How an entrepreneur validated his business model in a crowded market
As part of the Kauffman-sponsored Energizing Health Collaboration Series, we've turned over eMed to Guest Editor Matt Keener, the chief architect for the Pittsburgh leg of the collaboration conference. Through his work as a translational clinical neuroscientist and CEO of the healthcare startup emodt, Matt has collaborated with a number of healthcare entrepreneurs. Here are insights from one of them.
With so many products marketed to people who want to quit smoking, the market might not seem ripe for another smoking cessation service. But NicoDart founder Michael Mamoun, who performs neuroimaging research on how smoking cessation products work in the brain, believed he saw an unmet need. Mamoun set out to validate his business model: to develop smoking cessation technology loosely based on electronic cigarettes.
"The first question is just how much of an impact on society smoking has," Mamoun said, adding that smoking is the world's leading cause of preventable death. "It's a tremendous impact." With that in mind, Mamoun worked to validate his mission beginning at the middle of the problem. He told his study subjects about his idea, garnering helpful feedback. "Smokers thought it was a great idea," he said. Mamoun next spoke with addiction and smoking cessation specialists, who expressed interest in the technology. Finally, he got a product assessment from the Wisconsin Innovation Service Center. "That's how we started validating the idea," Mamoun said.
Here are other entrepreneurial insights from Mamoun:
Cut through the noise -- In the medical world, Mamoun said, patients have many choices, which are then narrowed down by a provider. "In the world of business," he said, "there are so many perspectives and no clear answers." One of the most important skills for Mamoun to learn was to cut through the noise. "It's very helpful to hear and appreciate a lot of people's opinions on different matters," he said. But Mamoun quickly learned to focus most intently on the advice of a few experts. "If not," he said, "it becomes way too messy."
Make quick decisions -- NicoDart is beginning to fundraise, Mamoun said, and bumping up against a key problem. The company's product is part-device and part-system, he said, and funders tend to specialize in one or the other. It's tough to approach potential investors without knowing whether the product will be an FDA-approved medical device or a consumer service, Mamoun said. If he could start over, Mamoun said he would have tried to make that decision more quickly, after collecting a reasonable amount of information. "In business, there are things you aren't going to know before trying," he said. "You can always change directions."
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