What We Look for in Healthtech Startups — Q&A With Inflect Venture Associate Helen Abad
Helen Abad has been Inflect’s Venture Associate/Head of Early-Stage Partnership since 2020, working closely with startup founders in our portfolio while sourcing and finding new deals with Inflect.
Previously a business analyst with Vituity, working with doctors to benchmark metrics and find gaps where tech might enhance care, Helen’s first “aha” moment around healthtech came in grad school, when she worked in a doctor’s office, and experienced first-hand how digitizing paper charts was a huge lift in helping physicians.
In this Q&A, Helen shares some inside tips on healthtech startups, how she assesses them — and what Inflect seeks in portfolio partners.
What do you look for in new startups?
I meet with up to 20–30 startups a month, occasionally in person but often on Zoom.
I look for a passionate founder. I need to believe in the founder. Maybe things can go sideways with your initial plan and you have to pivot, but if you believe in what you’re working on, that’s what is ultimately compelling. We’ve invested in companies that are pre-revenue, so it’s more important that you have realistic goals.
Often founders are tech people who don’t understand the complex nuances of health care and the regulatory issues involved, so it’s definitely a learning curve for them. But we pride ourselves on being a strategic partner. We have insight towards the regulatory piece and do what we can to get you in front of health networks for potential sales intros, which doesn’t move as quickly as you might think.
What makes a pitch most compelling to you?
Three features come to mind:
- Realistic revenue projections. You don’t have to say you’re going to capture every patient on earth.
- A good team. It helps knowing that a founder has a trusted team in place that they can delegate tasks to.
- A focused solution. A clear idea of the problem the startups actually aims to solve, and how. Sometimes we meet with companies that don’t even have the product created yet; we sometimes invest in companies that are in the concept phase. It’s more important to us how they’re able to execute on their solution.
I’m also impressed when meeting startups that don’t want to engage in continuous fundraising cycles — it shows that they’re being efficient with the capital at hand.
What are some common mistakes healthtech startups make during a pitch?
Not being good at absorbing our feedback is a red flag. Inflect has access to a large physician network, so we know what healthtech solutions they are most likely to use — and which startup ideas probably won’t scale.
I‘m often pitched healthtech solutions which don’t really address a specific existing need.
For instance, someone recently pitched us a “Tiktok for healthcare”. That might seem like a good idea, but there would be so many practical barriers to making that feasible — the HIPAA regulations alone would probably make an app like this very difficult to scale.
The hardest thing is telling a startup that we just don’t see “a there there”.
How does healthtech startups vary from general tech startups?
With healthtech, the crux of it all is benefit to the patient. Healthtech is always around improving the patient experience, and moving healthcare forward. There has to be an actual underlying problem for health tech to exist.
What I love about venture is it’s one of the few jobs where we’re continually learning everyday, talking with founders, and diving into the research. For example: a recent company in our later stage of diligence has been around digital solutions for cardiovascular issues; we don’t have a cardiology practice line, so we took a closer look at that market to select the best solution for the problem.
What are some future trends you’re interested in?
Mate Fertility is a recent portfolio addition I’m very passionate about: We wanted to add a startup that addressed women’s health, and knew that there’s an unmet need in the fertility space. Mate Fertility reduces the bottleneck of getting access to fertility solutions, especially for people outside big cities.
Hyper-personalization for health is a huge trend in general. I really like that companies are doing this along many verticals. For instance, with dermatology, we’re seeing startups create highly targeted solutions for eczema or acne, tailoring them more to what the patient wants. I think that’s the future.
Connect with Helen on her LinkedIn.