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Searching for Healthcare's Next Unicorn

Five ways aesthetic doctors can get a seat at this table.
By: Tim A. Sayed, MD, MBA, FACS


Every year, the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference, an invitation-only event, brings together corporate leaders in public and private companies and investors including venture capital firms, private equity groups, family foundations, and high-net-worth angels to discuss developments in healthcare technology and pharmaceuticals. Some public guidance is given and roadmaps for product development are disclosed to help active or would-be investors make sound investment decisions. In addition to exploring the strategic initiatives of Fortune 500 public companies, attendees are on the lookout for shiny new companies that may be the next “unicorn” (a term given to companies with a paper enterprise valuation of at least $1B).

Although we heard from a number of physician entrepreneurs, actual clinician attendees were in short supply.

This needs to change.

Physicians are not typically invited to these events although we are among the best arbiters of the clinical relevance of the products and services. We often have financial resources to contribute to the funding of innovation and an academic background that sometimes (not always) allows us to separate spin from science.

Many of the companies that presented at the conference are tackling issues relevant to those who practice in the elective, aesthetic, and lifestyle segments of healthcare.

Some innovations included:

  • Improved aesthetic “black box” devices for noninvasive body contouring and skin rejuvenation that tap into different energy sources
  • Genomic testing to identify tailored medical therapies including predictive modeling of fitness and nutrition traits as well as precision-oncology treatments
  • Go-to-market approaches for new injectables and topical treatments for aesthetic conditions
  • Corporate-financed innovation incubators to foster new product development
  • Coordinated care platforms to improve longitudinal patient management tasks
  • Ambulatory surgery center companies that provide economies of scale for purchasing/ management/ownership/staffing, with real property and other economic opportunities for physicians
  • Pain management products with novel biologic delivery systems
  • Smart connected devices for in-home patient monitoring and telemedicine platforms aimed at freeing up in-office and hospital resources
  • Lifestyle coaching by ancillary professionals as well as physicians for wellness management, physical rehabilitation, and dietary monitoring
  • Skin and tissue substitutes for improved wound healing and reconstructive surgery
  • Medical tourism and second-opinion platforms connecting experts with international patient clientele

Five Ways to Get Involved with Innovation

The question now becomes how doctors can get a seat at this table.

  1. Attend industry conferences like Health Beat, Singularity University’s Exponential Medicine, or precision medicine summits. Geoffrey Gurtner, MD, a plastic surgeon at Stanford University School of Medicine in Stanford, CA, has hosted a meeting called’ Technology Innovation in Plastic Surgery’ for a few cycles. This meeting, sponsored by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons and the Plastic Surgery Foundation, is a good way to bring plastic surgeons up-to-date information on novel and developing products and services.
  2. Participate in physician discussion forums like the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs (www.sopenet.org), which leverage social networks among physicians and investors.
  3. Take executive education courses at business schools that offer guidance in entrepreneurship and venture development.
  4. Join expert networks that provide consulting to the private equity and VC community, such as Gerson Lehrman Group, Guidepoint Global LLC, Maven Research, Inc. and others.
  5. Ask your friends to help you invest in or raise money for innovation strategies.

If enough of us do this, we may find ourselves collaborating on the next great healthcare unicorn.

Tim A. Sayed, MD, is a double board-certified plastic surgeon in California and Florida. He works in the healthcare technology space as a developer, consultant, and investor.