VC in healthcare: Shifting well-worn paths to market
The rise and impact of venture capital has become one of the biggest business stories and one of the most important economic drivers of our time. In just a few years, explosive growth in the scale and diversity of the VC market has had a transformative effect on the way businesses form, evolve, and expand — and even on what it means for businesses to succeed in their markets.
Today, a financial shift that started as a driving force behind Silicon Valley has also begun to have a dynamic and growing impact on the healthcare industry.
Venture capital has already already changed the face of the businesses behind some of the industry’s most exciting new products — giving rise to an new generation of innovative startups and burgeoning companies formed outside the conventional industry walls of provider networks, academic institutions, and delivery networks. Now, as VC investing continues to expand from tech to health tech, medical devices, and beyond, this powerful investment trend has already led to significant shifts in how these new brands market themselves and their products on the path to commercial launch.
And even what it means to launch a healthcare product.
1. The Big Launch is just one of many launches
For many medical devices and other healthcare technologies, commercial launch is still a watershed moment. When a new product or device gets its CE mark or FDA clearance, it can redefine the possibilities for patient outcomes or reshape a therapeutic paradigm — all while generating new market value for the brand’s sponsor. But while a big commercial launch may still the defining moment for many healthcare brands, the road to that event has been transformed by a new generation of VC-driven investment and funding strategies.
Today, with more and more startups and privately held companies driving innovation in healthtech, many healthcare brands now “launch” their new products and technologies multiple times before they ever reach the commercial market.
These brands launch an MVP to seed and early-stage VCs. They launch a validated product to larger investors and potential licensees in Series B and C. And if acquisition and exit is the goal, brands ultimately have to launch themselves, their team, and their product to their potential purchaser. What was once a single, final hurdle has now become the marketing equivalent of Olympic hurdling.
At every one of these milestones, brands unveil themselves to new audiences, position themselves as an attractive new choice, and tell the story of what makes them different and desirable. It’s all the same pressures, hurdles, and goals that brands have faced for generations at their defining go-to-market leap. Only now, those moments have multiplied and moved far upstream — creating an extended need for smart brand storytelling that can last most of the product lifecycle.
2. Value matters more than ever – at every single launch.
As new investment dynamics have transformed how — and how often — healthcare brands are launched at different stages of their development, those dynamics have also created important shifts in the story brands have to tell at each step of the new VC-driven launch sequence.
Traditionally, patients, clinicians, and payers have were the default targets for healthcare brands entering the commercial market. Smart commercial launch strategies stayed focused on the audiences that would drive brand revenue (and ensure a product’s place on formulary or the purchasing committee’s agenda).
But for today’s new generation of VC-backed health innovators, clinical data, therapeutic potential, and patients’ results are only part of the story that keeps brands moving through funding rounds. For the equity stakeholders who make that movement possible — from friends-and-family seed investors to late-stage venture capitalists — how a brand defines its potential market impact can be as important as clinical differentiation and patient outcomes.
Today, strong clinicals and attractive outcomes need to be grounded in equally attractive addressable market sizes, reimbursement potential, or annuity model — strong indicators of sustainable equity performance as well as promising medical impact. With VC dynamics doing more and more to shape the future or healthcare brands, it’s never too early for those brands to consider how they’re building a value-driven narrative into the story they’re telling to their target market. Whether that market is private or commercial.
3. Storytelling needs to start earlier than ever.
With many of today’s healthcare bands building their value earlier and earlier — well ahead of a conventional commercial product launch — it’s time to re-think when and how those brands start building their story in the market. Even in early days, when the focus is rightly on the product, it’s never too early to start thinking about the communication strategy, the messaging, and the brand identity that will successfully launch that product. And then launch it again, again, and again.
At Distill Health, we’re excited to see how these trends will continue to shape the future of the health tech, medical devices, and life science brands we partner with. We’re fully focused on building brands and communication strategies that will sustain our partners success from seed to market — and looking forward to developing those solutions for you and your brand too.