So, you want to start a startup—great! We need more nurse entrepreneurs, but there are some things you’ll want to do to make sure you’re successful.
- Put together a team. Even though the idea is yours, you’ll want to create a team that compliments your strengths and builds on your weaknesses. You’ll also want team members who can help you develop and create your innovation, especially if it’s a product or digital solution like an app or website. Consider engineers, designers, and folks with business degrees—all crucial skill sets to starting most startups. Note: Be careful not to disclose any confidential information or other intellectual property before you bring on your team members.
- Draft a founders’ agreement. Once you have your team in place, put down on paper what everyone’s contributions will be, the milestones and timelines for said contributions, and how much equity each member will have in the company based on those contributions. Be clear about what happens if the timelines and milestones aren’t met.
- Determine what type of company you want to be: LLC, S-corp, or C-corp. Most small startups will start as an LLC because it’s the simplest company to begin while still protecting the founders.
- Research patents. If you think your innovation may be patentable, do a preliminary search on the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to see if there’s anything similar to your idea. There are specific rules related to patents, and you’ll want to review them before proceeding with any public pitches to investors and other funders.
- Put together a budget. This is key; you’ll want to create a specific line-item budget for year 1. You’ll also want to project out to years 3 to 5. This includes all costs that you’ll incur and any projected income.
- Do your market research. You must know who your customers are and who your competition is. Ask these questions: Who will buy your product and how much will they spend to purchase it? How much will it cost to produce your product? How much will you need to sell it for to make a profit? Who else is making a similar product? How is your product different from your competitors’? What’s your competitive advantage?
- Consult with your end users and key stakeholders. Yes, you think your idea is great and addresses the problem you’ve identified, but do the people affected by the problem think your solution will address it? If not, it will never sell. Make sure you talk to—or even better, collaborate with—community members for whom you’re creating the product.
- Block out dedicated time to work on your startup. Nurses are notoriously busy, working OT, taking care of family members, and going back to school. I get it. But creating a startup is a 24/7/365 endeavor. If you want it to be successful, you must put in the time and energy required to make it a priority.
- Seek mentorship. Find mentors and then take full advantage of their offers to help. There are a lot of smart, generous, and experienced people in the innovation and entrepreneurship community, especially in nursing (check out SONSIEL, the Society of Nurse Scientists, Innovators, Entrepreneurs, and Leaders), who want to help you be successful. Use them.
- Believe! You can do this. I believe in you. It will be hard, and there will be a lot of ups and downs, but it will be worth it. If you’re persistent, do the work, and if the stars align, maybe, just maybe, you’ll create something that will make a difference. And even if it fails—which it might, and that’s ok—you’ll have learned so much along the way. That knowledge will help you be even more successful in your next entrepreneurial venture. So, keep at it.
If you’re at the beginning of your innovative endeavor and have an idea but aren’t sure where to start, check out my August 2021 blog, I Have an Idea! Now What?, it will help get you started.
Marion Leary RN, MSN, MPH, FAHA is the Director of Innovation at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Nursing. As the Director of Innovation at Penn Nursing she works to amplify and educate nurses as leaders in health and healthcare innovation. Ms. Leary is a member of the American Nurses Association’s Innovation Advisory Committee, a Founding member of the Society of Nurse Scientists, Innovators, Entrepreneurs and Leaders (SONSIEL), a member of the American Heart Association’s Emergency Cardiovascular Care Innovation Subcommittee.