If you are going to raise money, know what it's for, says digital health consultant

As the health tech industry grows, more and more innovators are looking to create in the space. However, the road from ideation to full-fledged digital health company can be windy and complex.

Rebecca MacKinnon, founder and CEO of 5D Strategies, has worked in the health tech startup world for decades, first as an entrepreneur and now as a consultant helping young startups find their feet.

“I come from rural Kansas. So, if you know anything about rural communities, you learn at an early age to be self-sufficient,” she said. “There are just not enough people out there to do everything. I grew up in my career with the ‘get it done’ attitude.”

Right now, MacKinnon is helping companies grow to the next stage and figure out the complicated world of seeking out funding.

“I’ve become seasoned at what I call the early stage high growth. So, it’s more than an idea; there’s actually some legs to it  it’s ready to get its first funding or it has its first funding and then I help it take off and get moving in the marketplace,” she said.

MacKinnon said companies shouldn’t look at getting funded as giving away a piece of their company. She encourages companies on the high-growth trajectory to figure out how to make funding work for them.

“You have to get this healthy sense of what valuation really means and separate something that you see as your child or very dear to heart and see it with a little more dispassion around the economic equation.

“So here are the issues of the economic equation: What do you give up when you don’t have enough capital? How fast are your competitors competing against you? What moves are they making that you can’t finance today? Would those moves cause an incredibly different valuation for you if you could compete and be the leader in those positions? Who is making questions that’s going to wrap up your market that will take you years to unravel that and get those markets back?”

MacKinnon warned that making payroll isn’t a good reason to do a funding round. There should be a big picture reason to work with investors.

However, now is a good time to be a startup looking to grow, she said.

“I think the valuations are incredibly high,” she said. “It’s hard if you are on the investor side of the table to see how some of those valuations will return in the future. One of the things I’m a little shocked by is people can’t figure out if they are going to go finance. This is the cheapest money, in my lifetime, I’ve ever seen. If I were a younger person, I’d probably be trying to grab all the money that I could grab.”

The other big move that MacKinnon sees coming down the pipeline is the shift in geographical locations for innovation.

“Probably the top 25, top 15 communities are losing people to better climates. There is a shift occurring,” she said. “So, you are seeing Austin explode right now, you are seeing Florida explode. With that movement, it shakes up relationships. New people are going to emerge as being the power players. I think it’s very healthy though. I’m not a believer that it’s good to have any kind of aristocracies if you are trying to be innovators. The whole idea of innovation is a fresh new thought, a fresh new concept and a fresh new view on the world, and if you’ve had people who have played together for years, you definitely can’t get that.”

So what advice would MacKinnon give to emerging startups after the COVID-19 pandemic?

“It’s a new year. Let go of 2020. We need to forget it. It was like a bad date and needs to go away,” she said. “Move forward and move forward with confidence. In reality, this year has some of the best opportunities and cheapest money available to fund them. So, go after that and be aggressive about it.

“Put yourself in places that are the most unlikely places. I think there is some very good talent that exists that sees the equation very differently, and that’s a healthy opportunity for the healthcare space.”

MacKinnon will be presenting at the session titled “Connect and Navigate! Understanding the Startup Ecosystem” at the HIMSS21 Global Health Conference & Exhibition on Aug. 10 from 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. in Alliance 315 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.

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