Project Zygote: The digital health pre-accelerator

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It has happened to the best of us.

You come up with a life-changing concept and want to build a new product around it but don’t have the technical chops to make it happen.  Five years later, someone else takes your idea to market and you say: “That could have been me.”  Worse yet, maybe you have the idea and the technical ability but you don’t have the industry know-how to make it a reality.  This can especially be true when your idea involves solutioning for the healthcare industry + developing software (referred to as ‘digital health’) that meets both providers’ and consumers’ needs…all while navigating the stack of regulations governing work in this field.

There’s hope!  Whether you have a big idea, a small idea, or no idea at all (yet!), there is a new program that you should join that helps you realize your digital health ambitions.  Take a look:

A digital health pre-accelerator is born.  Leveraging its 2,000 members in San Francisco and extensive network from across the region, leaders from the local Health 2.0 chapter are launching a pre-accelerator program this fall called Project Zygote.  The program brokers relationships among various healthcare entrepreneurs and then takes them through programming to vet and develop new digital health solutions.  The program’s purpose is (1) to create teams that include at least one provider, one technologist, and one go-to-market professional to develop a digital health concept and (2) to help gain placement in a full-fledged accelerator or formal incubator program.

For those digital health entrepreneurs who have already formed a team, business plan, and oftentimes a prototype, exposure to established accelerator programs can be helpful to advance new product ideas.  Rock Health, Launchpad Digital Health, and StartUp Health are well known entities that give early-stage companies the mentorship, funding, and healthcare industry contacts they need to bring their ideas to market.

That said, the demand for these services far exceeds supply.  In some instances, accelerator programs are forced to refuse upwards of 90% of applicants due to space constraints.  Moreover, many new ideas are turned away because they are perceived to need further vetting and refinement for acceptance into and successful completion of a traditional digital health accelerator program. In other words, in order for a traditional startup accelerator to work, there must be some sort of traction to accelerate.

But what about the rest of the idea generators – pre-team, pre-business plan, lacking a prototype…people with a vision and energy to pursue it?  Who does the family practice physician,  inspired by a patient interaction, go to with his new technology idea?  How about the mobile game developer who can apply her knowledge of human psychology and gamification to solve a healthcare problem?

Enter the digital health pre-accelerator.  For aspiring entrepreneurs who want to explore digital health ideas before jumping from their day jobs, a pre-accelerator program is an attractive option.  Participation in Project Zygote provides an opportunity for an interdisciplinary team to unite, vet ideas and increase the likelihood of truly improving the healthcare industry.

There are three distinct groups broadly defined as providers, technologists, and go-to-market professionals, that can most benefit by collaborating in a digital health pre-accelerator:

Providers, including physicians, nurses, pharmacists, case workers, nutritionists, and other allied health professionals who know firsthand the problems that need to be solved in the delivery of healthcare services. Since these professionals work within the healthcare system, they can credibly diagnose today’s service delivery problems and have numerous ideas on the application of technology-enabled solutions that can fix these woes.  However, providers lack the expertise required to build or scale new digital health solutions and must collaborate with others who can build new products in line with requirements this group articulates.

Technologists, including user experience designers, user researchers, and software engineers.  Based on firsthand observations, technology creators in the San Francisco Bay Area are often motivated to “disrupt” healthcare by jumping in and leveraging their skills to build the next ‘app’.  While the spirit of entrepreneurship and shipping product quickly are key ingredients to instigating change, jumping in, often with only drawing from a consumer’s perspective on healthcare delivery, can be shortsighted if not misguided.  As with developing a solution for any industry, technologists need exposure to and vetting of ideas by experienced providers that can validate and guide technologists’ thinking and ideation process.

Go-to-market professionals, such as those in sales, marketing, business development, and public relations.  Inclusion of this group should occur at the idea’s inception, regardless of for- or non-profit motivations; appreciating the payment model options for digital health solutions is a key component that entrepreneurs need to consider early in the process.  For example, deciding when to follow a B2B2C model with payers and provider organizations versus a B2C model should be factored in as part of any launch strategy.

The program.  Project Zygote begins with a matchmaking event and then moves into a series of educational and mentoring sessions spread across three weekend days, ultimately culminating in a pitch night at a Health 2.0 San Francisco chapter meeting.  Programming is broken into three modules including:

  1. Validating a digital health market fit
  2. Designing data collection/analysis to prove the efficacy of a new solution
  3. Building a business model to capture the value of the new solution.

Our pilot program kicks off in mid-September 2016. With over 20 program leaders who are experts in their respective fields, participants will receive the invaluable training and skills needed to realize their ideas and ultimately transform the healthcare industry, improving medicine for both providers and patients.

Do you want to make your idea a reality?  Anybody with an idea (big, small, or none at all) is welcome to apply.  We’re actively seeking applicants so submit your interest here to learn more.

Andy Strunk is President of the 2,000-member Health 2.0 San Francisco chapter (

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