We asked some of the top young healthcare entrepreneurs in America for their advice — here’s what they said
- Helium Health
Healthcare is not an easy field to break into as an entrepreneur. Beyond the operations of business, a grasp on complex science and tech is also needed.
This year’s spotlighted members of Forbes’ 30 under 30 list for healthcare is diverse in both interests and in age. The youngest entrepreneur clocks in at only 18.
Business Insider asked these healthcare superstars what advice they would have wanted to hear when they were first starting out. Here’s what a few of them told us.
Megan Blewett, 29, is an associate at Venrock
Blewett joined healthcare and tech venture firm Venrock firm in 2017, and her areas of focus are biotech and pharmaceutical investments. Prior to joining the firm, she completed her chemistry PhD at The Scripps Research Institute. Blewett is especially intrigued by the opportunity to use new tools like CRISPR for basic research and tackling disease.
Blewett was also profiled in Business Insider’s under 40 silicon valley biotech venture capitalists list.
The advice I’d like to share is actually a line my dad would tell me growing up. He would say, “If you want to be great at something, you have to do three things: find your mentors, find your peers, and then do more of that thing than anyone else.” Many years later, I still think that is some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten. With most any career, you need a great coach, great teammates, and then you need to work really hard.
Inmaculada Hernandez, 28, is an assistant professor of pharmacy and therapeutics at the University of Pittsburgh’s school of pharmacy
- University of Pittsburgh
Hernandez was appointed as a professor when she was 25, and has since conducted and published numerous research studies in various areas relating to the operations of the pharmaceutical industry.
A recently published study in the Annuals of Internal Medicine that she was first author on found that from 2015 to 2016, manufacturers increased their prices on drugs under shortage almost double the expected rate in absence of a shortage.
My advice is to work hard, be constant, think critically, speak up, and fight the good fight. For an idea or a project to hit it off, it has to have some sort of crazy-otherwise it would be to conventional and hence probably already explored. Tolerance to frustration is highly important as well-I work in science and the norm is to be rejected. The key to success is then to not give up and keep trying.
I love this part of Steve Job’s speech at Stanford: “you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” This is probably not what he meant by this, but my interpretation is that you can’t figure out upfront the results of your hard work. You need to give it all every day, because in the long term, you realize how all of those efforts that may have appeared to be in vain were actually necessary to achieve the outcome. In other words, you need to trust that your hard work will pay off in the future, because it does. And you need to put those hours.
Adegoke Olubusi, 25, is a co-founder of Helium Health
- Helium Health
Helium Health wants to be the all-in-one electronic medical record for hospitals across West Africa. The system is currently being used by 5,000 doctors and it has raised $2 million in funding.
Before creating Helium, Olubusi was a tech analyst at Goldman Sachs. His advice for young entrepreneurs is to carefully chart their startup trajectory before jumping in.
There’s a fine line between a for-profit enterprise in healthcare and a non-profit and it’s important to define clearly where your business falls in the two categories. In healthcare, particularly in emerging markets, it’s very easy to slide from one to the other and this has huge impact on the course of your startup.
Eric Frieman, 27, is a co-founder of VFR Healthcare
Frieman cofounded Veteran & First Responder Healthcare in 2016. VFR and its sister company, Strive, entered into a partnership with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in June to provide intensive outpatient addiction and mental health treatment programs for Veterans.
Embrace a “not if, but how” mentality. Every problem has a solution, and while some solutions might be extremely difficult to come up with and even harder to pursue, nothing is impossible.
Erin Smith, 18, is the founder of FacePrint
Smith is the youngest entrepreneur in the healthcare category. Her startup, FacePrint, is a facial scanning technology that’s able to pinpoint features or quirks associated with Parkinson’s disease. The idea stemmed from her observation that Michael J. Fox and other Parkinson’s Disease patients tend to appear emotionally distant when they smile. She then proceeded with work with other patients and clinicians to develop a softwards that validated her observations.
She’s currently fleshing out the technology as a Thiel Fellow. One day, the hope is to turn this into a diagnostic tool for Parkinson’s Disease. Her advice to young entrepreneurs is to follow even the smallest of hunches they have, whether it’s a simple observation of a pattern, or a question that seems to lie in plain sight.
Healthcare is full of vast complexities that will be solved by the power of simple ideas. Believe in your ability to generate disruptive solutions. Start building today. We need people of all different backgrounds, incentives, ages, and experiences to unite together to address the many moving pieces of the broken healthcare system to create the future we want our children to have.
Kyle Loh, 25, is the assistant professor of developmental biology at Stanford University
- Stanford University
Loh runs his own lab at Stanford focused on using stem cells to both understand developmental biology, and to look into potentials of regenerative medicine.
Earlier this year, he was part of a study that used embroyonic stem cells to generate pre-cursory human livers.
Loh’s advice is centered around being appreciative and listening to your support network of peers, family, and advisors. He also stresses the importance of a strong STEM background.
I was lucky to have a somewhat unusual path to academia: I graduated college at 16 and graduated with my Ph.D. in stem cell biology from Stanford at 23. In this, I was grateful that my family convinced me that a career in science was a worthwhile one, and also to have fantastic research mentors who encouraged and championed me along the way. One of the more interesting lessons from my Stanford mentors was that doing rigorous science was all that was important – somewhat seemingly outdated advice in a modern society where perceptions or global impact take center stage. This honor recognizes not only myself, but it also recognizes my family and academic mentors.
Sukrit Silas, 29, is the co-founder of BillionToOne
- Stanford University
BilliomToOne develops prenatal diagnostic blood tests that can help detect cystic fibrosis, sickle-cell anemia, and thalassemia, and down syndrome in fetuses. Silas currently leads the company’s experimental test development and clinical trials.
Prior to starting the company, Silas was a Gates Scholar at Cambridge and finished his PhD at Stanford in Chemical and Systems Biology studying the mechanisms of CRISPR.
I would say that learning how to evaluate each conversation from the point of view of the other person is often more likely to lead to success than raw intellectual horsepower. It’s all about people at the end of the day.
Marinna Madrid, 28, is a co-founder of Cellino Bio
Madrid co-founded Cellino Bio while finishing up her PhD in applied physics at Harvard University, and she plans to work at the company full-time after graduation. Cellino develops therapeutics for a wide range of diseases by delievering gene-editing molecules into pluripotent stem cells so they can be re-engineered to take on new functions.
For Madrid, there are many things she wish she knew when she was starting out.
Find yourself a great mentor who is invested in your success and who you genuinely like and can easily talk to, culture is so much more important than project when choosing a PhD lab, and keep in touch with professors, advisors, mentors over the years so it’s not awkward when you have to ask them for a letter of recommendation. Another thing I really regret not doing as an undergraduate or PhD student are summer and semester internships in industry.
Stan Wang, 29, is a co-founder of Cellino Biotech
Wang is currently the chief scientific officer of Cellino Bio.
Before Cellino, Wang was a Gates Scholar and NIH-Cambridge MD/PhD Scholar. He received his MD from Columbia University via the NIH Medical Scientist Training Program, and completed his postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard Medical School’s department of genetics. His advice comes in three parts, spanning from big picture to personal.
Like any other relationship, try to stress test the partnership with potential co-founders by working on some type of project together first. You’ll be spending a lot of time together-sometimes even more than with loved ones-and nothing tells you more about who someone is and how they respond to stress than trial by fire.
Despite best laid plans and how you might’ve imagined your career progressing-perhaps that ‘ideal’ point in your career when you would transition to entrepreneurship-sometimes you have to trust your instincts and take the plunge.
Always get the advice of trusted mentors, but at the end of the day it’s your life. Your path is unique and you’ll never be able to perfectly emulate the career paths of those that you look up to.
Joy Wolfram, 29, is an assistant professor at Mayo Clinic
- Mayo Clinic
Wolfram runs her own lab at Mayo Clinic focused on nanomedicine and extraceullar vesicles for drug delivery. Her lab is also focused on developing new treatments for metastatic breast cancer and various forms of liver damage.
To be truly fulfilled in life you need a bigger purpose. Revolutionizing healthcare is a great way to be part of something bigger than yourself. Once you have decided that you want to improve the world, then what? Planning and persistence. Think big, make your goals exciting, write them down, and view them on a regular basis. The most successful people in healthcare are not necessarily the most intelligent or creative, but definitely the most persistent. To help you along the way, build a professional network by attending conferences, introducing yourself, exchanging business cards, and talking passionately about your goals.
Abdullah Feroze, 29, is a resident physician in neurosurgery at UW Medicine and Seattle Children’s Hospital
- UW Medicine
Feroze received his MD from Stanford University. During his time at Stanford, he helped develop an antibody against the CD47 signal present in malignant tumor cells that stops the immune system from attacking them. This antibody is now in clinical trails for multiple types of leukemias and brain tumors.
Feroze’s advice on those venturing into the field of science and medicine that he’s also still learning to live by is as follows:
Ask the right questions. Choose an environment that challenges you everyday. Find something that really excites you, something that’s more than just work but more like a hobby and where there’s little else you’d rather be doing. Allow yourself to feel uncertain from time to time. Medicine is a humbling endeavor. You will never know everything. In 1950, physicians in practice could expect the total amount of medical knowledge to double every 40 to 50 years. In 2010, medical knowledge was doubling every 3.5 years. It’s estimated by 2020, it will take just 73 days!
Nathanael Ren, 29, is a co-founder of Buoy Health
- Nathaneal Ren/Twitter
In 2014, Ren helped start the company Buoy Health, which has since raised $9 million in venture capital.
Buoy employs artificial intelligence that lives as a chatbot on its website. You can go and enter their symptoms, and algorithm will prompt them with a series of questions, before suggesting next-step options or connecting you with urgent care providers nearby.
Buoy Health is affiliated with Harvard Innovation Lab, and also Brooklyn’s New Lab.
One thing I always tell young entrepreneurs is: Take calculated risks, not pure risk. That means three things as you start: validation, market sizing, and finding good partners.
Kamal Obbad, 24, is a co-founder of Nebula Genomics
- Nebula Genomics
Obbad serves as the CEO of Nebula.
Nebula Genomics is offering consumers free whole genome DNA sequencing if they answer a series of questions about their health and behavior characteristics.
Nebula hopes the information it collects from this will support some studies by pharma, biotech, and academic researchers. Those researchers will pay Nebula for access to data, which gets de-identified before it’s sent off.
If consumers don’t want to provide personal information, they can still get their DNA sequenced with no strings attached for $99.
Nebula has raised $4.3 million in seed funding.
Obbad is a Harvard graduate and has previously had a stint at Google. His advice to his younger self, and young entrepreneurs:
Be confident without having an ego. Convince yourself you can do anything, but, without a lot of hard work, you can’t accomplish anything.
Dennis Grishin, 28, is a co-founder of Nebula Genomics
- Insilico Medicine, Inc.
Grishin is currently pursuing his PhD at Harvard Medical School’s department of genetics. He was previously a research associate at the Max-Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics.
He serves as the chief scientific officer of Nebula. His philosophy and advice:
Work on important problems. Because then you won’t have wasted your time even if you fail.
David West, 24, is a co-founder of Proscia
West is the CEO at Proscia, a company that wants to accelerate the development and use of digital pathology software by using artificial intelligence to aid cancer diagnosis.
The company, founded in 2014, just closed a $8.3 million series A funding round. This brings their total to $10.4 million raised.
West’s advice and philosophy is centered around staying grounded.
There will be many opportunities to accelerate your own incentives at the consequence of compromising on your values. Never do that. Ultimately, people will remember you for how you are as a colleague, partner, and friend, and your excellence in ethic will accelerate your life’s work more than any shortcut ever could.
Nathan Buchbinder, 25, is a co-founder of Proscia
An engineer by training, Buchbinder is the chief product officer of Proscia. He has had previous experience working with many hospital systems and life science startups.
The best education you’ll get is from actually doing something. Gain as many experiences as you can – through jobs, internships, University, or anywhere else you can – and focus your time on gaining practical, rather than theoretical, knowledge.
Coleman Stavish, 24, is a co-founder of Proscia
Stavish serves as the chief technology officer of the company. He’s a computer scientist by training and has had previous software development experience.
Healthcare is complicated for a reason. If you want to change the status quo in healthcare, make sure you take the time to learn how and why it came to be.