Redefining What It Means to Be A Health Care Startup


“’Startup’ is a definition for the lifestage of a company—not the skill-level of the leadership.” – Swatee Surve, Lifesprite Founder and CEO

A few thoughts on the definition of a startup.

The word “startup” conjures many thoughts: bold, risky, transformative. Maverick, fast, nimble. Young, hoodies, intense. Tough, passionate, edgy. Or sometimes: uniformed, naïve, inexperienced.

These thoughts are preconceptions that may lead someone to underestimate or dismiss a startup that could truly transform their business. If we are truly to transform health care to the state that is envisioned by all, it’s important to keep an open mind toward innovation from any source.

My fellow health care entrepreneurs and I have made one consistent observation – many of the health care incumbents we speak to have a misconception that a “startup” is the definition of the skill level of the leadership—not the life-stage of the company.

The reality is that most health care entrepreneurs, especially in the Pacific Northwest, had successful corporate careers before coming to health care. We have chosen to launch a new business because of our passion and drive to improve lives. We bring a depth of commercialization experience from product management, marketing, legal, business development, and operations. Some of us have even worked in health care before. Our startups work actively with organizations like Harvard or Mayo Clinic, Athena Health. Some of our products are reimbursable or have FDA approval already.

We respect the in-depth subject matter expertise that is required to drive innovation and routinely welcome collaboration. We also recognize the complexity of what we’re working toward, and respect the individuals who have spent their lives in health care. However, the assumption that we are naïve or inexperienced has become a barrier to productive and meaningful conversations and collaborations.

We have incredible talent in the health care system here in the Pacific Northwest. There is so much opportunity for established companies and startups to learn from each other. But that won’t happen unless we leave our assumptions and misconceptions at the door.

Whether you are a health care professional or an entrepreneur, at the next Cambia Grove event, take the time to get to know the people you meet. You might be very pleasantly surprised with what you find.