Southland panel: Focus, differentiation key in standing out in health care

NCN exec says younger companies face 'higher burden of proof'

Startup executives at the Southland Southern Culture and Technology conference see the health care sector as still ripe with opportunity but said remaining focused and standing out are the hurdles in health care entrepreneurship today.

Chris Sherrill, senior manager at health care accelerator Healthbox, led a discussion panel featuring a few of the Chicago-based incubator's alumni, who discussed challenges and opportunities in starting new companies and growing existing ones.

"Players in the health care industry are open to figuring out how to work with early-stage startups," said Joanna Rogerson, CEO of GEMA, a patient engagement company. "There's a spirit of co-development."

Chase Perry, director at the Nashville Capital Network, said health care entrepreneurship was once dominated by industry experts, but other sectors were moving in fast.

"There's so much opportunity in a lot of different areas of health care, and many entrepreneurs. The challenge becomes how you differentiate yourself," said Perry (pictured). "It creates a higher burden of proof for the younger companies."

Entrepreneurs must focus on their specific market, the panel advised, and define who the company advocates for — patients, providers or payers. However, many companies have to play in a challenging dual space, engaging two or more players with one product.

"You're having to do two things at once," said Steven Elliot, CEO at eClinic Healthcare. "Engaging patients with a new access point while also marketing the product to physicians."

For Daniel Hightower, CEO and co-founder of health care marketing company Clariture, opportunities were specific: "Anything that increases revenue or decreases costs for providers. Anything that breaks down data silos, and anything that connects consumers," he said.

Healthbox is currently accepting applications for its second round of business incubation in Nashville, set to begin in September.