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Summary:

With growing investment in health care, the question remains: where are entrepreneurs focusing their efforts, and are they making a difference in the right spaces?

medical research

As an industry, digital health is at an interesting point, where smartphones and tablets allow consumers to create and upload massive amounts of personal data without expending much effort, and cloud computing allows them to track and share that data with doctors or the public in ways they’d never been able to before. But whether entrepreneurs are focusing their efforts and their funding on the right problems is still up for debate.

Some investors and casual observers have made the argument that investors are only interested in shallow photo-sharing apps or new social media products — not products that will cure cancer or tackle big problems. Rupert Murdoch tweeted his displeasure with Silicon Valley focus after a recent visit:

But incubators like Rock Health, which announced Tuesday a partnership with Kleiner Perkins that will bring funding for its individual companies in digital health to $100,000, are working to dispel the idea that Silicon Valley isn’t tackling the most important problems. It’s working with digital health startups using technology to address a wide range of issues in the health care arena.

Investor Esther Dyson said at Rock Health’s Health Innovation Summit in San Francisco on Tuesday that she thinks health care is one of the most rewarding areas of growth in tech, and that by pairing technology with existing human tendencies or behavior, companies can make huge strides in furthering personal health goals.

“That’s why I’ve stopped investing in video-sharing for rich white guys,” she said.

Dyson, along with Dave McClure of 500 Startups, noted on a panel Tuesday that sometimes it makes more sense for entrepreneurs to tackle specific, smaller problems that are important to a small subset of people, because they allow for easier wins and greater immediate impact, even if the solutions don’t seem like ground-breaking innovations.

“There are plenty of really small problems staring us in the face,” McClure said.

  1. Health IT continues to be an interesting area particularly in segments that won’t require FDA clearance given the unpredictable nature of the FDA. With that said, there are continued challenges in gaining adoption of technologies given legacy systems and habits of physicians. Most resistance is based on these facts and the multiple constituencies that have to be served in the system with many having different requirements. Focused approaches are the ones most likely to work, but there will be resistance along the path to commercialization and deployment.

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  2. The problem is frequently a focus on digital cabpabilities rather than health needs. As a rule, individuals with chronic conditions prefer to allot less, not more of their time and attention to attending to thier condition. This is frequently lost on app developers who design apps thinking people like to use them as much as they like to design them.

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  3. Even in health-related area, every Joe Schmoe and his brother in SV are developing apps for someone to use in a fitness club. There are not enough real apps.

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  4. Agree with everything stated above. Also, venture capital funds are under too much pressure to focus on quick revenues and the path to an IPO to spot the real game changers, which sometimes have much longer sales cycles (but which will ultimately deliver much bigger results). Mr. Murdoch, come to Texas, and we’ll show you some real mind-blowing innovations!

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