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6 innovator CEOs share insights that steer their careers

From the Health Evolution Innovation Lab, chief executives discuss what they have learned through their work and how it informs innovation strategies, company culture and more.

Health Evolution | November 30, 2020

Health Evolution asked CEOs participating in our Innovation Lab to reveal the words of wisdom or insights for other CEOs and innovators. The common themes? Passion and perseverance, of course, as well as deciding the best places to focus time and energy. And they also offered advice about mountaineering, establishing strong teams and being wary of thinking about disruption for disruption’s sake.   

Lark Health CEO Julia Hu recounts a long-time mentor who told her that the inspiration fueling a startup has to be a big enough idea to spend every waking day sacrificing many other things. The mentor also said that innovators need to pursue something they feel passionate enough about to spend the next 15 years building it. Turn that thought around and If the concept doesn’t meet those needs, don’t do it.  

“At the time, I thought 15 years was crazy, but eight years later I realize it was a really good barometer. There are many easier ways to make money and have a career. Find something you are truly passionate about and stubborn enough to try and change,” Hu adds. “Iit’s not enough of a North Star, then really think about aiming higher. You are going to fail in so many different ways but if you try for the moon and keep flying you will land somewhere pretty exciting.”  

Of the two pieces of advice Higi CEO Jeff Bennett shared, the first concerns the product and business model.  

It’s great having that concept and vision but you have to get down to the business model and whether it solves the problem in a way that’s scalable. Nothing is as easy as it looks or sounds, so just get ready,” Bennett said. 


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Similar to Hu’s advice, Bennett’s second piece relates to passion, both personally and at the company level.  

If you don’t have passion for what you’re doing, it’s simply not going to work,” Bennett says. Make sure you have a team with passion and purpose. 

Chris Nicholson, CEO of mPulse Mobile, agrees with focusing on the team you build first and foremost.  

“Give the team leeway to chase different strategies and ideas. I used to be more controlling of the company and we would execute but we didn’t have the resources to pursue new opportunities. This last year has forced us to trust the team and empower them to deliver for the market, and that is a result of giving more to the team and wanting them to be successful versus trying to control everything. 

In addition to establishing a strong team, replete with ample resources, Health Here CEO Ryan Wells applies lessons from outside health care — Wells looks to mountaineering, specifically — to inform strategies for innovation.  

You often hear people talk about ‘disrupting’ the space. However, time after time, you see companies and ideas failing when they take this approach. That’s why I tell our team to ‘work with the mountain, not against it,”’ Wells says.  “When you’re climbing a mountain, even if you’re in great shape, have a strong team, and have all the best gear, you still won’t make it up if you don’t respect the very real challenges a mountain can throw your way at any given time. I’ve always felt you have a similar dynamic in health care. Health care innovators need to appreciate and respect the guard rails on the system and work within them to be successful.” 

When considering guardrails, it’s also critical to be selective in adding new features to a product or undertaking initiatives for which the organization is not well-equipped for success.  

“Build only what can offer sustainable ROI or value,” said Parag Paranjpe, CEO of Health Level. “It is important to be relentless in finding value for all entities in the ecosystem. A quantifiable value proposition is critical to having multiple players adopt what you build.”  

Paranjpe also urged CEOs and innovators to look for untapped opportunities, be open to evolving ideas as discoveries are made that open new opportunities to solve different and potentially larger problems than initially expected.  

Hire people smarter than yourself. Celebrate even the smallest of milestones with your team, not alone,” Paranjpe added. Build for users. Develop passionate clients who will advocate for your solution.”  

Socially Determined CEO Trenor Williams added that it is critical to know your customers.  

“Understand the communities you care about and the people you care for,” Williams explained. “Take a holistic picture that involves not just thinking of the person as a disease or where they’ve gone for care. Being able to think holistically is where the opportunity is.”   

About the Author

Health Evolution, Staff Writer