DevReady PodcastDigital Healthcare & Biotech Consulting – Episode 96 – DevReady Podcast

In this episode of the DevReady Podcast, our hosts Andrew Romeo and Anthony Sapountzis talk to Mark Luhovy, Founder & Principal at BioEnginuity, which provides strategic digital healthcare & biotech consulting. Listen in as the conversation takes us through Mark’s medical career, the possibilities in the digital health space, his start-up experience, and the exciting world of robotics.

Mark has spent most of his career in the medical device sector. Towards the end of his medical school journey, he decided not to pursue additional clinical training. Instead, he rolled up a lot of his experience into his own consulting business, which is what BioEnginuity. And since 2018, he has been doing really several different consulting projects with clients as large as Johnsons & Johnsons but also small as emerging medical health companies in the digital health space. When working in the US, Mark fell in love with the practical side of engineering: from product design to product implementation to sales. To him, it brought together the best of both worlds: sound fundamentals of a scientific discipline and the actuality of making tangible things.

Mark shares how the digital health space is so malleable—the field itself is changing month to month and quarter to quarter. He is excited about the endless possibilities that the field provides. He then goes on to talk about working in a start-up and how that did not pan out the way it was meant to. He adds how start-ups can be a roller coaster ride with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. A major learning from that, he reiterates, was the need to have the fundamentals in place: understand the vision, have product-market fit, solve a problem that needs solving, and ensure a sustainable business model. 

Talking about challenges, he says how a start-up in the med-tech space can have more than just the obvious challenges. Governance of data changes from state to state and there’s the pressure of making a compelling case to the clinical community that the proposed solution can provide real clinical value. He believes that moving the needle in the healthcare sector and getting to make a difference is what keeps him going, despite the challenges and the previous setback. 

Having learned from his failure, if he had to do it all over again, he shares how he’d look for a partner with experience, vision, and practical skills. And that’s exactly what he is doing with in his new venture. For Plasbotics, he has teamed up with a plastic surgeon with 20+ years of experience who grew frustrated with the lack of quality retractor options available in breast and soft tissue surgical procedures. The company is now commercializing the world’s first patented vacuum-assisted retractor of soft tissue for robotic-assisted surgery (RAS). 

Topics Covered
  • Mark’s career in the medical sector
  • Foray into the digital health space
  • Possibilities for start-ups in digital health
  • Surviving a major failure
  • The highs and lows of running a start-up
  • Challenges faced
  • Key Learnings
  • The exciting world of Robotics
Key Quotes (Time Stamps)
  • “Towards the end of my medical school journey, I actually decided not to pursue additional clinical training and instead rolled up a lot of my experience into my own consulting business, which is what BioEnginuity is—strategic healthcare and biotech consulting company. And since 2018, I have been doing really a number of different consulting projects with clients as large as Johnsons & Johnsons but also small as emerging medical health companies in the digital health space, predominantly.” (2:20 – 2:50)
  • “So, I did undergraduate research in cardio-vascular heart valves. And I was able to sort of parlay that into an industry job supporting pacemakers and defibrillators. And while supporting those products as an engineer in California, I was able actually see the products implanted, participate in ICD…defibrillator implants throughout the US and kind of fell in love with the practical side of engineering and product design and product implementation and sales.” (3:23 – 3:58)
  • “For me, it was a good mix of being able to use really sound fundamentals in a scientific discipline such as engineering—biomedical engineering but then having that kind of translate into the real world and not get lost in, you know, pure research and so on; to actually feel the tangible aspects of it.” (4:00 – 4:19)
  • “Even now, digital health is so malleable—the field itself is literally changing month to month and quarter to quarter. So, entering into that field with a number of highly accomplished health care professionals with, you know, different backgrounds and expertise, and then creating almost-a-thinktank-like-environment of what could potentially be created by leveraging traditional technology but spinning it up within a more innovative application and thinking about how we could potentially change the practice of medicine, the practice of healthcare. And all the challenges that came with that. To me, it was probably the most engaging thing that I have done to really synthesize a lot of knowledge and experience and to do that within a venture with your major stakeholder is a really exciting initiative. I think that’s part of what makes working in start-ups actually so appealing” (5:36 – 6:39)
  • “I have lived the pain of having something that should take 5 minutes, you know, to be approved take 6 weeks of going around and around. And after a while, you just, you know, you lose your appetite for it. So, working in a lean environment, sitting across the table, and being trusted to have the accountability and ownership of your end of the business, it’s a pretty good way to roll.” (8:00 – 8:25)
  • “I think, in the digital health space, you have added complexity with how you interact with the existing health care system, certainly in the United States but even globally. And then you also have additional complexity with data and validating product models. And so, there are a lot of digital health companies that promise a lot of things, but when you pull the veneer of what they are saying back, they really don’t have as much evidence as you might hope for.” (11:10 – 11:37)
  • “I think ultimately what caused us to fail was not necessarily the technology; it was not necessarily who we had in the room. I think it was just a matter of the dynamics of not having enough cash flow and kind of running out of puff. So, I think there’s volumes about why start-ups fail—it’s not because they run out of cash or time; it’s just, you know, sometimes founders run out of energy.” (13:30 – 13:59)
  • “The question is, how long do you want to bootstrap as a start-up? So, there’s always value to trying to build your business as much as you can on your own before accepting external help. But it does come to the point when you’re working; you’re expelling energy that you don’t need to, and the business needs to move on to the next phase of growth. Otherwise, it starts to kind of contract.” (14:50 – 15:10)
  • “The start-up experience is a roller coaster.” (16:27 – 16:29)
  • “If you are on the business ownership side of things, you know, move fast and break things doesn’t really work in healthcare, and it shouldn’t necessarily work.” (21:14 – 21:21)
  • “There’s financial goals, of course, to all of the businesses. But at the end of the day, that’s not what drives you, right? It’s knowing that you are getting behind something that’s impacting the world and that you believe in actually seeing it enter into the world and kind of affect change.” (32:32 – 32:48)

Social Media Clips (Time Stamps)
  • Foray into the digital health space (2:51 – 4:57)
  • Possibilities for start-ups in digital health (4:59 – 6:39)
  • Why do start-ups fail? (8:27 – 11:42)
  • The start-up experience is a roller coaster (15:34 – 17:43)
  • Roadblocks along the way (17:44 – 20:25)
  • Key learnings (24:03 – 25:42)
  • Exciting world of Robotics (29:29 – 31:55)
  • Connect with Mark (39:25 – 40:51)

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