As said by Kermit the Frog of Muppets fame, being green isn’t easy.  And being “green” in the sense of being a newbie in the start-up space isn’t so easy either.  So it goes as the third cohort enters Project Zygote, a pre-accelerator for digital health start-ups set up by the local San Francisco chapter of Health 2.0.

Project Zygote works with entrepreneurs at a very early stage, with the goal of shaping ideas into something more solid so that the start-up is ready to enter a full-fledged accelerator or incubator program.  The cohort kicks off with an introductory evening session – a mixture of meet & greet, introductions to the Founders’ aspiring product ideas and the basics of the Project Zygote set-up.  The remainder of the sessions are Saturday afternoons, every other week for 5 sessions, on specific topics like differentiation, product-market fit, prototyping and pitching.  The conclusion is an elevator pitch presentation night where the founders present to the local Health 2.0 chapter (December 14 for this cohort).[register here to attend]

The current cohort has 7 teams of founders, some single, others in pairs.  They are a mixed group of backgrounds and experience, some working more on the technical side and some coming from healthcare-related jobs.  They also vary in their reactions to the challenges of entering the start-up world.  Some are super confident.  Others are on a roller-coaster ride where one week the product looks great and the next, doubt has crept in.  Some are very open to input, other founders a bit less so.  In some cases, the teams are able to clearly articulate their product and its value.  In many instances, the ideas are too nascent or fluid to pin down just yet.

I came to Project Zygote as an advisor, offering my background in intellectual property and the life sciences business world.  But I have to say that I have found it to be a learning experience for all involved, whether founder, team member or advisor.  As we near the conclusion for this cohort, here’s my two cents for what it’s worth, to start-ups at this stage of their journey:

  • Be a sponge for information– team members and advisors come from diverse backgrounds, from medicine to marketing to software engineering. Each has knowledge that can help shape your plans.  Even if you don’t agree with the suggestions, consider the information or the questions encapsulated in the point of view they offer.
  • Explore and learn – healthcare is a complex system with many players. To add to that, health-related digital apps are growing at an astounding pace.  Check out what’s out there and figure out your niche/contribution.  Search on the internet, talk to healthcare players in your product area, keeps tabs on the tech news. Think about what makes you different, and also why that difference should matter to the user of your product.
  • Enjoy the ride – this is a piece of advice I received along my career that is even more applicable here. There are highs and lows, super intense times and quieter times – appreciate and learn from all of them. There is a lot of excitement in new ideas but it will take grit to go the distance.

And for those joining or thinking of joining as advisors/mentors, I can offer this plug. Working with founders provides a hands-on experience in assembling the multitude of puzzle pieces that come together in getting from an idea to a company with a product.  Being part of a diverse set of inputs and gaining the insights of others alongside the founders is rewarding from a giving and a learning standpoint.

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”[1]


[1] This quote has been attributed to Benjamin Franklin and to Xun Kuang, a Chinese philosopher.