Leveraging Social Networks for Medical Entrepreneurs

By Daniel Lee

Fueled by the legendary stories of startups from humble beginnings, solitary entrepreneurs are portrayed against a backdrop of dimly-lit garages, working on their inventions to unleash to the world. In reality successful entrepreneurs rarely operate this way. Innovations require the knowledge and focus of their creators but translating them into viable businesses requires an entire team of people with complementary skills and functions. Interacting with people whether within or beyond the team – aka networking – is essential at nearly every step of the business building process. Some would even claim that your network will ultimately determine your net worth. Online platforms, connectivity, and mobile tech have extended what used to be face-to-face interactions to remarkable levels. Regardless of industry or niche social networking has changed from being optional to now being mandatory.

At nearly 7.5 billion people living on our planet as of this writing,[1] humans have never been more connected. More than half of the global population use the internet and approximately 3.2 billion people are currently on social media.[2][3] This trend will continue and will continue to transform how we live and conduct business at a pace never before witnessed. This global connectivity has created unprecedented opportunities by linking people and resources beyond physical or economic barriers. For entrepreneurs in the healthcare space this translates to new, evolving paradigms for funding, team-building, licensing, prototyping, and conducting clinical trials. What’s even more incredible is the dramatic reduction in cost to gain this massive degree of connectivity. Even solopreneurs can now have a global presence at minimal or no cost through social networks.

So how can medical entrepreneurs and startups use social networks? Platforms of social media titans such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter can be leveraged for engagement, recruitment, and marketing. The greatest values of these large networks are the sheer number of users, targeted search capabilities, and sharing, all contributing to the network effect.[4] Finding people with common interests or associates are intrinsically built into these platforms and through active engagement, your network organically grows. Paid advertisements provide a rapid way to connect with even more people; this provides a cost-effective way to target marketing if your company reaches that stage. Less popular platforms such as Google+ and Reddit, when used creatively, offers tremendous opportunities to find like-minded people in potentially synergistic niches. Beyond the default engine of Google, Twitter Search[5] is simple but powerful in finding trends in any industry or topic and to connect with active users in their respective fields.

Social media platforms also allow for direct engagement with patients with specific diseases or conditions. This is an invaluable source for patient recruitment in clinical studies or to find evangelists for specific health causes such as Michael J. Fox and Parkinson’s disease[6]. Creative entrepreneurs can explore potential new clinical indications or repurposing of technologies developed for entirely different applications, generating new leads or ideas formed at the intersection of diverse disciplines. Social engagements can reveal key problems through unbridled opinions and discussions of other healthcare professionals or patients which may lead to opportunities for developing solutions.

Industry specific networks such as Society of Physician Entrepreneurs (SoPE) should also be leveraged to make connections that can ultimately lead to partnerships and expanded opportunities. Crowdsourcing platforms have further expanded social networks, changing how we raise awareness of causes, raise funds for projects, and how we conduct research. The explosive growth of big data analysis, machine learning (artificial intelligence), decentralization of data networks through blockchains, are rapidly changing our models of value creation and monetization to create new ecosystems. All of these transformative technologies require and are accelerated by social networks.

Never before in history have entrepreneurs have had the ability to connect with other people on a global scale. Social networks expand our basic human need to communicate and in doing so, creates new ways to innovate. It is indeed a wonderful time to be an entrepreneur, especially for those in healthcare.

[1] https://www.census.gov/popclock/

[2] http://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Statistics/Documents/statistics/2018/Individuals_Internet_2000-2016%20Jan2018.xls

[3] https://www.statista.com/statistics/617136/digital-population-worldwide/

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metcalfe%27s_law

[5] https://twitter.com/search-home

[6] https://www.michaeljfox.org/