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Empowering Women Entrepreneurs in Healthcare


The significant scale that is necessary to break into the healthcare marketplace poses the greatest barrier to entry for women entrepreneurs. Shaleta Dunn outlines strategies that aspiring businesswomen can adopt to foster their success.

Advancements in technology are changing the face of healthcare and creating opportunities for entrepreneurship across the board. At the forefront of this transformation are woman-owned companies that are embracing innovation and making important contributions to fields like consulting, patient experience and telemedicine.

In 2016, about one third of all US businesses were owned by women, yet this figure drops to 10 percent for med-tech startups. There are a number of factors that account for this disparity within the healthcare world. For starters, men working in science and technology fields disproportionately outnumber women. Additionally, female entrepreneurs often lack access to financial capital and professional mentorship and sponsorships which makes it harder for them to establish a startup company.

Moreover, the significant scale that is necessary to break into the healthcare marketplace poses the greatest barrier to entry for prospective entrepreneurs. However, there are many strategies that aspiring businesswomen can adopt to foster their success.

Understand the industry and find your niche: The healthcare industry includes a wide array of players like hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, group purchasing organizations, manufacturers, distributors, insurance companies and more. Entrants to healthcare must come to understand this sector’s intricacies and unique needs to provide innovations with real market value. In order to launch a successful business venture in this industry, you must do your due diligence.

• Become a certified woman-owned business: Companies that are at least 51 percent owned, controlled and operated by women can be formally reviewed and accredited as a woman-owned business. This certification expands access to new forms of capital and funding while also opening the door to advantageous corporate and government programs. By getting certified, you can showcase your value to healthcare companies and provider organizations that are committed to increasing the number of diverse businesses within their supply chains.

• Network with key players: To build out a client base, new entrepreneurs should acquaint themselves with the key players who make buying and contracting decisions. Establishing relationships with the right contacts also exposes you and your company to potential sponsors and mentors. For example, supplier diversity professionals are a valuable resource because they can influence stakeholders to consider more woman-owned or diverse suppliers.

• Build your brand by branching out: Participation in diversity, volunteer, industry specific and government organizations helps businesses build rapport with leaders in the healthcare space. For example, woman-owned firms frequently partner with companies like Vizient through their involvement with the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) or the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC).

• Put in work outside of work: Another excellent way to build relationships with impactful decision makers is through participation on boards and in symposiums. For example, Vizient and many of our member hospitals participate in WBENC and NMSDC regional councils, which provide women entrepreneurs ample opportunity to collaborate with industry leaders and establish commonalities.

• Go above and beyond: Unlike well-established multinationals which can be resistant to change, startups and smaller businesses have more freedom to embrace progressive ideas, adopt new technologies and seriously consider valuable feedback. A startup setting is fertile ground for the innovation and unique offerings that large companies value from their vendors.

• Request feedback after an RFP: Even if you are not awarded the business during an RFP or bid process, many organizations will offer suppliers indispensable feedback if asked. By understanding the organization’s procurement process you can ensure you get the most important feedback or discover other offerings that are available to diverse suppliers. Take this as a learning opportunity to enrich your industry knowledge and relationships.

Encouraging a more diverse and inclusive industry that draws on a broad range of perspectives can only improve its overall performance. Business leaders must make it a point to cultivate more woman-led suppliers and take on a proactive role in facilitating healthcare innovation. In action, this results in offering mentorship to those who are eager to pass it on, sharing lists of diverse suppliers across industries to spur growth and becoming a champion for diverse suppliers exemplifying trust and value.

Shaleta Dunn is senior director, program services, supplier diversity for Vizient.

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