It's not easy to succeed as a healthcare entrepreneur, and assisting those entrepreneurs to transform the industry is far tougher. Dr. Arlen Meyers is well aware of the system's paradigms. Midway in his 40 years of an academic career as an otolaryngology professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, Arlen was offered an opportunity to work with a team that invented a medical device that optically detects surface cancers. This subsequently led to the commercialization of the device, but the technology transfer process was difficult. The medical education system does not provide training, education, resources, to do it. “Unfortunately, the medical schools and the medical education establishment are not addressing that gap,” he asserts. “It is cruel and unusual punishment to expect people to innovate and create value and pay them for value without providing them with the necessary education, training, and resources to create it.” He was even more frustrated when he discovered that there was no reliable platform that provided students, faculty, and staff with networks, mentors, experience, peer support, and non-clinical career guidance. So, he decided to do something about it. This led to the foundations of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs (SoPE) in 2011. As the President and CEO of the SoPE, Arlen and his team have created opportunities for many physician entrepreneurs. SoPE is a non-profit, global, biomedical, and clinical open innovation and entrepreneurship network with a mission to help members get their ideas to patients. SoPE’s vision is to close global health outcome disparities through the creation and deployment of biomedical and clinical innovation.
As a virtual network, Arlen and his team have grown the company’s membership, expanded hybrid distribution channels, and created new chapters internationally. “We run lean, so our subscription model revenues have also grown. The members come from all different walks of life, not just physicians, It's an Open Innovation Network, so you don’t need to be a healthcare professional to join,” says Arlen. He mentions there are many different ways people are trying to facilitate the transfer of basic ideas and discoveries to the market. But, as a professional educator, who used to teach surgery, Arlen’s approach is mostly focused on education and training. He says, “We also realize that it takes a lot more than just education, to get someone to the point where they're able to get an idea to a patient.” Thus, the SoPE consists of open networks, mentors, experience, access to resources, social support, websites, and international conferences.
“You finally, identify a value proposition and a business model that works, you nail it, you scale that model, and then you exit, sell it. And different people have different skill sets, including the entrepreneur as well as the advisor as to how they can help you get there. So, it's a constant iteration and a constant interesting revisiting process”
Arlen refers to the current system of healthcare as a sick care system, where around $3.8 trillion is spent on healthcare and 93% of it goes to taking care of sick people and not keeping people healthy. The goal of SoPE is to transform the sick care system into a health care system through the deployment of innovation. “Which is really what our core vision is,” Arlen says. “But that's not going to happen without a whole lot of work.” He explains that most healthcare workers, scientists, and biomedical engineers are not problem-focused but solution-focused. They believe they are equipped with good ideas, but most of them are not inventive or even innovative. Others do not know what to do with their ideas and how to convey their ideas to the patients. And, most of them do not have an entrepreneurial mindset. Thus, they require proper guidance making SoPE a useful resource. It's very easy to join at sopenet.org, and subscribe for only $80 a year. “You really get a pretty reasonable bang for the buck,” he says. “The main value proposition is that you collaborate and interface with other people.”
Whenever Arlen meets new individuals who seek to join SoPE, he begins with understanding their expectations and asking them questions: “What is your next critical success factor? What is the big picture? What is it that you need?” Later on, during the conversation, Arlen generally shares his background experience, networks, and connections. Most importantly, he makes them realize achieving the value proposition and validating the elements of the business model. He makes them understand that it's not about money but more importantly recognizing the problem. “Be a problem seeker, before you become a problem solver,” says Arlen. He highlights that in SoPE, people share their clinical experiences so that others may benefit and learn through the platform.
“fail it, nail it, scale it and sale it.”
“There's a lot I could say about how to be an advisor to a company, and likewise, what the entrepreneur should look for in an advisor in a company. But there are lots of different things that an advisor can provide,” he says. Further implying, they can provide monitoring of the environment, connections, strategic direction, their own money, and specific domain expertise. But he suggests entrepreneurs constantly revisit the relationship even after the next critical success factor is achieved, because the same skillset offered by the advisor may not be the right for the next critical success factors. As many people are good at business development, market surveillance, market research, and validating such aspects, but they are not good at raising money. Thus, even if the person achieved step one, one must never forget to move forward with caution. Or as he prefers to say, “fail it, nail it, scale it and sale it.”
“You finally, identify a value proposition and a business model that works, you nail it, you scale that model, and then you exit, sell it. And different people have different skill sets, including the entrepreneur as well as the advisor as to how they can help you get there. So, it's a constant iteration and a constant interesting revisiting process,” says Arlen.
He believes that the observation is that ecosystems have a life cycle. “So, I think it's a leadership challenge whether it's the aerospace community in town, or whether it's manufacturing, it's about leadership, and sustaining that objective, setting the vision, creating the strategies, aligning the incentives, the usual stuff,” he continues. He says that the differences between the different ecosystems have to do with culture. In the meetings, SoPE tries to help members understand their blind spots. All this understanding in him is due to his background as a surgeon and most importantly an academic surgeon. He has spent his entire career educating people how to do the surgery but he also asserts, “note, I didn't say I taught them how to be surgeons, it's the same thing in entrepreneurship.” Arlen points out he cannot teach one how to be a surgeon, but can teach one how to do surgery; similarly, he cannot teach someone how to be an entrepreneur but can teach how to do entrepreneurship. He feels that a lot of it has to do with the focus of the organization, and the ecosystem has to do with leadership and its sustainability.
With this said, Arlen has put forth a platform that equips physicians to become future-ready industry leaders. He looks forward to contributing to the improvement of global healthcare outcomes by developing a pipeline of biomedical and clinical entrepreneurs. Arlen is attempting to reforming medical education and sick-care workforce preparedness and growing international biomedical and clinical innovation ecosystems. Ultimately, he aims to reduce sick care quality cost, access and experience inequities, and reconcile the conflicts between business and medical ethics. By doing so, he hopes to change the rules for doing well by doing good and creating sustainability.