I spent my Thursday attending the Medtech Innovator pitch event in South San Francisco. An interesting organization. It provides mentorship for startups in the med tech space, encompassing more traditional devices as well as digital health companies. Pitch events held across the country provide a forum for selecting startups to join the fold.

Unlike some programs, this one does not take equity. Instead, it relies on sponsors from the medical device industry and other healthcare providers and investors to furnish funding. In turn, the sponsors are given the opportunity to help select the participants and to join in the mentoring interactions. The sponsorship arrangement brings home a key point when startups are on the hunt for incubator/accelerator programs and funding.

Who are you choosing and why?

At this event, a subset of sponsors gave an overview on their business interests.  While you could simply see this as “and now a word from our commercial sponsors,” that would overlook a key signpost provided for the startup audience. Namely, if you as a med tech entrepreneur are looking for funding, eventual acquisition, or partnerships with a larger company, there is a selectivity to these pairings.

For example, in the case of the sponsors that presented Thursday, Gore is focused on monitoring technologies, particularly for implants, wellness and devices integrated with fabrics and garments. In contrast, another sponsor, Olympus focuses its startup wish list on areas using AI and robotics. J&J is on the hunt for surgical devices and technology targeted for oncology, orthopedics and cardiovascular disease. Nipro put in a plug for startups in cell therapy.  Thus, depending on whether you are a company focused on blood testing diagnostics (like two pitch presenters, Orphidia and COMBiNATi), a non-invasive treatment for pancreatic cancer (NeoTherma), a replaceable retrievable valve for cardiovascular surgery (ReValve Med), a wearable dialysis unit (Wearable Artificial Organs), a neurostimulation technology to treat insomnia and pain (Sana), an simple-to-use ventilation device (CoLabs) or a bioelectronics device to treat sinus inflammation (Tivic Health), not every sponsor is a good fit, but some are key targets on which to set your sights.

Choosing an accelerator/incubator also has “fitness” considerations.

The selectivity isn’t just sponsor-related. At the MedTech Innovator event, each of the entrepreneurs pitching was asked one set of questions in common: why this program? What are you hoping to get from your MedTech Innnovator participation?

It seemed some had given only cursory thought to these considerations. Yet having visited a number of incubator/accelerator programs and spoken with many others, the level and type of mentorship varies.  Are you looking for introductions to investors?  Advice on product-market fit? Help with regulatory and IP issues? Pilot testing in a clinical or customer-facing environment?

Consider what each program has to offer for expertise, and if mentors will be available to work with you and your team on an individual basis.  Some of the questions commonly thrown your way by potential investors can provide guidance on the types of mentorship and support services that would be beneficial.

  • How will you make money, sustainably?
  • In your business plans, are you anticipating how the market is shifting over the next 5+ years in areas such as far-ranging as technology compatibility and reimbursement?
  • Do you have sufficient IP protection and is it timed appropriately for your commercial launch? Do you have freedom-to-operate?
  • Have you considered usability features? Are the features sufficiently flexible to adapt to a broad range of users?
  • Which regulatory paths are necessary and/or provide a competitive advantage?
  • How are you differentiated from the competition? Can you clearly articulate this proposition?

These and many more questions can help you select through the multitude of accelerator/incubator offerings and ensure that your participation not only provides some funding, but helps to grow your innovation into a competitive and attractive startup company.