Experts in Health Tech Share Ideas and Insights at First Polsky Entrepreneurial Outlook Series Event

It was a crowded room for the Polsky Entrepreneurial Outlook: Health Tech 2019 event on January 18, which was hosted by the Polsky Center in partnership with MATTER to kick-off a new event series. (Photo by Joe Sterbenc)

What are some important emerging trends to look out for in health tech? What kind of healthcare technologies are gaining popularity in the Chicago area? What are the most popular topics in health tech in 2019? These were some of the many interesting questions that a panel of healthcare entrepreneurs and venture capitalists discussed on a chilly Friday morning last week at the Polsky Center, where industry insights were served with warm coffee and breakfast.

This health tech event marked the beginning of a new breakfast series that the Polsky Center has launched to coincide with the new year. Each event in the series focuses on a different industry or topic, gathering a panel of experts to provide insights on emerging trends. The first Friday morning event of the series invited five healthcare entrepreneurs and venture capitalists to discuss some of the most important issues arising in the healthcare industry today as well as the opportunities to solve these issues with technology. The panelists were all experts in the health tech space, dedicated to improving the health tech ecosystem in the Chicago area. Among them were Imran Ahmad, MBA ’16, AB ’06, a principal at OCA Ventures, Gary Conkright, MBA ’82, CEO of physIQ, Jordan Dolin, founder of Furthur Fund, Dr. Stacy Lindau, MD, MA ‘02, founder of NowPow and a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Chicago, and Dipa Mehta, MBA ’12, former managing director at Sandbox Industries and an adjunct professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. The session was moderated by Melissa Byrn, SM ‘17, director of innovation programs at the Polsky Center.

Before the five panelists shared their insights and knowledge on healthcare technology, six Chicago area entrepreneurs kicked off the morning discussion with pitches of their business ideas. Their ideas ranged from the development of novel biomedical monitoring technologies to health visualization software, and many of their businesses were born at the Polsky Center, with the support of Polsky staff and resources.

Brian Bettenhausen and Nate Pelzer were the two of the startup founders who pitched their company to the panelists and packed audience. Classmates at Chicago Booth, the two decided to launch Clinify, a healthcare analytics company, together after graduation. In the past year, they frequented the Polsky Center to brainstorm and work on their product. Upon hearing about the breakfast series, they signed up for the one-minute pitch immediately.

“We have been members of the Polsky Center since the ideation phase of our startup for the last six months,” said Pelzer. “Both of us are Booth alums, and we learned about Polsky from our time there. Once we decided that we wanted to launch our product, this event was the first step we made.”

Notably, many startups also had female or minority founders. As Jordan Dolin cheerfully pointed out after the pitches: “these founders speak to a lot of problems we are facing, and I am happy to see the diversity of the people – I believe in equal opportunities for those looking to get funded.”

After the pitches wrapped, the panel discussion started with each panelist sharing the reasons why they were passionate about health tech. Many said that they saw great potential in technology to solve some of the biggest challenges in healthcare, namely increased out-of-pocket costs and less accessibility to quality healthcare.  

“The trajectory of cost for healthcare is unsustainable – this has to be changed, and the only way to do that is with technology,” said Conkright. “How to drive technology into healthcare to make the cost more effective is the challenge of the day.”

In addition, for Dr. Lindau, a practicing physician, her passion for healthcare also stemmed from her care for patients. “I am less passionate about health tech than about health and about people. However tech creates transparency, connecting people to the right resources, and to the community,” said Dr. Lindau.

Next, the panelists began discussing their views of the greatest challenges in the health tech space, specifically the slow adoption of technology in the healthcare industry. Dr. Lindau pointed out that government regulations such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) makes it difficult for patients to have control over their own medical information, and can prevent health data from being integrated together to provide critical healthcare insights. Therefore, many healthcare providers are not able to leverage advanced data management platforms to provide better care for patients.

However, Dolin pointed out the possibility for improvement, “healthcare tech is hard because we allow it to be too hard. But, the FDA is embracing technology. They’ve made changes in the last few years to embrace innovation.”

Similarly, Conkright felt very hopeful about a future of tech-enabled healthcare. He related to an experience from his early entrepreneurial career, “six years ago, we proposed the idea to use AI on physiological data. Nobody we talked to trusted it or else they were very negative about it. It got to the point that we had to start saying ‘machine learning’ instead of ‘AI’ because at that time, no one really understood what machine learning was.”

The audience laughed, acknowledging that AI today is one of the most sought-after technologies in healthcare. “If the momentum from the past six years holds steady, the future of healthcare is very exciting,” concluded Conkright.

Polsky’s new Entrepreneurial Outlook breakfast series is inspired by the famous Chicago Booth Economic Outlook event, a forum for thought leaders in economics to share their insights and analyses with a global audience. It is also part of the continuous effort by the Polsky Center to engage with and support Chicago area entrepreneurs to promote a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem. Next in the Entrepreneurial Outlook series are talks on food, therapeutics, civtech, fintech, energy, and AI, all of which will bring in influential experts to share their ideas and insights with a Polsky audience.

Hoping to help young entrepreneurs around the region to thrive, all panelists felt that the success of the event showcases the burgeoning entrepreneurial scene at the University of Chicago and Hyde Park.

“The Polsky Center has prepared incredibly high-quality events, and they clearly are nurturing entrepreneurial talents at the University of Chicago,” commented Ahmad. “Having been an undergrad and grad student at the University, I can see how the focus and initiatives of the Polsky Center have really helped to drive the entrepreneurial scene in Chicago.”

Be sure to check out all the other events in the Polsky Entrepreneurial Outlook series:

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