What incubators and tech ecosystems can offer health startups

Access to connections with industry and market know-how is critical for ventures looking to scale beyond a Series A funding round. Startups operating in the health and life sciences space — where innovations may take years to see the light of day — commonly require support navigating a heightened regulatory environment and evolving end-user or beneficiary expectations. Young healthcare companies also need reliable sources of ecosystem knowledge as they enter crowded markets with powerful incumbents and attempt to court potential partners. That’s why the need for more specialized incubators to develop capabilities, talent and opportunities for deeply technical fields, like healthcare, which improve lives and help solve the world’s toughest problems, will persist.

Bring innovation under one roof — literally or digitally

Achieving results with the incubator model of innovation depends on geography, environment and access to informed industry resources. For instance, Y Combinator continues to churn out high-impact startups. Techstars employs a market-adaptable model that dives deep on key global industry verticals, with domain experts as partners.

In Toronto, for instance, MaRS Discovery District provides critical startup and innovation infrastructure under one roof (Disclaimer: JLABS is a resident and partner of MaRS). All three incubators employ subject matter advisors that support new companies and help them navigate crowded markets with well-known competitors.

Look to the public and nonprofit sectors for partnerships

Successful incubators also benefit from business-friendly public and academic sectors. In Canada, the government champions open immigration policies that present technology startups and talent with an opportunity to draw success from the world’s best people.

Universities in Toronto, Waterloo, Montreal, Edmonton and Vancouver churn out educated computer and data scientists with design to use their talents for noble pursuits. The onus is on local companies to attract and retain them. That’s where incubators can play a crucial role. The country’s academic scene complements the incubators by partnering with startups to conduct research — especially in the fields of healthcare, biotechnology, clean energy and artificial intelligence.

Keep your friends close and fellow startups closer

The healthcare industry still struggles with diversity in leadership: less than 1 percent of CEOs in the life science industry are women; minority ownership of STEM companies is only 8 percent. Incubators can help change that by bringing diverse groups together to share ideas and build technologies.

Supporting early-stage innovators with a place to work and resources to run their business ultimately benefits the global life science ecosystem overall.

In general, a key feature of incubators that helps sell the model to prospects is proximity to fellow entrepreneurs and subject matter experts. That’s why it is especially important for incubators to understand the nuances of the industry or technology they select. Incubators with focused offerings — specializing in launching healthcare startups with hefty or opaque go-to-market requirements, for instance — will have a better chance of success if they deliver quality services to a smaller, more targeted brand of startup that aligns with their expertise. Incubators fail when they over-extend and over-promise offerings — something to avoid at all costs.

Indeed, supporting early-stage innovators with a place to work and resources to run their business ultimately benefits the global life science ecosystem overall. I believe this will persist and the next generation of startups that launch to tackle the world’s biggest — and smallest — healthcare issues will need financial, regulatory and technological support to achieve their goals.

Thanks to advances in both medicine and technology, the opportunities to make a real impact on the world will continue to grow. Achieving results through incubators will require focus on quality of services, expertise of subject matter advisors and access to potential partnerships with industry, academic and public sector peers.

The goal when launching, and sustaining, an incubator for science-driven fields like healthcare should be to enable innovators to deliver much-needed healthcare solutions that reach people all over the world. Importantly, incubators should aim to help entrepreneurs do so at the speed of innovation experienced by other industries like transportation or finance. Ultimately, by removing operations, facility management, technical support and equipment needs common among independent companies, incubator-resident entrepreneurs can focus their time and money on what matters most — world-changing health innovation.