In the wee hours of Wednesday morning, after watching the predictably gracious speeches and un-transfixing myself from the ice rink, computer maps, and increasingly extemporaneous newscasters, a thought crossed my mind. A nerdy thought (sorry, not a Scott Brown fantasy or nascent plan to run for President): med-tech entrepreneurs can learn something from Mitt Romney’s public drubbing at the polls. How exactly did Obama pull off a re-election given the rough shape of the economy during his term? Many attribute Obama victory to his formidable ground game, a painstakingly built and vast support network that got people excited and out to vote. This seemingly old-fashioned tactic, combined with some high-tech media and math, is a winning one in politics, and works for emerging medical technology companies, too.
Here’s how med-tech entrepreneurs can deploy a successful ground game to beat the odds and achieve success (and let’s just say Romney’s odds were quite a bit better):
Start your ground game early
One of few unifying beliefs in our country is that the presidential election season is way too long. For the candidates, it’s even longer. If you are launching a new med-tech company, you have to plant lots of little seeds very early with researchers, clinicians, professional societies, patient advocacy groups, investors, possible future hires, potential strategic partners and the like. Not all will blossom into productive relationships, and you don’t want to pester people too much if there’s nothing new and exciting to tell. But you can’t pull these crucial contacts out of a hat just when you are in dire need of them, and keep in mind that one is much more charming when not in a state of dire need.
Build a diverse grassroots coalition
When creating a base of supporters, it is tempting to go exclusively for the “money” targets, in politics the rich and famous and in med-tech the mighty “KOLs” who are editors of this and past-presidents of that. The scientific glitterati lend credibility for fundraising, business development and a host of other important things. When you actually need to get stuff done, though, like clinical studies, publications and peer-to-peer education, it’s good to have on board some up-and-comers who appreciate the opportunity and don’t mind knocking on a few doors. You also want to spread the love around to different institutions and geographies. If you happen to be located in the Boston area, proceed immediately to Logan Airport and book a flight to somewhere more normal (speaking to both entrepreneurs and politicians on this point).
Engage powerful surrogates
The best case you will ever make for your technology is one that someone else makes for you. Emerging med-tech companies need a handful of Bill Clintons out there stumping for them, particularly when attempting to convince hospitals, regulators and payors of the safety and efficacy of their nifty new technologies. The credibility of an expert who has used your gadget in real patients and has declared it essential, or at least useful and not scary, is hard to top.
Become a data junkie
No ground game can be successful without a constant finger on the pulse of constituent sentiment. We may mock the constant polls and baseball-like obsession with statistics in politics, but knowing whom you can move and how you can move them is invaluable to a campaign. For emerging med-tech companies, understanding where your technology can gain early votes and eventual bigger wins is crucial data for management teams trying to allocate scarce capital and focus the ground game. Expensive pollsters are not required; just go on a lot of “listening tours” and make sure that good intel finds it’s way back to the product development marketing and sales plans.
Don’t skimp on team swag
There’s nothing like custom embossed t-shirts, fleeces and hats to solidify the loyalty of your ground operation. We at S2N certainly appreciate the cozy free gear! Just remember not to run afoul of Advamed guidelines.