Does this sound familiar? In the operating room, you use an instrument that is unwieldy or doesn't completely get the job done. At the bedside, you waste a lot of time changing dressings because all the wound-care materials are not in one convenient place. Or, while seeing patients in your office, the information you need isn't at your fingertips. Then, you ask yourself, “Why doesn't someone invent something to fix that?”
Physician entrepreneurs: Welcome to the SoPE Box
Physician entrepreneurs are accepting that challenge. Since practitioners are in a unique position to identify unmet healthcare needs and work with partners to develop and commercialize solutions, they are increasingly working to create new drugs, devices, diagnostics, health information technologies and healthcare delivery innovations.
That's why we created the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs (www.sopenet.org). SoPE is a physician-led not-for-profit member organization. SoPE's core mission is to help doctors who have ideas for products or services that will improve healthcare. SoPE provides education programs, a networking venue and services, including access to sources of financing that can assist them in bringing their idea to life. On a bigger stage, SoPE is spearheading an effort to promote a better understanding of the processes involved in the introduction of new healthcare-related products and services and working with all stakeholders in healthcare to identify ways to improve and accelerate the process.
Entrepreneurship has many definitions. Bob Reiss, successful entrepreneur and author of “Low-Risk, High-Reward: Starting and Growing Your Small Business With Minimal Risk,” says: "Entrepreneurship is the recognition and pursuit of opportunity without regard to the resources you currently control, with confidence that you can succeed, with the flexibility to change course as necessary, and with the will to rebound from setbacks."
Bioentrepreneurs create life science innovations by exploiting limited resources. What's more, there is a big difference between dreams, inventions and innovation.
Dreams are ideas that pop into your head and happen all the time. Leonardo Da Vinci was one of most famous dreamers or all time. He conceptualized helicopters, mechanical devices and many other contraptions hundreds of years before they were actually built. He invented few of them.
Inventions, on the other hand, are ideas that are reduced to practice. You take the idea and build something. You think of a new design and create it. You take existing services or processes and find a new way to add value.
Innovation is the process of taking inventions and discoveries and creating value in the marketplace. Most of the time, the value is measured in dollars. There is a sustainable business model. In some instances, however—as in finding a creative way to increase vaccination rates in third-world populations—the metric is eliminating a disease such as smallpox. It is the difficult process of identifying a market niche, developing a compelling value proposition—the promise the business makes to the customer—and implementing a plan such that the company can make a profit or sustain itself. Merely building a device or creating a new healthcare service is worthless without a market willing to buy or use it.
There are three main reasons why doctors, whether they are in private practice or academic medicine, should embrace bioentrepreneurship and acquire the knowledge, skills and abilities to practice it.
First, bioscience inventions do no one any good until they get into the marketplace. The bioscience innovation pipeline is broken. Despite billions of dollars poured into basic research, relatively few true game-changers have emerged from the bottom of the funnel.
Second, you can make money, sometimes lots of it, by commercializing your idea. There are several ways to participate, including working with industry in various roles, licensing your idea or creating your own company. How you play is up to you.
Finally, bioentrepreneurship provides an outlet for doctors who want to use their entrepreneurial, intellectual and problem-solving skills to make a difference and add another dimension to their lives and the lives of their patients. They can move from taking care of patients one at a time to creating a drug or device company that makes a cure for thousands and employs hundreds.
In future SoPEBOX columns, we'll talk more about bioentrepreneurs, bioentrepreneurship and the bioentrepreneurial life and offer a roadmap to success.
Dr. Arlen MeyersProfessor of Otolaryngology, Engineering and DentistryUniversity of ColoradoFounder, CEO and presidentSociety of Physician Entrepreneurs
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