Growing with creativity and authenticity: Lessons from Digital Health CEO Summit 2024

To build a sustainable business, “move slow to go fast.” This piece of advice was one of the countless snippets of wisdom shared at Rock Health’s 12th Annual Digital Health CEO Summit, held on March 19, 2024 at the New York Stock Exchange. The intimate, invite-only event offered an opportunity for 120+ digital health CEOs to engage in peer-driven discussions on ways to unlock paths to scale, tap into diverse funding sources, and recognize the power of narrative as a lever for business growth.

The CEOs in attendance represented businesses across all stages of growth, from pre-seed to Series D+ funding. Their organizations varied in size from one to over 1,000 employees, and nearly 30 percent were founded before 2018. Approximately two-thirds of participants were first-time founders, and over 40 percent identified as founders of color.

Across the day, CEOs exchanged lessons from lived entrepreneurial experience to help peers build their companies in this continuously evolving industry landscape. Notable themes that rose to the top:

Stay rooted, but remain adaptable.

Scaling a business requires creativity and a willingness to iterate at all stages of growth. However, CEOs acknowledged the tension of remaining flexible while staying grounded in the north star of your business.

From a funding perspective, CEOs shared innovative ways they secured capital that aligned with their goals. These methods included bringing customers in as investors and leveraging grants from non-dilutive funding sources. However, raising capital without a clear plan to deploy it to build the business, one CEO said, is “putting yourself in situations that you’re not going to be happy with in the future.”

A cohesive narrative that balances consistency with adaptability also emerged as an important foundation for growth and impact. Creating a clear, crisp value proposition helps CEOs secure capital from investors. CEOs can build their team by clearly articulating the mission candidates could contribute to by joining, and by recruiting people with a strong personal connection to that mission. Organizations can also be strengthened internally through impact stories and sharing patient outcomes during team meetings.

While defined messaging is needed to bring various audiences along on a startup’s journey, testing and refining the narrative in parallel is an equally important exercise. To be effective in a constantly evolving market, narratives must be dynamic, and leaders should seek feedback and support on their messaging from both trusted customers and investors and communications professionals, respectively. “None of us can do this alone,” a CEO said. “You need a circle of experts around you.”

Be selective.

In an ever-evolving market environment, CEOs made clear that optionality is a luxury that can come and go—and emphasized that when it’s there, use it to your advantage. Vet investors, partners, and clients to build successful working relationships.

When securing capital, CEOs encourage their peers to seek out experienced, expert investors who can help address the company’s larger needs. Vetting and selecting investors can take 1-3 years, one CEO shared, and tactical recommendations included brainstorming sessions with them to observe how they work through challenges.

For partnerships, where companies are engaging with other organizations to pilot new offerings or expand their pipeline, a clear vetting process can save time and money. One CEO said that instead of spinning with a potential partner on what might be possible, find a target client and do the work jointly to assess whether the partnership is worth scaling in the market.

Securing the right client requires alignment between the type of relationship the startup needs with how the client is willing to engage. One CEO shared that he landed the first client by positioning his company’s immaturity as an opportunity for the client to serve as a partner rather than a vendor. A partner grows with the company, the leader said, and influences what metrics will be used to measure accountability.

Find and nurture a peer crew.

The brand of a business and a CEO are often one in the early stages of growth, leaders said, making it difficult to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Mental health must be prioritized and CEOs shared several strategies they found helpful throughout their entrepreneurial journeys. Prioritize ruthlessly and take action on only what will make the most impact. Acknowledge that building a business requires a Herculean amount of persistence and resilience. As one leader advised, during “the no trouble bubble”—the rare times when there are no urgent issues—take advantage of the relative calm to see friends, rest, and refill your cup.

Leaders also recommended reframing what success means. Rather than over-indexing on the importance of valuations or capital raise, instead, focus on economic and clinical metrics to measure (and celebrate) the health of the company. “In Silicon Valley we talk a lot about disruption. In healthcare, that mindset isn’t always helpful, because the person that might lose is the patient,” one CEO said. “It’s about making the system more efficient.”

Lastly, CEOs reflected that running a company is a unique profession, and finding trusted peers to confide in that relate to the experience provides both professional and personal advantages. Use existing professional networks to find other CEOs who can serve as confidants and schedule time to meet at a regular cadence. Take advantage of community forums (like the CEO Summit!) to help intentionally build and reinforce a cohort of supportive peers who can offer their advice and professional network to help your business grow.

Thank you to all of our attendees for taking the time to gather as a community and share their experiences. We would also like to extend a special thank you to our sponsors: Fenwick, Fiore Ventures, HSBC Innovation Banking, the American Medical Association, Healthworx, and the Peterson Health Technology Institute.

We look forward to bringing the digital health community together again at Rock Health Summit on September 10th in San Francisco. For more information about attending or sponsoring, reach out to us at To keep in touch with the team and stay updated on events, sign up for our mailing list here.

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