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Balancing clinical work with a digital health startup


Jack Verweij

Articles by Nova’s Marketing Executive, Jack Verweij.

Updated 21 April 22



Digital Innovation in health has become a priority for the NHS and health institutions worldwide. And whilst innovation in this space is happening, it’s often felt that it’s at a slower pace than in other industries.


One of the biggest blockers of digital innovation across the UK health industry is that those working in this field, who have the biggest exposure to the problems that digital innovation would solve, are often too busy with their clinical work to help solve them.


We’ve worked with several clinicians who’ve successfully turned digital health entrepreneurs, and wanted to share some of their, and our own, advice for how it can be possible to do both successfully.


Don’t quit your profession - yet

After countless hours of studying and several years of training to be a clinician in your chosen field, leaving your profession to start a digital health startup is understandably a great risk that can put a lot of clinical entrepreneurs off ever starting.


Our advice would be that the best place for you at the start of your startup's journey is to remain in your job role. Working closely with people experiencing the problems, and utilising your colleagues, patients and extended work network as a user panel to help validate your early startup ideas.


We believe in this so strongly that we ask founders to stay in position for at least the first 12 months of their startup journey, working with us for as little as one day per week at times that can be spread across their schedule. This offers the best of both worlds for founders such as Stuart Clark, physiotherapist and founder of Flexi.


“Staying in my role within the NHS whilst developing Flexi has allowed me, with Nova’s support, to build an early solution and start testing it with users without compromising my career. I imagine the day will come when I’ll have the choice to make when and whether I want to move into the startup full time, or employ someone to grow this for me, having both options available really works for me.”


Build an experienced team / support network

The transition from doctor, nurse, surgeon or other clinical professions to entrepreneur can feel like a huge jump for most, especially those without any background in business. A lack of experience in tasks outside of their typical day job; such as hiring a team, managing finances, marketing and tech product development, can stop potential founders from pursuing their digital health startup ideas.


Fairly early on you should identify the areas that you can add the most value to your startup, often this will be the specific domain knowledge and understanding of the problem area. Then you focus on what you’re good at, understand and get support on the area’s that you’re weaker. Trying to do everything, on your own, at the same time as managing a demanding job is a sure-fire road to failure. Lumii cofounder, and cardiologist, Dr. Ahmed Farag explains his experience of getting an experienced team in place early on:


“Working with an experienced team from the outset, who have different angles of the product covered, not just software but marketing, legal, product owners and other support has been fantastic for us. This is a massive thing for us founders, we are doctors at the end of the day, we are very good at what we do, and we’re very good at coming up with ideas and following them up, but we also needed this other side, that Nova has provided, to complement what we do and give it a more professional touch.”


Find mentors with the flexibility to work around your existing schedule

When you’re busy balancing the needs of both your job and startup, committing rigidly to a set time/date determined by your mentors often doesn’t work. The old mentorship model of 2-3pm every Monday, like it or lump it, just doesn’t work. We know that in this space, things change at short notice, emergencies happen and the mentorship discussion should be happening continually.


At Nova it means we’ve embraced a culture where it’s a common occurrence to be organising a Skype on a founders lunch break, taking calls in between surgeries, exchanging Slack messages whilst on the ward and even offering flexible desk space in our offices.


This ability to ask and receive fast and valuable feedback, at a moment and times that fit our founders' needs is invaluable in maintaining momentum with projects. For Stuart that means spending time each week in our office, as well as embracing the open communications throughout the week with his startup team at Nova:


“Having the option to spend time each week in the office, and having the ability to drop someone a quick message whenever needed helps a great deal. There is always someone online who can answer my questions or someone who has the skills and experience from previous work with startups in this sector to support me... I have all of my questions answered really quickly.”


Follow a structured process, set goals and measure your progress


Time is your most valuable asset when starting a startup alongside an already demanding job, there’s no getting around it if you’re going to be busy. So we have to ensure that any time that you are spending on your startup is focused on getting the maximum possible value in the shortest amount of time.


Without the correct processes in place, it’s easy to get sidetracked or feel lost about where to start or what to do next. Utilising tools and techniques such as the lean canvas, design sprints, agile methodologies and OKR’s throughout a startups progression we’ve developed a proven process to building digital health startups. Kalgera cofounder Dr. Dexter Penn said this about the Nova process:


“The Nova process is helpful for really understanding your problem, and building the correct solution in a lean way to prove or disprove the assumptions you’re making in the quickest possible time. The advice comes not from a theatrical perspective but from a practical user centred way. Nova help turns a good idea into a great one.”



Are you working on or considering a digital health startup? Take the first steps by applying for our free startup school here.




Sign up to our free mentorship programme!