Innovation doesn’t need to be sexy

by Lisa Fratt on September 30, 2014

Small innovations can transform health care

Fixing a real problem, even a small one, can transform health care.

What can innovators do to work with investors and industry to move an idea toward commercialization? Speakers at the upcoming Global Pediatric Innovation Summit + Awards, hosted by Boston Children’s Hospital, have some simple advice: Don’t think your innovation has to be sexy.

Health care is plagued by problems that aren’t necessarily sexy or compelling, says Mandira Singh, MBA, of AthenaHealth, who will speak at the Summit’s Mobile & Digital Health panel. More than many other industries, it still depends on outdated technology. For example, it’s the only industry that continues to rely on fax machines. “These are small problems that need to be fixed,” Singh said recently at a Boston Children’s Hospital forum.

Instead of focusing on everyday challenges, innovators often think far out into the future—to where they think health care will be in 10 years. That can be a trap: While looking to future needs is important, solutions need to build bridges between the problems of today and those of the future. Singh counsels simplicity: Innovators should stay focused on the patient and on helping providers boost efficiency and productivity.



“For decades we’ve thought that every new shiny machine or every new pill constitutes an innovation,” says Ezekiel (Zeke) Emanuel, MD, PhD, former health advisor to President Barack Obama and a keynote speaker at the Summit. “But we should not call them innovations just because they’re new. True innovation has to do one of four things: lower health care costs, improve longevity, improve quality of life or reduce side effects.”

A safe place for innovation

Ezekiel Emanuel


Boston Children’s Hospital Chief Innovation Officer Naomi Fried, PhD, who will moderate the Summit’s Innovation Acceleration panel, emphasizes the need for innovators at organizations to feel supported and safe to experiment and take risks. No idea should be considered too small.


Naomi Fried Innovation


“Just as ‘the perfect can be the enemy of the good,’ we need to make sure that our preoccupation with paradigm-shifting, disruptive innovation doesn’t cause us to denigrate the value of incremental, small-scale innovation,” Fried writes. “In fact, small changes can often add up to something big.”

Capital conundrum

Innovators shouldn’t obsess too much over funding, either. Capital isn’t the only ingredient startups need to co-exist with or disrupt legacy players, says Bill Geary, founding partner of venture capital firm Foundation Medical Partners. Also part of the Summit’s Innovation Acceleration panel, he advises innovators to start small and get early traction.

Bill Geary Foundation Medical Partners


“Capital is necessary, but it’s not sufficient,” he told a Boston Children’s audience recently. “On the list of requirements that fuel innovation, most entrepreneurs think capital is first, but it’s actually [farther down] on the list.”

First on the list is great people who can re-imagine solutions for an industry that is stuck. “Disruptive innovators find an underbelly of opportunity,” said Geary. “Capital fuels that. Great investors know how to build companies that take advantage of opportunity.”

Join us at the Global Pediatric Innovation Summit + Awards 2014 on October 30-31 in Boston. Seats are limited, so register today at Please use the code VECTOR at check-out for a 10% discount.

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