Where Einstein Meets Edison



Dec 6, 2010

If entrepreneurs globally are predicting the hottest sectors right now to be biotech (42%) and health and medical services (37%)[1], herein presents the opportunity for the rise of a new super-breed; doctorpreneurs. This hybrid species consists of those brave medically trained souls who – in spite of their traditional schooling – have uncovered, embraced (and come to terms with) their entrepreneurial talent and embarked upon the intoxicating roller coaster ride of start-up ventures. Many successful role models exist, including Teo Dagi (HLM Venture Partners), Roy Schoenberg (American Well) and Neil Bacon (IWantGreatCare).

However, much more doctorpreneurial talent lies dormant and frustrated within the confines of the hospital ward, operating theatres and surgeries globally. With US health reform placing a spotlight on the need to think differently about healthcare, so too should we be thinking differently about the attributes of clinical training? Despite criticisms from some quarters that entrepreneurship cannot be taught and entrepreneurs cannot be made, entrepreneurship has at last been accepted onto even the most conservative of MBA curricula. From personal MBA experience, I fully agree that doing best learns entrepreneurial thinking. Indeed it was the doing that became the highlight of my MBA experience. So, has the time arrived for experiential doctorpreneurship to be incorporated into the medical school timetable? The strongest case for this is that those who will benefit most from catalyzing doctorpreneurial energy into innovating new models of health care delivery are patients. Not only is the “can do” approach – pathogenomic of entrepreneurs – of advantage to improving patient care, so too is the entrepreneurial art of making things happen on a shoestring. At present rates of health care spend, a proposition that is surely irresistible for policymakers.

Furthermore, entrepreneurial thinking also provides a conduit for capturing best practice observed by medical students and trainees as they dart around the healthcare system gaining exposure to different specialties, locations and practice. Quite how to take advantage of the nomadic nature of this dynamic population has eluded the profession thus far. 

Some may feel entrepreneurship unseemly and even incompatible territory for the deified medical profession to tread. A more comfortable middle ground may exist through social entrepreneurism, championed by the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, as the “great institutional innovation of our times”. For some, social entrepreneurialism may be more attuned with the values of medical professionalism. Social entrepreneurialism places wider social objectives, namely patient gain, alongside (and not necessarily to the exclusion of) personal gain.

One alternative option may be to combine a doctor with an entrepreneur in a partnership model. Undoubtedly there are benefits to this approach, but the innovation and insights arising from the direct interface of delivering patient care lie at the heart of doctorpreneurs’ unique selling point. Of course entrepreneurship can be – and indeed often is – a solo superheroic activity but may be more sustainable as a team sport. Any approach that encourages doctors to think, act and deliver as part of a team is surely to be encouraged.

Although entrepreneurs are often described as energizers, they also run the risk of being perceived as disruptive. But maybe this is precisely the type of innovation that healthcare should be seeking. For too long healthcare delivery has focused on insufficiently incremental innovations, rather than disruptively innovative redesign. By their nature, huge, complex (in particularly publicly funded) systems are not hugely receptive to entrepreneurial thinking that challenges the status quo. Yet with growing levels of diabesity, and ever-increasing technological and societal demands, perhaps entrepreneurism is an approach that health care can no longer afford to ignore.

In summary, acting at the coalface of patient care, medics are in an ideal position to become health care entrepreneurs; doctorpreneurs. The advantage of entrepreneurial thinking lies with the approach to relentlessly identifying opportunities in the surrounding environment for improvement. To achieve this step change from doctors to doctorpreneurs will take more than bolting on an entrepreneurial module to a pre-existing medical school curriculum, it requires being bold about creating a culture within organizations that welcomes potentially unsettling energizers. A culture that acts as fertile ground for doctorpreneurial talent to flourish for the ultimate goal of improving patient care.



1. Entrepreneurs Organization, The Standard Chartered Private Bank