Interview with Donald Murry, CEO and Founder of Navigate Digital Health;
Principal Engagement Lead for BUILT; and
Panelist/Reviewer for the National Science Foundation, America's SEED fund
Directing the GAIL is always fun and leads me to meet so many amazing and interesting people out there solving problems for the aging population, which is so rapidly growing. I had the pleasure of being introduced to one of our newest members, Donald Murry. Donald has always had a passion for problem solving. Early on in his career, he enjoyed working at the intersection of healthcare and technology: "I scratched that itch through direct patient care in the Ophthalmology/Optometry space. I saw first-hand how a data-driven approach to patient care changed outcomes, and that path led me to the pursue integrating tech and healthcare. Throughout my career, I’ve done quite a bit, from educating patients on how to responsibly wear contact lenses, leading Agile software development teams, to managing the portfolio of health innovation projects for a nationally recognized health system."
This all led him to BUILT, a technology-focused professional and managed services firm. One of their core values is being “intrinsically motivated by solving problems.” "We primarily focus on solving problems related to Software Engineering, Automation, Data, Cloud, and Salesforce. Our capabilities are vast, but most work tends to fall into one of those buckets. My role at BUILT is to dive into understanding a client’s needs, assess if we’re the right fit for them and work together to build a plan for implementation. Depending on the client, I can stay engaged through the duration of the partnership or for a defined period. And because of my background and expertise, most of the clients I engage with are within the healthcare space. I also am a liaison with our sister company Pivot Point Consulting."
As Founder and CEO of Navigate Digital Health, Donald refers to himself as the "Lead
Navigator". They focus on digital strategy feasibility and implementation, market fit, expansion, navigating the healthcare "alphabet soup" of acronyms and grant proposal assistance. Navigate has even been involved with day-to-day operations and hiring once the start-up has begun their journey.
Start-ups are typically cash strapped. I asked Donald how BUILT and Navigate Digital Health accommodate this type of climate when looking for clients. "This is where Navigate Digital Health and BUILT work well together. As Navigate helps cash strapped start-ups solve those early start up woes and scale, they will eventually need a larger partner with engineering, automation, data, and cloud experts. That’s when the handoff from Navigate to BUILT happens."
"BUILT tends to engage with medium to large companies who are looking for a partner in helping them elevate their pain points. We like to get to know our clients, so that we can help with their immediate need, but also help them grow; laying the path for continued success."
Donald has been involved in many interesting projects throughout his career with any of the three roles he serves today. I found his experience unique, and he was very familiar with the "chicken or egg" syndrome that start-ups struggle with to survive. His shared the top two mistakes he has seen time and again that start-ups make when they are just beginning; 1) "When start-ups don't have a solid strategy that has been pressure-tested by a third-party to mitigate risk it can be detrimental from the beginning. No strategy, plan or company is bulletproof, but with proper planning, weaknesses can be addressed and ensure the strategy, plan or company is foolproof." I too, at the GAIL and other places, have seen this. I am a planner so I always say plan for what you want to do, then what you must do and then think if it all went wrong, what would be your Plan B, Plan C and Plan D.
As an example, Donald shared "There’s a particular start-up that engaged with Navigate that had a very thin go-to-market strategy. We helped them reimagine their product in a new market and helped them understand how their product could help the same population but more holistically. This allowed them to make a bigger impact when pitching for funding and enabled them to secure some high-profile strategic business partners, one of which is a Top Fortune 25 company."
And 2) "not having the right people in the right places within the organization. In most start-up environments, people need to wear multiple hats. Oftentimes, people wear the wrong hats or too many hats. It’s imperative that those who are making decisions on who wears what hat are open to feedback and realignment." This too, is an intriguing concept as I was just reading an article on social media about Netflix and one of their founders making statements regarding the fact that founders don't have to be CEOs, they can wear other hats if and when their skillsets meet those areas or are found to not have skillsets that CEOs need to make the company successful. It was very insightful and worth a noodling for start-ups and their own organizational structures.
As we continued our interview, we discussed funding for start-ups and what start-ups should consider when pitching for funding opportunities. "Most start-ups think that the funding opportunity starts when they are writing a funding proposal or have the opportunity to pitch to VC’s or a PE firm. It starts when you are iterating on ideas and deciding how this 'great idea' or 'innovative game-changer' is going to solve a problem. But many start-ups have a hard time being ok with re-thinking their current path, to either confirm or pivot. They have a commitment bias problem. Other start-ups have the opposite problem and cannot settle on where to stop thinking of new ways to do things. When the foundation is sound, finding funding is the easy part, because the need for funding is properly tailored to a quantifiable measurable outcome."
One source of funding for start-ups is the National Science Foundation or NSF. They are referred to as America's SEED fund helping so many innovations get to market. Donald serves a role as a panelist and reviewer with NSF and he was asked about this process and if he had any tips for future applicants of the fund as well as asking if it was worth a start-up applying for it. His answer: "NSF, does a great job of that here: https://seedfund.nsf.gov/apply/get-started/. It is worthwhile, but the key to the NSF SEED fund is the technological innovation. They don’t fund 'incremental product development' or start-ups who need funding for operations or staffing. The start-up must be presenting something novel."
His tips: "Some are pretty obvious. Read all the information carefully and thoroughly. Adhere to all the requirements in the order listed. You would be surprised at the number of companies that try to skip steps or haven’t fully read what they are applying for. Pay particular attention to the submission windows. You can strategize timing of submissions to give you ‘more bites of the apple.’ If you need guided help, contact Navigate at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can walk you through the process." The initial pitch submission can be submitted anytime with a formal invitation to fully apply within approximately 1 month. The windows Donald mentions above are typically Nov-March, March- July and July-Nov. They do change, so check the NSF website for exact window dates and they do not allow more than one application per submission window.
Donald as a member of the GAIL, he is wanting to connect with to like-minded people who want to solve healthcare problems using the advancing technology. He states that he is happy to share his experience and expertise with those who it could benefit. Additionally, he would also be happy to talk and develop relationships with anyone wanting to partner with BUILT or with Navigate Digital Health.
It was fantastic getting to know Donald and learning about his multiple roles which also include gardening, smoking meat, and spending time with his wife and two daughters in the lovely state of North Carolina. (Which happens to be close to the place where I grew up…so many years ago :) )
If you would like to get in touch with Donald, you can look him up on LinkedIn here or email him at email@example.com.