“How many of you truly believe you can change this industry,” I asked the audience at UnitedAg’s Annual Conference in Napa, California. The audience members who raised their hands might not have known it then, but they were part of a global awakening, a growing awareness among healthcare professionals around the world that we can fix our broken industry. I had come to Napa to make sure that awareness continued to grow.
“There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that digital health has the opportunity to fundamentally reimagine the healthcare industry,” I continued. “And we need to embrace the change that’s about to come, because this innovation boom will flourish much faster if all of us get involved.”
Because big data, predictive analytics, and the Internet of Things (IoT) can be confusing and even intimidating terms for most people, I made my argument for participating in the transformation of healthcare not by discussing the promise of new technologies, but by talking about something everyone at the conference could relate to, high school football.
As a teenager in Sparks, Nevada, I told the audience, I only wanted two things in life, to play college football, and to do it on a full-ride scholarship. But there was a problem. My mentor, former NFL player Dave Akers, told me that if I wanted to become a kicker for a college team, I would need to practice on special, nine-foot wide goal posts. The goal posts standing on either side of my high school’s football field were the standard size, 23 feet wide.
At the time, neither of my parents had the means to buy special goal posts for me. But while they lacked the money, they had something else that was just as powerful, a strong community. My father went to a nearby metal shop and talked to the owner, who agreed to donate the steel for the goal posts. Three welders from town volunteered to weld it together, turning the steel into a set of nine-foot wide goal posts. A local trucking company sent over one of its eighteen-wheelers, which shipped the goal posts to my high school. And everyone helped to install them on my high school’s practice field.
During the four years I was a student at Reed High School, I practiced my kicks religiously, sending one football after another sailing through those goal posts. By the time I was ready to go to college, I had scholarship offers from universities around the country. When Coach Tyrone Willingham called me and encouraged me to apply to Stanford, my community rallied around me again, with my teachers, counselors, and local leaders writing me letters of recommendation. Together, they helped me become the first member of my family to set foot on a college campus.
Together, they helped me achieve my dream of playing football at Stanford on a full-ride scholarship.
Right now, we have the opportunity to build communities around the world that will allow the healthcare industry to achieve its dream of becoming more affordable, accessible, and efficient. For the past six years, we’ve been building one of these communities in Denver, Colorado. Known as the Colorado health innovation ecosystem, this community currently contains thousands of members, including clinicians, entrepreneurs, executives, technologists, and academics. Together, they’ve encouraged the growth of more than 140 health-tech companies, among them giants like iTriage, Healthgrades, and Welltok.
“These entrepreneurs want to build a better healthcare system,” I told the attendees of the UnitedAg’s Annual Conference. “We have to give them the opportunity to do so.”
Just like my community supported me in my efforts to attend Stanford, Colorado’s health innovation ecosystem supports entrepreneurs in their efforts to reimagine healthcare. Venture generators like 10.10.10 Health enable them to develop solutions the healthcare system needs. Incubators like Innosphere and accelerators like Boomtown Health help them grow their companies. When completed in early 2018, Catalyst HTI, a first-of-its-kind, 180,000 square foot health-tech industry integrator, will allow entrepreneurs to forge lasting relationships with major healthcare providers. And organizations like StartUp Health are beginning to connect Colorado’s health innovators with thousands investors and partners around the world, effectively building the digital health sector of the global economy.
“As we start connecting all of these communities across the world,” I promised the attendees of UnitedAg’s Annual Conference, “there is no doubt in my mind that we will completely upend this industry, and give our country the healthcare system it deserves.”
But this will only happen if we work together. Remember, whether you’re the founder of a single person startup or an executive at a Fortune 500 company, if you’re passionate about reimagining healthcare, you have a seat at our table!