Most communities are built from stories. They are the oral histories we pass down, the reputations that hold us accountable, and the identity we present to outsiders. But the healthcare community is a little different. Healthcare is based on meticulous observation. We have brilliant scientists running empirical tests for journal articles; IT experts detailing endless security audits; executives publishing voluminous reports on mortality and profit. Storytelling tends to get lost in the mix.
When I started Florida Health Innovators in 2014, I didn’t realize storytelling would be the ultimate purpose of the organization. As a health tech entrepreneur at the time, I was frustrated. Like many entrepreneurs, I was determined to solve problems. I’d worked in research labs at UCF’s Institution for Simulation and Training where I studied the problems – and opportunities – faced by a healthcare system undergoing massive change. I knew that Central Florida was uniquely equipped for these challenges with some of the nation’s largest hospitals, the most prestigious research centers and billions of dollars of ongoing investment in healthy communities. Yet, somehow, no matter how hard I looked I couldn’t find anyone talking about the challenges entrepreneurs face on the health innovation journey.
So I decided to host a conversation — a meetup with a simple goal: to join healthcare problem owners with problem solvers, to talk about how they might help each other. We hosted it at Canvs, a co-working space in downtown Orlando where I had an office.
The response was clear. The room was packed with people who attended to say “we need this,” even though we weren’t sure what or when the next meeting would be! There were clinicians and scientists; entrepreneurs and attorneys;students and enthusiasts. They all wanted to make healthcare better and knew we needed each other to make that happen.
It turns out this sort of connectivity is a defining characteristic of innovative cities. Take Raleigh-Durham for example: it doesn’t have the size of New York, the capital of the Bay Area, or the arts of Austin. But North Carolina’s Research Triangle is one of the most innovative regions in the country because it fosters conversations between problem owners and problem solvers. It’s not just the universities that are doing this.
Entrepreneurs in Raleigh-Durham report having a higher sense of connectivity with established businesses and local government than almost anywhere else in the country.
We didn’t realize we were following that connectivity model until people starting asking how they could get in touch with the Health Innovators membership. By setting out to create a forum for innovative people in our space, we’d begun curating excellence. We knew then that the stories we were uncovering needed to be told.
Moving Across Platforms
Today, you can find our stories online and in print. Health Innovators is on every major social media platform and in every edition of Orlando Medical News. In the 2 years since that first meeting, our community has grown to more than 1,400 members. We’ve hosted 23 events around the state, featuring patented inventors, venture-funded executives, and elite MD/Ph.Ds. We’ve toured simulation labs and telemedicine centers, seen 3D printers pump out the latest medical devices, and explored the human genome with the region’s only genetics counselors.
Perhaps the most difficult part of telling the health innovation story in Florida is deciding which topics to focus on next. Over the next year, we look forward to covering robotic surgery, biotech and population health, just to name a few.
If there is a lesson to be learned from the Health Innovators journey, it is that every community has an innovation story — some just need a little help telling it. Health is just one community of practice among many in Florida. I encourage entrepreneurs in every discipline to do their part by catalyzing these conversations.
Stories about simulation, space, and gaming (just for example) are waiting to be told. All it takes is a welcoming space, some brilliant people and really good questions.
Building community takes time and effort, but it’s not just a labor of love. Health Innovators is now the community arm of MedSpeaks, a company that connects experts in healthcare. We are technologists, healthcare executives, and businesspeople… and we are accelerating innovation by helping brilliant people tell their stories.