Last month, Brandon Glenn’s post challenging the incubator model fueled a fire of debate about programs like Blueprint Health, Rock Health, Healthbox and Startup Health. It even drew a rebuttal from Rock Health mentor Geoff Clapp. To get another perspective, MedCity News asked a few entrepreneurs who have been through the process to reflect on their experiences. This is part one of a two-part post. To see our interview with Ryan Pancharadsam from Pipette, click here.
Digital health company IconicData has just released its new revenue cycle management app, SwiftPayMD, to help physicians eliminate lost charges and accelerate cash flow. In the months ahead of that launch, co-founder David LaBorde and his team worked with mentors at Healthbox to refine their market and ultimately revamp SwiftPayMD from a web solution to a mobile solution. Fresh off of Investor Day, LaBorde and chief financial officer Elliott Holland shared their experiences with us.
How did you know you were right for an accelerator? And that Healthbox was the right one?
DL: We were really excited about the fact that this was a healthcare-focused incubator. We saw some interesting things from Sandbox (Healthbox’s parent company) and were impressed by their ability to execute incubator programs. We were just at the point where we had a product and we wanted to take it to the next level.
You’re from Atlanta — did you have any qualms about moving to Chicago for the program?
DL: We’ve gotten so much traction here that we think we’ll maintain a presence here. We knew the experience warranted coming to Chicago.
What was the most helpful part of the experience?
EH: For me, there were two things. First, the amount of time you get with a wide range of mentors. The mentor network spans providers, payers, professionals and investors, so in a short period of time you’re able to get lots of feedback on your idea and see who can help you, and what they would change if it were their business. The other piece is access. Being able to say you’re affiliated with an incubator, people are more likely to take your meeting, which is great during this early stage of the business. Also, being in an environment with companies that are dealing with similar struggles helps you feel comfortable with the uncertainties that come with a startup.
Do you feel like you had enough time at HealthBox to get the best experience possible?
DL: The three-month program creates some artificial time pressure, which is valuable.
EH: There’s never enough time. But the deadlines enforced by a three-month period means you’ve got to sprint the whole time. Also, if you do it the right way, you build relationships that transcends past the time of the incubator.
Did you have success finding investors at Demo Day?
DL: Investor Day makes you focus on execution. If you want to have something meaningful to share, you better get some good work done. We spent a lot of time beforehand with mentors that helped us sharpen our messaging, and we learned a ton about the most important things an investor wants to hear. We were able to make a lot of connections with people who were excited about what we were doing. You have an audience that you wouldn’t necessarily have every other day. We are really excited about continuing those conversations — some are potential channel partners, some who at some point down the road may actually become financially backers.
Can experienced entrepreneurs benefit from the incubator or accelerator experience, or was it more first-time entrepreneurs?
DL: I thought personally it was an experience that wasn’t cookie-cutter or typecast. You came into this and made your own experience. Most definitely, all the companies are at different stages and some are less and some are more experienced.
Any advice for startups thinking about applying to an incubator? Or for ones that have just been accepted?
EH: Really focus on getting geared up for a really fast three-month experience. Don’t expect to come in the door and have the incubator happen to you. We benefited a lot from prior planning. Think about the experiences you might have there that you wouldn’t have otherwise so you can make the most of it.
DL: Don’t overlook reality. Part of the experience is figuring out when you need to change course. Listen to the mentors’ feedback, but really listen to the broader pattern of all that feedback together. It’s quite meaningful and can really help you avoid some missteps.
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