6 Building Blocks for Health Tech Startups

The pandemic created an unforetold crisis for the healthcare industry and pushed the need for digitalization and innovation that could help deliver patient care in a more agile way.

This pressure point resulted in sweeping responses across the industry, from accelerated health tech adoption to standardizing remote healthcare to a push for quicker drug and vaccine discoveries.

Health tech innovators rose to the challenge, creating products and solutions that address well-being and care delivery, along with open, secure data and interoperable platforms.

Venture capitalists saw the opportunity in this tectonic shift in the health industry, and investments in health tech nearly doubled in 2020 from 2019. In the first half of 2021, investors have already poured in $14.7 billion — nearly the same amount as the entirety of 2020.

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The Building Blocks of Digital Health Tech Startup

As life sciences, technology, and retail sectors are entering the digital health market, the competition is also heating up for health tech startups.

Unmet Need


Cutting-edge technology or innovation, for that matter, won’t guarantee success for health tech startups. They must identify an unmet need in the healthcare system and have a clear value proposition to set their solution apart.

For example, in the UK, the waiting lists for appointments for cognitive-behavioral therapists could be as long as 18 months. Ieso Digital Health identified that shortage and created their online therapy platform.

User-Centric Design

A user-centric health tech product will keep users — such as patients, physicians and clinicians and technicians — in mind and will be easy to use and easy to integrate into existing workflows. The user-focused design is important to ensure that patients engage with a solution and continue to use it.

For example, uMotif has a user-friendly interface that collects clinical trial data that replaces paperwork. Furthermore, the company partnered with Fitbot to integrate sensor data with electronic patient-reported-outcome (ePRO) and electronic clinical-outcome-assessment (eCOA) tools, creating a more seamless experience for the user and a more holistic view of their data.

Develop Robust, Compliant Products


A robust and compliant product will in-build safety features, be mindful of patient privacy, be compliant with regulations, be interoperable and achieve high-quality, reliable production.

Health tech products need both technical and medical insights. If the solution is used to provide healthcare, it should be built with someone who understands the underlying disease and treatment paradigms.

For example, Happify Health, which helps design and develop personalized health-related software, worked with a regulatory lead with US FDA experience to support their development efforts.

Prove Value


Health tech startups need to demonstrate the value of their solutions, demonstrate their safety and efficacy and show a compelling ROI for the user, whether through clinical trials or real-world use.

Startups need to figure out whether they need approvals from regulatory bodies like the FDA or not. There are benefits to getting approval for health tech products, like credibility and market access. But approval is not an easy road, either during both development and commercialization.

For example, Pear Therapeutics wanted their reSET and reSET-O products prescribed for digital therapeutics. They conducted clinical trials and included randomized clinical data to satisfy FDA Special Controls.

Develop a Proprietary Technology


As innovations in health tech proliferate so does competition. Startups need to define a core asset and develop proprietary technology that gives them a competitive advantage. The core asset could be a digital solution, data or hardware.

Along with that, health tech innovators need a viable and aligned business model, to create value through their solution, have a go-to-market strategy and capture users.

Sign up for the MIT SAP Leading Health Tech Innovation course to learn how to bring your health tech idea to life from the founding faculty chair of MIT's Mind+Hand+Heart Initiative, Prof. Rosalind Picard, who co-founded AI health techs Affectiva and Empatica.

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