Last night I attended the demo day presentations for the Data, Design Diabetes Innovation Challenge organized by our friends at Luminary Labs and sponsored by Sanofi Aventis (#DDDemoDay).  The event, held at AOL HQ downtown near the NYU campus, showcased the submissions of the 5 semi-finalists in the competition including: Ginger.io, HopeUnwounded, MySideKick, Chewable, and Wirefra.me.

I’ve worked at a number of event-related businesses and I must say the production was top notch.  Excellent choice of location, great crowd, excellent program, and tight presentations.  Kudos to Sara Holoubek (@sarita), Kat Karimi (@katkarimi), and the rest of the Luminary Labs team on a job well done.

3 big observations for me from the event:

  • Innovation Competitions Work – Sanofi got 100 entries and 5 really solid semi-finalists for their challenge.  It’s going to cost them ~$150k in prize bucks plus the amount paid to organize the challenge to find 2 really solid finalists (my votes are for Ginger.io and Wirefra.me) who are going to deliver great tools for patients taking Sanofi products.  How much would it have cost them, all in, to do something like this if they had gone through traditional procurement channels to develop these prototypes?  A lot more than what they spent for this project.  How many teams would they have been able to find using traditional channels?  Probably not many.  How long would it have taken?  Don’t ask.  Innovation competitions are a powerful tool to solve real problems, find great talent, and draw attention to an issue.

  • Lack of Business Models Continues To Be A Problem: It’s no secret that big exits in the Health 2.0 space have been few and far between.  The main problem most start-ups have in the space is finding scaleable and repeatable (h/t Steve Blank) business models to drive growth.  Anyone who has started a company in the space can tell you about the tremendous pain associated with dealing with the bureaucracies of any of the big stakeholders – Payors, Employers, Provider Institutions, and Pharma/Biotech/Device Cos.  Although all the prototypes were intriguing I think it’s still a long road ahead for most of these companies as they try to commercialize what they’ve built.  Hopefully the $100k winner’s purse and promotional support from one of the world’s largest companies can jump start a business for the winners.
  • They’re Coming Out Of The Woodwork: – One thing that’s been really remarkable to me in the last few weeks and months is the number of “non-health” people coming out of the woodwork to pursue healthtech start-ups.  I can’t tell you many people I’ve met at meetups and conferences who are migrating from other industries (finance, media, tech, medicine, etc.) to pursue opportunities in the healthtech space.  I think this is happening because this time it really is different – I think the health system in this country is going to change in a radical way over the next few years because IT HAS TO CHANGE. As any good entrepreneur knows change creates opportunity – especially when you’re talking about an industry that accounts for more than $2 TRILLION in spend. Our friend Farzad Mostashari, head of the ONC, likes to say that there has never been a better time to be in the health technology space and I agree with him whole-heartedly.

I’m looking forward to the final submissions for the DDD Innovation Challenge and looking forward to more big companies embracing this kind of innovation.