Driving collaborative innovation between BigCos, startups

L to R: Patrick Henshaw with LEAP, Angelique Johnson with MEMSTIM, Praveen Thadini with Humana and Kevin Bramer with Lucina Health

In May, Health Enterprises Network hosted “Entrepreneurs & Big Cos: Mapping the Path to Collaboration and Economic Growth,” an event exploring the benefits and intricacies of working partnerships between startup companies and big and medium-sized corporations.

A panel of successful entrepreneurs and corporate innovators, moderated by Patrick Henshaw [CEO of LEAP – Louisville Entrepreneurship Acceleration Partnership], gathered to share their experience on bringing innovation to the healthcare sector through relationships between corporate and entrepreneurial entities.

Presenters discussed collaborative innovation from both the corporate and startup perspective. Praveen Thadani, senior vice president of Growth Strategy and Trend for Louisville-headquartered Humana, shared his perspective on balancing inherent risk when engaging startups in his role with the insurance heavyweight. “There is the element of introducing risk into the organization, when you’re partnering a startup. But you also have to realize and contextualize that the reason we [Humana] are working with a startup is to de-risk our own business.” He said, “there is something else going on in our business where we really need to know about your space, the startup space. That’s why we’re interested in you.”

Panelists agreed that collaboration with nimble, startup companies was essential to effective innovation in the healthcare space, and an especially fertile resource for large companies. Often, however, the innovative ideology between the two entities isn’t naturally harmonious.

“When we first came out of academia, we thought we would put a bunch of bells and whistles on the innovation. But when we talked to businesses, they were not interested in bells and whistles. They were interested in the bottom line.” said Angelique Johnson, CEO and Co-founder of MEMStim, a startup company the produces implantable electronics to treat neurological disorders. “Our solution was automating. What our customers cared about was a manufacturing process that could give them the price point they wanted… It might not be sexy, but you’re making a profit.”

Kevin Bramer, CEO of Lucina Health, an enterprise SaaS startup that delivers women’s maternity analytics to innovate health plans, echoed the importance of communication between entities. Highlighting that startups must take the initiative to do their homework on potential corporate customers, he said, “at the end of the day, real value is attributed by carefully listening to the customer, being able to clearly understand a very detailed level what their needs are and being able to develop a technology, a service, a product that really meets that need.” Large corporations ultimately hold the decision-making power in these discussions. To be successful “you have to work with the opportunity and follow their [big company] process,” he said.

The “Entrepreneurs and Big Cos” event also featured healthcare and health-related startups, showcasing their innovative technologies and products for attendees. Featured displaying companies are participating members of in Health Enterprises Network’s HEN VIP (Very Innovative Pioneer) program, an ongoing initiative that creates stronger connections between health-related entrepreneurial companies and existing healthcare organizations in Greater Louisville.

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