Solving global health problems requires entrepreneurship

Novel applications of technology, improving processes and starting businesses will help tackle the world’s greatest health challenges, say Julie Devonshire and Anjali Sastry

May 21, 2019
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Solving complex global health challenges calls for innovation in the many domains that shape current thinking about the field: medicine, economic development, public health, product engineering, anthropology, design thinking, and the emerging science of healthcare delivery. But what’s often missing in the mix is entrepreneurship.

A new breed of entrepreneurs is making headway in global health. Some are challenging the status quo by launching new ventures while others work with public, private and non-profit organisations. By developing novel applications of technology and analytics, improving processes and starting businesses, these innovators are developing brand new solutions to global health challenges. Creating clinically effective offerings that people choose over existing alternatives requires a deep understanding of relationships, dynamics and context. Doing this with an eye to improving the quality, sustainability and reach of healthcare in emerging markets calls for innovators who are ready to tackle the complexities of global health.

It’s important to provide education and training for this new breed of entrepreneurs because the wrong kind of failure comes at too high a cost. Too much pivoting, and public trust is eroded. A misstep may even harm patients. Innovators need to be creative and agile, but they also need to invest in the groundwork, a combination of imperatives that can be difficult to follow when building a business.

Taking time to think through challenges and conduct low-risk experiments is hard to do in the real world, but places such as our institutions – the Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management and The Entrepreneurship Institute at King’s College London – are designed for this. 

Our goal is to help create the next generation of highly employable, entrepreneurial problem-solvers who will be independent, critical thinkers ready to embrace complex challenges, no matter what sector they work in. 

We take on this need by educating student-entrepreneurs, supporting innovators everywhere with new knowledge and building connections with experts — including in the traditional disciplines of global health — along with collaborators on the front lines.

A hallmark of the MIT education is combining learning in the classroom, lab and field. MIT Sloan students learn analytics, systems thinking, effective business models and entrepreneurial processes. They aren’t just learning how to maximise profits, but ways to understand the market and craft systems, knowing they will encounter barriers in access to care, the labour market, poverty, etc. 

Through the work of the Legatum Center, they are guided to develop solutions that account for opportunities and challenges they encounter in the real world.

Students at King’s College learn that the best solutions to challenges facing people in emerging economies are those developed with their communities and not for them. Complexities in health systems are vast, diverse, and change from community to community. Developing solutions that work and that reach financial sustainability are more likely when they are done with local knowledge.

Mentorship is an important theme at both MIT Sloan and King’s College London. Students need to listen to and connect with real-world entrepreneurs who are cracking the code for scale, sustainability, and quality. Their practical ideas for improving healthcare could apply everywhere, as the challenges they tackle are, in fact, global. There are insights to share for how we train entrepreneurs, along with bold new ideas for academia’s role in orchestrating joint solutions with governments, non-profits and the public sector.

It is essential to support the next generation of entrepreneurs as they seek to innovate and change things for the better. Through collaboration and learning, we can help create yet-to-be-imagined solutions that improve lives across the globe.

Julie Devonshire is director of entrepreneurship at King’s College London. Anjali Sastry is a senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management and faculty adviser to the MIT Legatum Center for Entrepreneurship and Development. 

Both will be speakers at an event on 22 May titled  “Building Sustainable Healthcare Systems through Innovation and Entrepreneurship”, hosted by MIT Sloan and King’s College London.

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: Wanted: health innovators

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