Student Perspective: A Day in the Life at a Healthcare Accelerator

Earlier this month, Wharton Social Impact Initiative’s Investing in Women fellowship team traveled down to the Navy Yard to experience the day in the life of an accelerator. Wharton undergrads Emma Kloppenburg, Dan Wang, and Lynette Ashaba.

Inefficient. Ineffective. Exclusive. We know our healthcare system is far from perfect. But tech entrepreneurs are developing increasingly affordable and empowering products to meet the need for healthcare innovation.

Among other things, these innovations aim to address the needs of low-wealth individuals in our healthcare system. While some technologies, ranging from modeling clinical trials with microchips to performing surgery with the help of Google Glass, are still in their infancy, they have potential to make a tremendous impact on the way we provide healthcare. Wharton Social Impact Initiative’s Investing in Women student fellowship team had the opportunity to meet some of the minds behind the newest wave of health startups.

In early June, we had the privilege of attending SOURCE, a start-up accelerator and healthcare forum, hosted as a collaboration among the Hitachi Foundation, Investors’ Circle, and VillageCapital. In addition to offering early-stage seed capital and mentorship networks to entrepreneurs, these accelerators are generally helpful for startups looking to develop their businesses and meet investors.

SOURCE played host to eight Philadelphia start-ups, each with a focus on increasing health care accessibility to low-income households, ranging from a mobile device for caregivers to a more sustainable and private pregnancy test. Each table had a small group of entrepreneurs and investors from various backgrounds; we were quickly surprised at the diversity of perspectives present within the healthcare industry.

Later, the entrepreneurs and the investors were broken up into two different workshops. We joined the entrepreneurs for an interactive discussion led by the Hitachi Foundation. The session started with a YouTube video on one of Hitachi’s companies Marlin Steel Wire, which discussed the ways that Marlin Steel has kept their employers motivated and educated in each step of the manufacturing process. Barbara Dyer, President and CEO of The Hitachi Foundation, noted that when building a startup, employee practices are an important way to bring value to a company and to ensure that the venture lasts. By creating strong building blocks, a company’s impact can be greater down the line, she explained.

We then traveled down the hall to catch the tail end of the investor conversation.

Led by Investors’ Circle, this roundtable discussion explored the challenges around investing in health solutions. We quickly saw the wide spectrum of opinions within the impact investing field: some representatives focused mainly on impact, while others leaned more on maximizing profits, and everything in between. At the end, they all agreed that impact investing is an emerging field, but it will soon be an integral part of all investing conversations. And that was reassuring for us!

Later, the entrepreneurs and investors came together to collaboratively work on value propositions.

The exercise was a “Mad Lib” structure, in which the entrepreneurs filled out the following sentence: “We sell A to B, B has a problem, and that problem is C.”

In this structure, A was a product, B was the customer (a good reminder that the person who pays is not always the consumer!), and C was what issues the customer saw and how the company could combat these issues. It was interesting to see how the investors and the entrepreneurs worked together to form a concise and clear sentence, and showed us the difficulty of this process.

From the discussion throughout the day, it was interesting to realize that investors and entrepreneurs had different perspectives on fundamental issues, but that it was important for them to consider one another’s perspectives. Investors wanted to see market returns on their investment and did not feel like there needed to be a trade-off between financial and social returns.

Looking into the future, it is clear that we can further leverage technology to better support service providers and consumers in the healthcare system. Partnerships between investors and entrepreneurs at an early stage can foster important discussion and enable entrepreneurs and investors alike to be more aware of how to better attract and support consumers at all levels and in so doing, bridge the gap between investors and entrepreneurs.

At the end of the day, we came back to campus exhausted but filled with knowledge about the entrepreneurial process and a new perspective on social impact investing. We were thankful to have participated in this forum and to be able to listen in on ground-breaking conversations!

Emma Kloppenburg is a rising Wharton senior, Dan Wang is a rising Wharton sophomore studying finance, and Lynette Ashaba is a rising junior in the College. They comprise part of the Wharton Social Impact Initiative summer fellowship team focusing on “Investing in Women & Girls,” a project that involves strategic and research projects.