Can Med Device Startups Be Sexy and, If so, Should They?


The medical device startup space is not sexy. At least not in the ‘front page of Techcrunch or Mashable’ sort of way. Not in the Tesla, SpaceX, or SolarCity (did I mention Elon’s a badass?) sort of way. Not even in the Bitcoin, drones, or hoverboards sort of way that seems to momentarily steal our attention away from our cat videos (or is this just me?).

This probably doesn’t come as a surprise to most people in the startup community. But if you don’t believe me, go to AngelList, click on ‘Medical Devices’, and tell me how many startups you recognize. Even working in the industry, I can count on one hand the number of startups that are regularly seen in headlines.

There are a few consumer-focused medical device startups (like EyeNetra, Scanadu, and Liftware) that have done the inconceivable and made medtech sexy (props to them!), but these companies are few and far between.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am by no means implying that startups need to be sexy to be successful. In fact, there are many people that would argue startups are trying too hard to be sexy nowadays and, in doing so, suffer from a lack of substance.

Like middle-schoolers at a high-school dance, startup founders are trying too hard to be cool. — Rana Gujral

However, I’d make the argument that startups do have to possess a degree of “sexiness” to get funding. Hence, many med device startups face a dilemma of sorts. How does one make a med device company cool (one can only use the term ‘sexy’ comfortably so many times in a single article) enough to receive funds?

This challenge may be more difficult to some than others. Personally, I wouldn’t want to be the one pitching a new and improved urinary catheter in front of a bunch of VCs. Buy hey, that’s just me. Granted, my team at OcuSciences (let’s face it, I’d be a bad entrepreneur if I didn’t plug my co.) faces some similar challenges in that we’re developing an imager to diagnose retinal diseases much earlier than the current practices as well as more closely monitor treatments. Certainly useful, but not sexy I’m afraid. (If anyone has any ideas on making flavoprotein fluorescence the next ‘Uber for X’, please let me know.)

However, with the likes of Apple, Google, IBM, and other tech giants now entering the healthcare space, I have high hopes for healthcare breakthroughs one day residing side-by-side with the likes of drones, artificial intelligence, and hoverboards on popular tech websites. Heck, maybe even one day, the CEO of a Medtronic or a Johnson & Johnson will present, Steve Jobs-style, the latest medtech developments on stage (although the FDA may have something to say about this). I’m optimistic.

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