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

We caught up with Zen Chu, the founder of HackingMedicine and the current Entrepreneur in Residence at MIT to ask him some burning questions about digital health and entrepreneurship. Hear more from Chu at our sold out Healthcare Bootcamp in Boston tomorrow, along with thought leaders from athenahealth, MC10, IDEO and others.

What was the impetus for starting HackingMedicine?

We started MIT’s HackingMedicine program to push a philosophy that entrepreneurship is best suited to tackle healthcare’s largest problems. Housed within the Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, it serves as a place to welcome non-healthcare engineers and entrepreneurs and connect them to Harvard Medical School and connect them to Harvard Medical School, the Health Sciences & Technology joint graduate program between MIT and Harvard, and Boston’s wonderful teaching hospitals. Our content and most programs are open to everyone and the mission is to infect more entrepreneurs to tackle healthcare problems.

How do we better engage clinicians in technology innovation in healthcare?

The best healthcare solutions alleviate suffering at scale, often via technology to de-skill medicine, increase quality and lower costs, thus broadening access for more people around the world. Clinicians often get in habits and practices that are hard to change. Our Healthcare Hackathons have brought hundreds of clinicians and health professionals together with entrepreneurs, engineers and hackers. We have now moved over 1500 participants through hackathons on 4 continents and we believe the process we have developed and freely teach is one of the best ways to identify unmet healthcare needs and bring diverse perspectives together to create high impact and creative solutions.

What is the number one piece advice you have for entrepreneurs?

Be a missionary, not a mercenary. Find a mission and customer with whom you truly empathize. The rest will come if you use that as your compass.

How do you ‘teach’ entrepreneurship?

Learn through doing. Entrepreneurship is not academic, though one should try to be strategic you don’t need an MBA. Classes and books can only go so far and every startup or technology is it’s own beast depending on the team and challenge. I think the most important aspect of entrepreneurship is the entrepreneur’s mindset: to have a mission, clear use case and the persistence to solve it creatively.

You’ve said it’s the most exciting time to be an entrepreneur? Why now?

This is truly the best time in the history of the world to be a healthcare entrepreneur:

  • Broad realization that technology can be used to scale medicine at a broader systems + population health
  • Changing healthcare reforms in the US is aligning incentives for better systemic healthcare
  • Large entrenched healthcare institutions are having a tough time adapting versus more agile startups
  • Start up costs have plummeted, so it’s more capital efficient than ever
  • The ubiquity of mobile computing and low cost diagnostics and sensors make health data liquidity and tracking easier than ever
  • Rising middle classes and health infrastructure in emerging economies are expanding access and demand globally