Dr. Jeffrey Roh started his career as an entrepreneur after creating a method for a less invasive form of spine surgery. He started knocking on the doors of spine companies to sell the idea and got what many first-time entrepreneurs experience: lots of rejections.
Eventually, he landed a buyer that would later take the technology to a number of surgical platforms — but only after discovering a brand new opportunity.
“We recognized that there was this pain point both on the entrepreneurial side, as well as the industry side,” Roh said. Here was the problem: large healthcare businesses had shifted their appetite away from internal research and development teams in favor of acquiring companies. But life science companies need lots of early-stage support, which is hard to come by.
Roh took a page from the tech industry’s handbook and started an incubator in Seattle called IntuitiveX with the goal of supporting startups during those critical early years.
“In the tech industry, you can actually start up a company with relatively low barriers and low initial investment capital,” Roh said. But for life science companies, early investment in intellectual property is essential to getting up and running. Roh co-founded IntuitiveX with Mark Hahn and Simon Robinson, who both brought extensive intellectual property knowledge.
Since launching in 2016, IntuitiveX has amassed a portfolio of a dozen startups, which includes digital health, medical device and biotech companies. Given Roh’s own background in spinal surgery, it’s no surprise that six of the incubator’s startups are working on efforts related to surgery or spinal conditions.
The format is a hybrid of accelerator programs like TechStars and Y Combinator as well as “startup studios” such as Pioneer Square Labs. The idea for an IntuitiveX startup can come from people within the incubator or from outsiders, which in most cases involves someone with technical knowledge who needs business and financing support. In exchange for equity, the incubator provides both funding and expertise to young companies.
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