We’re celebrating National Nurses Week by sharing a profile of Health Innovator. This amazing organization knows that health care workers are most well-suited to address challenges in the system. Health Innovator provides training, prototyping, product development support, mentoring, office hours, and more, that meets their innovator’s needs for flexibility so they can keep working in the health care field.
We met Nancy Lowery, the Senior Director for Innovation with the Medical Center of the Americas Foundation more than three years ago when she was spearheading an effort to launch a nurse-to-innovator program through her organization. Healthcare professionals have a long history of innovating on the job. But Nancy applied for support right at the start of the COVID pandemic, when nurses and healthcare professionals were rising to meet an unprecedented demand on the healthcare system, which had healthcare heroes developing new solutions and innovations left and right. The Workers Lab was able to make a $75,000 investment in the summer of 2020. The program, which was called Nurse-to-Innovator when we first connected is now called Health Innovator, and we’re thrilled to share more of their story during Nurses Week. You can learn more about Health Innovator and the Medical Center of the Americas Foundation here.
How has your organization changed or grown since the investment?
Working with The Workers Lab was a great experience. They have such a personal touch as an investor that you don’t get from all granting agencies. They have a deep care for whether their innovators succeed, and they want to have a real understanding of the impact they are making on the ground. We really appreciate working with them.
The Foundation has always worked in medtech, and prior to funding from The Workers Lab, we were supporting several nurse innovators on a 1:1 basis. The Workers Lab funds enabled us to launch an initial cohort with nurses and other front-line workers that gave us a deeper appreciation of the challenges these innovators face while also working as healthcare professionals.
We had thought that if these professionals had a chance to start a business they’d jump to do so, but they are all in this profession because they want to help people; they don’t want to be businesspeople. The grant allowed us to offer a hybrid, online program in both English and Spanish that provided education on the fundamentals of what it takes to get an innovation going and provide support to help at each stage. The program includes online classes, worksheets, and a weekly meet-up among the group. Because many of these innovators do shift work, the approach we built allowed flexibility for everyone. This approach enabled them to be the innovators they wanted to be, not the business professionals we thought they wanted to be.
Since that first investment, we’ve launched and supported another cohort, supported five longer-term innovation projects, and focused more on how we can help innovators interact more with potential users to really understand their target markets, the current setting, and what it will take to develop their technology.
What are you focused on today?
We’ll continue to run small cohorts each year. The real value in working with someone like a healthcare professional is that they really care about helping people and they just need a core understanding of what the potential for their innovation is and the critical connections to make their idea come to life.
We work 1:1 with people after they go through the program, providing prototyping, product development support, mentoring, office hours, and the like.
Our mission and our goal haven’t changed: we want to provide support for people who want to innovate, and we want to develop an ecosystem that supports the growth of an innovative, inclusive, and vibrant economy where there are opportunities for everyone.
One thing we’re particularly focused on is helping Hispanic innovators and business owners. More than 85% of the community where we’re based is Hispanic, but Hispanic business ownership is only 40%. We want to sow opportunities for everyone. And create an environment where people can expect to have positive health outcomes and generate economic wealth, regardless of who they are or where they come from.
What do you want potential donors to know about your work?
Entrepreneurship is the hardest thing anyone will ever do. It’s lonely and difficult, but small businesses are the engines for growth, so whether you want to support individuals, or economic development, or improved health outcomes for the region, support innovators, then your desired outcomes will follow.
What advice do you have for new innovators trying to help workers?
Listen to what people say. They’ll tell you what they need. So many times, what we as entrepreneur support organizations try to do is say “this is what you need” when what they really need is someone to listen. Innovators frequently think “My idea is unique,” but the reality is someone else likely has something really close, so the only way to set yourself apart is to open yourself to hearing what people need, being intentional about how you grow and develop, and opening yourself up to mentorship.