Medical school usually provides enough dream chasing for anyone to handle at one time, but not everyone. Learn about what to expect if the entrepreneurial itch hits.
The AMA Physician Innovation Network can connect medical students and physicians at any career stage with health technology opportunities.
Emergency physician Ryan J. Ribeira, MD, MPH, knows the ups and downs of entrepreneurship from his experience as founder and CEO of SimX, maker of virtual reality clinical training software. He got the idea in medical school and developed it through residency.
That journey is “not for everybody. It certainly does require a pretty high degree of sacrifice of your free time,” said Dr. Ribeira, a member of the AMA Board of Trustees. Once the project got going, he “didn’t really go to social events. I didn’t really watch TV or have other hobbies. The thing that I did for fun was my startup.”
Medical school is designed to pass on knowledge. It can also be where an established approach is seen through a fresh set of eyes—that moment of realization that many entrepreneurs have in common. That was the case when Dr. Ribeira, then a fourth-year medical student on an emergency medicine rotation, was sent to practice on a limited-functionality mannequin. The revelation that technology could bring better, more varied and far less expensive training resulted in SimX, now in place at top-flight institutions.
Virtual patients, real-life challenges
A moment of inspiration in medical school can take years to see the light of day. Here are some things to consider to help bring your business dream into reality.
Create productivity time. Dr. Ribeira discovered he did not have a lot of mental energy after 12-hour residency shifts. “So I would wake up early before all of my shifts to work on my startup. If I had a shift that started at 9, I’d wake up at 5. If I had a shift that started at 6, I’d wake up at 3 a.m. and I’d get a few hours in to hammer out some emails and make some plans.”
If you need a team, get one early. Not every venture is as complex as SimX—consultants, writers, vloggers and others can thrive as solos—but finding committed, like-minded others will very often be necessary.
“Pretty early on in the process I got other people involved who I had known from other activities and other startups and things like that that I’d done in the past. We were able to divide up a lot of the work amongst ourselves and that really was key.”
Learn to follow your dreams by helping others pursue theirs. Someone might have the entrepreneurial bent, but not yet the product. Others might have an idea, but no business experience. Consider getting involved in other startups, which are very often eager to get involvement from someone with a medical background.
The AMA Physician Innovation Network connects physicians with entrepreneurs and startups in the health tech innovation space to create improved digital health solutions. “I was an advisor or a team member for probably five different startups before I founded a company myself,” said Dr. Ribeira.
Understand about financing. It takes more than a great idea to get seed money. Angel investors—they use their own money—typically want to see at least a prototype. Venture capitalists—they use other people’s money—usually wait until there are actual sales.
Either will want some stake in the enterprise. There are alternatives, for example, government and institutional grants. They can come with some strings attached, too, but are an option worth exploring.
Be prepared for some tough times. “We had a number of instances where we were days away from insolvency before certain things occurred and we were able to keep things going. So all those times are very grim,” said Dr. Ribeira. That was especially the case “once we did have employees on board and you’re thinking about the livelihood of people who have committed themselves to this company.”
Recognize finances are not the only measure of successes. The U.S. Air Force uses SimX to train special-forces medics. “Knowing the impact this has on these really important providers, who are providing a critical care [service] in an austere environment for our soldiers, is really satisfying,” said Dr. Ribeira. “It’s a great feeling to have created something that we know is helping save lives.”