Founded by three physicians in 2011, the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs (SoPE) has now grown to include 11 chapters in the U.S., and three international chapters are under formation.
“We want to build the biggest ecosystem for health care innovation that is possible,” said Jeffrey Hausfeld, MD, MBA, the Society's chairman. “If you come to our meetings, you will see physicians, nurses, dentists, chiropractors, and naturopaths, along with lawyers, regulators, business school students, and finance people. It is a place to create the kind of dialogue where sparks will fly.”
Hausfeld, a retired otolaryngologist with many entrepreneurial ventures, co-founded the organization with Arlen Meyers, MD, an ear, nose, and throat surgeon at the University of Colorado-Denver; and Steven B. Levine, MD, a private-practice otolaryngologist in Turnbull, Conn. Their goal is to help clinicians make the connections that will enable them to take their ideas into the marketplace.
“Every doctor I know has 10 good ideas, but doesn't know what to do with them,” says Meyers, the cofounder of four companies and a consultant to life science, information technology, and investment firms.
How It Got Started
Meyers, who serves as SoPE's CEO, says he was motivated by “anger and revenge” to create the not-for-profit organization. He became a physician entrepreneur because of his interest in bioengineering solutions to ear, nose, and throat problems—particularly oral cancer—but he thinks too few physicians have been able to see their ideas come to fruition.
“I was angry, and I'm still angry, that the education, resources, and networks that physicians need to participate in biomedical innovation were not available—and still are not available—to the extent that I would like to see,” he said.
He and Hausfeld, whose business ventures include a national debt collection firm, assisted living centers for patients with dementia and Alzheimer's disease, and various life science enterprises, presented their first entrepreneurship-for-physicians session at an early-morning breakfast at an American Academy of Otolaryngology annual meeting. When more than 150 people showed up, they realized how many physicians were hungry for the information they had.
Today, SoPE chapters are active in the Washington DC area, Seattle, Los Angeles, Denver, Houston, Philadelphia, Dallas/Fort Worth, Boston, Chicago, Tampa Bay, and the tri-state New York area, and chapters are forming in Israel, India, and England. Nearly 10,000 individuals are connected to SoPE through its Linked In page.
“I believe that every major city will have a SOPE chapter in the next 10 years,” Hausfeld said. “And we will engage the medical community, the research community, the funding community, as well as the regulators, lawyers, and accountants—all the people that we need to really make innovations come to life.”
How to Participate
Oncologist Lawrence Akinsanmi, MD, PhD, participates in the Tampa Bay, Fla., SoPE chapter because, he says, he can learn from other entrepreneurs—and he wants to inspire other physicians to follow his path. He practiced oncology in Britain before moving to the U.S., where he is a co-founder of Samtheo Biopharma.
“One of my priorities is to get more doctors involved in cancer drugs,” said Akinsanmi, the company's president and chief operations officer.
Samtheo invests in biotechnology companies that develop targeted therapeutics. One of its companies, Lyndor Biosciences, plans to start clinical human trials later this year for a compound acquired from Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute.
A typical SoPE meeting features an educational program. For example, the Washington DC chapter recently heard a representative of Polliwog, an equity crowdfunding company for medical and life sciences companies, discuss the mechanics of crowdfunding. Perhaps the main draw of each meeting, however, is the networking opportunity.
“We're like a dating service,” Meyers said. “We throw a whole bunch of likeminded folks together, put them in the same room, and let nature happen.”
Many physicians who have an idea for a new product or service have no way of vetting the concept to see whether it is a business waiting to be born, Hausfeld said. SoPE's purpose is to facilitate conversations that let clinicians know whether—and how—to move forward with their idea.
“We give them a platform that they can at least talk about it and understand the possibilities and think through the obstacles,” he said. “This lets them learn from the people who have been there and done that before, so you don't make the same mistakes, because this is not an easy road.”
While SoPE's founders hope the organization will have chapters in all major cities, that will happen only if physicians in each city step up to take the lead. Based on their experience with chapter formation in the past three years, SoPE leaders have identified several success factors.
First of all, leadership by a physician—as opposed to an investor or business person who wants to encourage physicians—is key. “The leader doesn't necessarily have to be an entrepreneur in the sense of having started or sold a company, but we have found that every chapter has to be led by a physician,” Meyers said.
The chapter founder must be passionate about SoPE's vision of creating a global community that accelerates medical innovation to patients around the world. He or she must be able to commit the time and energy needed to start and maintain the chapter, and they have to be “connected”—“In other words, the leader must be good with social media and be established in the community, so that they have several touch points to build the community of interest,” Meyers said.
Additionally, SoPE chapter leaders must be interested in collaborating with other organizations. For example, the National Capital chapter in Washington DC has hosted events with organizations ranging from Women in Bio to the Indian Biomedical Association.
“We do joint events to widen the tent and build the ecosystem,” Hausfeld said. “Our goal is to teach bio-entrepreneurship in all of its shapes and forms.”
Further information is available at www.sopenet.org.