Being honest about limitations, IGNITE Fire Pitch Competition and other startup stories from TMCx advisors

This month, we bring you not one, but two of our great advisors to talk about why it’s important for startups to have mentors and for women entrepreneurs to have support.

Umber Dickerson, director of clinical business operations at Texas Children’s Hospital, says that hospitals want to do “futuristic, transformative things, but they don’t always have the resources.”

Umber Dickerson, Texas Children’s Hospital

She got involved in the TMCx accelerator program because she sees it as a way to work with startups who are trying to solve the same problems as her hospital. She finds it’s a symbiotic relationship: She talks with them about operations and what doesn’t work with a health system, and startups show her ways to think differently about how she operates, and what she could be doing that she never thought about.

“The best way I know is to tell them what I do, what problems I see on a day-to-day basis and to be honest about limitations,” she said. “They have great ideas, but have never worked in a health system or may have worked on one side, like a clinician or biomedical engineer, but not in an operations role. My job is to show them how their product would work in our system.”

One honest message she had to relate recently was telling a startup that they needed to think larger than their current environment. That meant teaching them that there is a competitive landscape for their product, and they needed to focus on the patient as the customer.

“You have to know your competitive environment, locally, nationally and internationally,” Dickerson said. “People across the world are pushing the same thing, so be thinking ahead, and take the customer seriously. We are being brutally honest, but won’t choose or select you if you just think locally.”

She also said it will be a hard sell if a startup’s pitch to a hospital includes that they are doing things wrong. Instead, she recommends talking to hospitals about how they can do things more efficiently.

“Safety is a harder sell than efficiency,” she added, “and it’s harder to prove. Efficiency is something you can measure faster.”

Meanwhile, Ayse McCracken, a health care advisor and strategic consultant, is gearing up for the IGNITE Fire Pitch Competition, which will take place Thursday, Oct. 19 at the TMC Innovation Institute.

Ayse McCracken

The inaugural event brings together seven women-led, digital health startups from across the country who will receive mentoring before pitching in front of a panel. They connect with coaches, one who represents the voice of the customer, and one who represents investors.

Three prizes are up for grabs including admission to the upcoming TMCx digital health accelerator, funding and free office space.

“If you look at the stats, women do well leading companies, but we don’t get the money raised by men who have been in the space and have those relationships,” McCracken said. “The draw for this is to connect up with customers and investors to accelerate growth of the business.”

The idea for the competition started a year ago when a group of women in health care came together to get to know each other and understand issues going on in their respective organizations.

With all of the complexity going on in the industry, the goal was to connect and collaborate, McCracken said.

At the first event, 67 women showed up; “the conversations were incredible,” she added.

It turns out this event “ignited” a fire across the group of women who were high energy and wanted to continue to meet. McCracken connected the group with the Greater Houston Women’s Chamber of Commerce, which now hosts the meetups.

From there came the idea of a pitch competition.

“How do we help fund and accelerate growth for women doing great work?” she said. “This shines a light on women doing great work in health care and to help connect them in Houston. If they come here and we help them get their business started, hopefully they will set up shop here, employ people and contribute to the Houston economy.”

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