Can medicine drive startups? Doctors Tim Gueramy and Tracey Haas say it can, and they're on a mission to help entrepreneurial doctors improve the field.
Last March, the husband-wife team launched The Walters Physician Incubator, an Austin, Texas, nonprofit that's open only to physicians with a startup idea.
In less than a year, the incubator has grown from five to 56 physicians, ranging from newly minted doctors to seasoned physicians in their late 60s. Their ideas range from innovative medical devices to interactive websites.
"Doctors come to this incubator typically because they have been batting around an idea that could help their patients or change the way medicine is currently being practiced," said Haas. "Very few consider leaving medicine."
Each month, Gueramy and Haas invite lawyers, marketing execs, venture capitalists and business school professors to coach doctors about startup fundamentals like how to craft business plans, pitch ideas, draft patents and fund raise.
"We toyed with the idea of mandatory meetings but haven't done it because we know doctors are very busy," said Haas.
Currently, the doctors decide how long they want to stay in the program, which is free, but that could change.
"As we grow and look for funding, we'll likely tie membership with a commitment to attending 80% of meetings and start charging fees," she said.
Those fees would potentially help Haas and Gueramy expand their program to other states. They also plan to start soliciting corporate sponsorships.
Haas' and Gueramy's own experience as physicians-turned-entrepreneurs sparked the idea for their incubator.
Haas, a rural family physician, and Gueramy, an orthopedic surgeon, invested $50,000 to launch DocbookMD in 2009.
DocbookMD, which allows physicians to safely share encrypted patient information, grew out of their need for a more efficient communication system between doctors and institutions. It also includes a directory of area physicians and pharmacies.
The app (available on Apple and Android devices) is free for doctors who are members of their state or county medical associations and available to hospitals and large physician groups for a fee. It is already used by more than 22,000 physicians in 39 states.
"With DocbookMD, physicians can quickly consult with each other about test results and even look up another doctor for a patient," said Gueramy. "This also saves patients' time, money and a wasted trip to the ER."
The couple left their practices in 2012 and now run DocbookMD full-time, although they hope to eventually return to practicing medicine. The startup, which has eight employees, is generating revenue but isn't yet profitable.
After DocbookMD's roll out, Haas said physicians started reaching out about their own business ideas, which inspired them to start The Walters Physician Incubator.
N=You and MyQuickDoc are the first two companies that have graduated from the incubator. N=You is a website for physicians to share information about how they're managing their own chronic conditions, while MyQuickDoc lets patients schedule doctors' appointments online.
Gueramy said the goal of their incubator is to "help physicians polish up their ideas" or get them to the place that they could enter a more traditional startup accelerator.
"It's not always popular for doctors to pursue something that's a little bit outside of traditional medicine," said Gueramy. "Our incubator creates a safe place where doctors can freely discuss their ideas and learn the basics of launching a business."