In the first part of his Reluctant Entrepreneur series for Health Tech World, Dr DJ Hamblin-Brown highlights a major challenge in medtech enterprise.
It’s a cliché to say that being an entrepreneur is hard. Long hours, poor rewards and deep uncertainty – which is to say, almost certain failure – all take their toll on those who are foolish enough to start their own business.
And if you’re fanciful enough to have opened a restaurant or gastropub, you can wave goodbye to both your pension and any semblance of work-life balance. Alcoholism, divorce and bankruptcy will follow as night follows day – or so I’m told.
Even for those of us in the relatively sober and loosely defined world of medtech face an emotional rollercoaster and more than our fair share of sleepless nights.
So it may come as a surprise to hear that my primary assertion is that being an entrepreneur is actually not that hard.
To illustrate this, let me offer you a thought experiment. Imagine teleporting (this is medtech after all) to a random inhabited location, somewhere on the surface of this earth — missing out all the oceans, polar ice caps and man-eating forests – and then walking until you find another human being. Now compare yourself.
The odds are 1000:1 against that you (the hard-pressed entrepreneur) are actually in a tougher position than this hypothetical, randomly chosen, fellow human being.
For all the optimism of Factfulness, 30 per cent of the world’s population don’t have access to running water, a quarter of the world’s population is underfed, there are millions of refugees who no longer have (or never had) a home to call their own. Millions are under threat of war, flood, famine or pestilence.
The result of all that social and political hardship? Lives blighted by a burden of disease that is almost unfathomable for those of us who are healthy enough to read online magazines, surf the news on our smartphones and pontificate about entrepreneurialism.
Closer to your pre-teleportation home, it is likely that one in six people currently suffer the distress of mental illness. Cancer, heart disease, dementia, diabetes all shorten, constrain and ultimately make intolerable the lives of millions.
So when I hear, or feel, that being an entrepreneur is hard, I try to remember the relativism of that statement. I try to remind myself of the blessings that accrue to my daily life: a dry bed, a roof, a plate of food, a glass of crystal-clear drinking water and a hug from my happy, healthy children. I remember that in the future when – not if – I become sick, I will be cared for by family, friends and society.
The hard problem of being an entrepreneur is therefore not the sleepless nights worrying about cash flow or team cohesion or how to generate success, fame, and enough money for a fast car and a second home.
The hard problem is not within us and our businesses, but without us; in the world we seek to change. The question is how we, individually and collectively can solve those hard problems to reduce the burden of disease, both in our own communities and globally.
Entrepreneurs and their companies will fail, daily, in their thousands. But some will succeed. And those successes will bear fruit as businesses that improve patient outcomes, make healthcare safer, more accessible, more efficient and maybe even better led.
To that end, we who count ourselves as Medtech entrepreneurs should share and understand what may make those successes more likely. We operate in the margins, in a liminal and Darwinian sense, looking to become the fittest and the favoured. We do not operate in a zero-sum game. Many can succeed. And more can succeed if we learn from each other.
Dr DJ Hamblin-Brown is founder and CEO of Careful Systems, which develops patient tracking and handover technology for multi-disciplinary healthcare teams.
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