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For These Health Entrepreneurs, Luck Isn’t the Full Story

February 02, 2021
by Matt Kristoffersen

Public health is a solid investment. Just ask these health entrepreneurs.

Two leading industry investors spoke to a virtual gathering Wednesday (January 27) to tell a Yale School of Public Health audience about their paths to success. Titled “Health Entrepreneurship: How to Really Make an Impact,” the hour-long discussion featured Shaklee Corporation CEO Roger Barnett and Ripple co-founder Chris Larsen as they gave advice and encouraged students to follow their entrepreneurial ambitions.

The two investors have a few things in common: billions of dollars, a wealth of experience in the health startup ecosystem, and a shared excitement for Yale. They gave the online audience a few golden nuggets of advice.

For one, according to Barnett: Get to know as many Yale students as possible. “Make sure you’re devoting as much time and energy to the students and other community members that are there,” he said. “What makes [Yale] special is the student body.”

Another: Don’t have more than one co-founder in a startup. “Three co-founders is like 3-D chess,” Larsen explained. “It’s just impossible.”

The discussion was also hosted by directors of InnovateHealth Yale, including Associate Professor Kaveh Khoshnood, Ph.D. ’95, M.P.H. ’89; Fatema Basrai, M.B.A.; and Professor Howard Forman, M.D., M.B.A.

“We were excited to co-host this event, especially for our students who have a passion for developing innovative and scalable solutions to public health challenges,” Khoshnood said.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has inspired more students to reach out to IHY for mentorship and financial support to launch their ventures and we are eager to support them as much as we can.”

Together, the five webinar hosts painted an optimistic picture of the future of health entrepreneurship — especially when combined with data science. Emerging reliance on artificial intelligence and machine learning and the fight against climate change can bring new business opportunities in the years ahead, they said.

More important, though, these entrepreneurs said academic researchers would find more success if they invested much more time into being able to communicate their findings with the outside world.

“It’s not enough to come up with the policy ideas or do the really insightful research,” Larsen said. “You have to understand your work and partner with people who can broadcast it in a digestible form.”

YSPH Dean Sten H. Vermund agreed. “We MUST communicate better with policymakers and ‘mass consumption,’” he wrote in a short public comment.

Beyond being adept communicators, entrepreneurs must be willing to take risks and persevere, they said. And to Barnett, who founded one of the first internet retailers in the cosmetics industry, luck plays a less significant role in his success than one may think.

“Build up your skillsets, learn as much as you can, and then keep your eyes open that you can kind of run. You can make a certain amount of luck,” he said. “And then, if the gods of fortune shine upon you, accept the gift and embrace it.”

Submitted by Ivette Aquilino on February 02, 2021