Innovator Ross Mason talks the future of healthcare
I think I just experienced the Gig Tank in miniature. Over the course of an hour-long, three-way conversation, I watched two Gig Tank teams make their pitches and get interrogated by a friendly expert who was excited to share both advice and high-level industry contacts with them.
WeCounsel and FwdHealth—the two Gig Tank teams in healthcare—presented their product concepts in a teleconference to Ross Mason, a healthcare technology entrepreneur who's coming to Chattanooga next week, both to advise all the start-up companies in the Gig Tank—and perhaps to plant some related seeds among established healthcare companies in Chattanooga.
According to Mike Bradshaw, the Gig Tank's entrepreneur-in-residence, Mason is the former board chair of the Georgia Department of Community Health, with a $13.2 billion annual budget, and has worked for Volkswagen's Healthcare Venture Accelerator Fund in Germany. Since 2007, he's been paralyzed below the collarbone, following a bicycle accident that broke his neck. He is now a consultant; venture philanthropist and founder of the Healthcare Institute for Neuro-Recovery and Innovation.
WeCounsel Solutions cofounder Harrison Tyner described his company's product to Mason as a "cloud-based technology that enables mental health providers to communicate and interact with clients in an online setting to supplement in-person treatments." The centerpiece is a customized videoconferencing tool that allows a therapist to treat clients remotely, as well as view documents, take notes, view the patient's history and handle scheduling and billing.
"We are three weeks out from having a minimum viable product," said Tyner, "at which point we'd like to pilot with several organizations we've been talking with, including a few nationwide providers of telepsychiatry and a few hospital networks."
FwdHealth seeks to aggregate the data that is already being generated by a variety of health promotion services that engage individuals to encourage healthier behavior. The problem—and opportunity—inherent in these services, according to President and Cofounder Shayne Woods, is that they are entirely disconnected from the user's doctor and health insurers. His company is creating a software solution to convert that raw data into an actionable framework that allows insurers and healthcare providers to proactively manage medical risk by reaching out to individuals, rather than attempting to manage large groups.
In a high-volume, rapid-fire delivery, Mason responded with a series of probing questions: What is your revenue model? Who are your competitors? Who developed your software? Do you know about this company...they're either a competitor or a potential partner. Have you approached the military for a pilot? Is this just about risk assessment, or are you changing behavior?
The flip side of this grilling was the naming of people these young entrepreneurs should probably talk to, like the guy who designed benefit plans for Walmart and Burger King, or the guy in pharmacogenetics who might be interested in a strategic partnership, or the one who's developing a national umbrella organization for neurological disorders.
Mason also offered some broader advice about how to succeed as a start-up company. First thing: Don't fall in love with your own ideas and try to sell them.
"That's not how you build a great business when you're an early-stage company," he said. "You've got to listen to your customers and refine your business model so you're really addressing things that are critically important to them as businesses."
These two companies are both creating business-to-business products.
"You've got to be solving a big problem in a unique way, leveraging your technology, and being really sensitive to what your customer needs," he said. "And your revenue model has to be working, so you're getting cash to sustain the business. You've got to be willing to throw out things that don't work, to listen and innovate and iterate your solution over and over and over based on the feedback that you're getting,"
Mason also had some advice for Chattanooga.
"You've got the technology infrastructure, you're trying to build an environment that's friendly to early-stage companies and entrepreneurs, you made the investment in your community to create a lifestyle people are going to enjoy," he said. "But you gotta have capital."
He said Georgia has spent a half billion dollars supporting scientific research, but because 92 cents of every venture capital dollar comes from out of state, start-up companies are leaving.
"So for you guys, capital is going to be key," he said. "You've got to figure out: How do we create a financial ecosystem and infrastructure so we can keep the jobs and innovators here?"
"Ross is an extraordinarily experienced entrepreneur who is also the single most inspiring man I've ever met," said Bradshaw. "And he loves Chattanooga. He appreciates the competitive advantage that our innovative spirit gives to this city and the infrastructure that we built as a result of that spirit. He's coming here to share some of his experience with us."
Ross Mason will speak June 25 on "Innovation, healthcare and Chattanooga" at 5 p.m. on the 13th floor of the First Tennessee Bank Building, 701 Market Street. The event is sponsored by CO.LAB and First Tennessee. Admission is free.