

3. Broadcast your wins!

It’s easy to get lost in the fast pace of responsibilities within digital health innovation—eat, sleep, complete due diligence, partner, champion, repeat. But it’s important to stop and acknowledge team and company-wide progress. One Member shared how their corporate venture team uses a live dashboard not just to track the financial value of their portfolio companies, but also to convey the clinical and economic value that their business derives from implementing these startup solutions. They schedule frequent touchpoints with leadership to review the dashboard and bring the narrative to life. Another salient piece of Member advice: socialize your wins and turn them into regular topics of discussion at your company, especially within executive circles.

With more seismic shifts in healthcare sure to be in store over the next few months, we’re excited to bring this enterprise innovation community back together for our Fall 2021 Member Retreat. For more information on the next retreat and Rock Health Membership, drop us a note.

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