By Madison Frye ‘21 and Trisha Thacker ‘21 

Brown Innovation for Health was established in 2016 with the goal of promoting collaboration in the realms of healthcare, business, and technology. To that end, our student organization hosted an annual hackathon ‘Brown Hack Health’ to develop healthcare solutions. However, in 2020, sticking to the event plan we had followed for the last four years did not seem feasible or suitable anymore. 

For starters, the COVID-19 pandemic meant hosting a 48-hour hackathon would induce major ‘Zoom fatigue’. But, more broadly, healthcare innovation requires a much larger uplift than other industries because it is a field riddled with regulatory barriers and complex stakeholders. This meant that a 48-hour program fell short of the long-term impact it could create and the support it could provide. This motivated us––Madison Frye ‘21, Trisha Thacker ‘21, along with the two other BIH Co-Presidents, Jolie Ren ‘21.5 and Laila Gamaleldin ‘22––to launch Brown’s first-ever healthcare incubator: a 9-week program called ‘Brown Hatch Health’.

Here are some of our key takeaways:

1. Ensure that the goals of your incubator align with those of your cohort 

Before you develop a curriculum, you need to establish clear and achievable goals for your program. The goals for Hatch Health included developing a community of passionate healthcare enthusiasts, providing structure and resources for early-stage venture development, and promoting healthcare entrepreneurship at Brown. These goals guided us through challenges, for example, we developed a Fellowship Program, made up of students passionate about healthcare who did not have a fully-formed venture idea, to get a taste of what the entrepreneurial process within healthcare looks like. We also asked all our participants to submit three goals they hoped to achieve during the incubator, and tried to facilitate those throughout the program. 

2. Start advertising before you even think you need to by hosting ‘taster’ (value-add) events

In year 0, we were bogged down with trying to figure out how to create a curriculum from scratch and who our sponsors and partners would be. One of the first things you can do is to start hosting ‘taster’ events such as Ask Me Anything (AMA) sessions with healthcare leaders in your community to raise brand awareness of the value-add your incubator will provide.

3. Think critically about whether your community is clustered into teams already, or if you want to facilitate that

One mistake we made was to not think about the logistics of individuals applying versus teams. We did not expect this, but most of our applicants had already formed teams, and had much stronger applicants than solo applications, putting individuals at a disadvantage. 

Our take is that unless the incubator is solely for individuals, with matchmaking built into the incubator plan, it’s a better idea to accept teams. Our solution––we realized this a few days before applications were set to close––was to host a quick match-making session for individuals, trying to give them a fair shot at incubator spots. However, one hour is a short amount of time to decide who your startup spouse(s) should be. 

In hindsight, hosting a series of matchmaking and casual networking sessions alongside our value-add taster events in the months leading up to the incubator is a great way to help individuals find teams to apply with, as well as build community and advertise the event.

4. Envision the end to determine the middle

In creating your incubator curriculum, decide what you want teams to achieve at the end of the program, in order to determine the length and content of the incubator. We decided we wanted the teams to present at a final showcase to receive financial support and feedback that could propel their ventures further. However, we didn’t want it to be high-enough stakes to breed stiff competition and put too much emphasis on ‘winning’, since our ultimate goal was to support earlier-stage builders whether they continued with their venture or not.

On the subject of curriculum development, Jonas Clark, the Associate Director of the Nelson Center recommended that we think about “learning goals” i.e., look at why a certain topic matters or will matter to your cohort. If you can’t think of a learning goal, it may be a sign that the topic isn’t relevant to your incubator. 

5. Build in milestones to key elements of the program

One key decision we made was to have every team submit their planned Q&A as a ‘milestone’ before meeting with industry mentors. This a) helped us ensure teams were well prepared for meetings (so that we preserved strong relationships with mentors) b) allowed us to look over and suggest other questions that might be relevant to their conversations (from our additional knowledge about the mentors and their work) and c) helped teams stay accountable to submitting milestones along with their progress.

We also had more broad milestones such as making a budget, writing venture descriptions, and completing a short online course on startup development. However, as the teams dove deeper into their ideas or pivoted, it became difficult to have uniform milestones that were applicable to everyone. Milestones look vastly different for healthcare hardware vs. healthcare software vs. healthcare services, so pairing broad milestones for the entire cohort (e.g. create an ICP – ideal customer profile) with very specific milestones per team (e.g. write a survey for orthopedic physician interviews) might be more useful. 

6. Make all talks as personalized as possible

Before every workshop, every talk, every AMA, we sent the teams’ venture descriptions (which we made sure to update every few weeks as teams pivoted!) to speakers, so that they could personalize their talks to whatever individual ventures were focusing on.

Our final keynote speaker, Karthik, incorporated this personalization the best. He gave his address on broader topics of advancing home healthcare through digital health, however, with each point and example, he found a way to relate it back to the problems or solutions each team was tackling. This is a great way to keep audience members and teams engaged, as well as make the overall experience far more intimate and personalized.

Another way to guarantee personalization is to limit the cohort size. Even though we had a very strong applicant pool, we only selected four teams – Parami, Medicircle, Ponto, and DocuHealth. We were very transparent about the time commitment required and prioritized creating a tight-knit and dedicated cohort over making the incubator as large as possible. 

Looking forward, we’re excited to see how Hatch Health can increase Brown students’ interest in healthcare development, as well as bridge the gap between healthcare ideas and sustainable ventures. We’re grateful for all the support from Brown–Lifespan Center for Digital Health, New England Medical Innovation Center, Adler Pollock & Sheehan, and of course––The Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship. See you next year, Brown Hatch Health!

Meet the Hatch Health teams and fellows here!