3 Rivers Venture Fair hosts UPMC Fireside Chat: Commercializing the Medical Expertise in Pittsburgh

Events UPMC Enterprises

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is a world-renowned hotbed for medical innovation. How can ideas and research developed in Pittsburgh be commercialized to benefit clinicians, patients, and hospital systems everywhere? Industry leaders sat down to discuss this topic at the 3 Rivers Venture Fair on February 7 and 8, 2023. 

Nick Shapiro, Vice President of Digital Solutions at UPMC Enterprises, Rob Hartman, PhD, Senior Director in Translational Sciences at UPMC Enterprises, and Rebecca Jacobson, MD, MS, FACMI, President of Astrata, a software and analytics company, sat down with moderator Marlee Myers, a partner at Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP, to discuss commercializing the medical innovations coming out of Pittsburgh.  

Much of the discussion centered around what entrepreneurs can do to get noticed, secure funding, and grow their businesses.  

Getting noticed

Dr. Hartman spoke about the importance of telling a powerful and concise story about your company as well as understanding areas of strengths and weaknesses.  

Dr. Jacobson added to Dr. Hartman’s remarks by saying:  

“It’s going to take you time and practice to tell that story in a way that an investor can hear it. Because they are looking for certain things, there’s kind of a way to tell the story for an investor that is different. Learning how to tell that story so they can hear it and comprehend it very quickly is really worth the effort.”  

Adding to that, Mr. Shapiro highlighted some of the qualities he and his team of investors look for in entrepreneurs: 

“We’re looking for somebody who has demonstrated the willingness to work extremely hard, is passionate about their ideas, has intellectual horsepower, and has spent time thinking through and understanding a lot of the challenges in their environment. Oftentimes in health care the person paying the bill is not the end user of your technology, so recognizing all the different points and stakeholders that your solution may touch, in addition to knowing how it would be implemented, are all critical pieces of the puzzle. I would also say it’s important to come to the table with a certain level of humility to point out the areas where you need help.” 

Partnering with a strategic investor  

Strategic investors are unique in the venture capital ecosystem, often part of larger institutions, and fund startups that can be employed to drive value within their parent company. UPMC Enterprises is the innovation, commercialization, and venture capital arm of UPMC, a $24 billion health care provider and insurer. As such, UPMC Enterprises is a strategic investor and leverages a wide range of resources to support portfolio companies.  

Ms. Meyers explained that one advantage of working with a strategic investor is, in some cases, the goals and aspirations of the founder may be better aligned with a strategic than with traditional venture capital investors.  

Further exploring how to find the best investor for your business, Dr. Jacobson pointed out the criticality of a company’s first investor, noting that the first investor will have a very important voice on the board of directors. She emphasized that entrepreneurs need that voice and need that partnership right from the start.  

Growing your business

All panelists agreed that time is a founder’s most precious resource. Mr. Shapiro, Dr. Jacobson, and Dr. Hartman all shared the belief that prioritizing and using time wisely was a critical factor in a company’s success. In addition to using time wisely, having the right strategic investor is essential to success.  

Dr. Hartman summarized what a founder should take from the conversation by saying: 

“Present your story to an investor with conviction and transparency. Be excited about the value proposition and be clear about where you are now, what you need to ultimately achieve, and how much time, capital and data you’ll need get there. Be strategic about how you focus your pitch. It helps to hear a clear story around your lead program(s). Then, you can highlight the ultimate, broader value through your pipeline description, development timeline, etc.” 

Learn more about Enterprises’ approach and our portfolio companies.

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