HealthTech
08 March 2019

Meet 8 Boston-Based Women Who Are Shaping the Digital Health Scene

Written by Natalie Cantave and Rachel Talanian

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The Women in Digital Health initiative began in February 2018 and is focused on providing female entrepreneurs and innovation executives with the resources, content and supportive community to help them develop the skills and confidence to be leaders in digital health.

Since launching the initiative, we have hosted various quarterly events to bring these women together to network and learn from each other. To learn more about upcoming events, sign up for our newsletter!

In honor of International Women’s Day this year, the MassChallenge HealthTech team is excited to celebrate some of the amazing work women in Boston are doing to drive innovation and impact health.

We’ve interviewed several leaders with a diverse range of backgrounds and interests, but all have the same drive to improve the quality of healthcare and the access to healthcare.

WHO ARE THE WOMEN SHAPING DIGITAL HEALTH IN BOSTON? 

The 8 incredible women in Boston we wanted to highlight are: 

Amy VanHaren, CEO & Founder, pumpspotting 

What is your role and responsibilities? 

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I am the CEO and Founder of pumpspotting, a breastfeeding community and women’s health company that focuses on making breastfeeding less isolating and more supportive at every stage of a mother’s journey. My responsibilities range from inspiring my team to do great work, to driving an RV, and to handling the ins and outs of a startup, such as fundraising, strategic partnerships, and marketing.

Why healthcare? 

I started my career (and ultimately my company) in healthcare because I was motivated by my own personal journey. It was difficult for me to balance nursing and running both my family and a marketing agency at same the time. I was convinced there had to be a better solution to unite all the nursing and pumping women in the world, so I decided to build one.

Looking back at your career, what would you tell your younger self? 

Be bold. Don’t hesitate when opportunities are right before you, especially when they are connected to interesting people or new challenges. For me, following these spontaneous opportunities helped me get to where I am today in my career.

What challenges have you faced in your role? 

Every day is a new challenge in terms of building and shaping pumpspotting. The biggest challenges for me are defining a focused business model and clearly conveying and sharing our company’s vision with people in the greater community so that we can scale and grow. 

What has been the proudest moment in your career? 

This past year, we turned a 40-ft RV into a nursing and pumping suite and travelled 17,000 miles to meet new mothers in their communities from Boston to Maine, Los Angeles to inner city Detroit, to name a few. It was so rewarding because I was able to meet our users in person and to see the difference we were making first-hand. 

Carla Small, Senior Director, Boston Children’s Hospital 

What is your role and responsibilities? 

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I wear two hats in the organization. I’m Senior Director of Boston Children’s Hospital Accelerator – an “engine” we’ve built here at the hospital to drive ideas and early stage companies to scale. The other hat I have here is as the executive lead for the Operational Effectiveness initiative led by the President of the hospital to enhance our efficiency and effectiveness so we can remain the pediatric hospital of choice well into the future.

Where do you see the future of healthcare heading?

I’m an optimist so I believe the future of healthcare will be a bright one. Right now, health care technology – with EHR’s etc - is still a bit of a mess, but I believe that in next 5-10 years it will get easier, driven by consumerization, a focus on better access to healthcare, and better convenience for patients.

What advice would you give to young women looking to navigate their careers?

Work should be fun – and it’s easiest to enjoy work if you’re working on something you’re passionate about.  Go where you care.

What challenges have you faced in your role?

Healthcare as an industry moves slowly and is highly regulated – for good reason because we are dealing with human lives -- but it can be frustrating. However, these challenges are especially motivating because in my roles I get to figure out how to enhance processes to drive innovation.

What has been the proudest moment in your career?

I watched a physician in the OR use a technology that emerged from the Boston Children’s Hospital Accelerator. It was one of the many proud moments in my career, because it was incredible to see a technology that can save hundreds of babies’ lives and it confirms that the accelerator is working - attracting both amazing innovators and critical industry partners.

Sunita Patolia, Program Manager, Partners Healthcare Pivot Labs

What is your role and responsibilities?

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I am a Program Manager at Partners Healthcare Pivot Labs. I lead our innovation programs (Connected Health Innovation Fellowship) and the Human-Centered Design team. With our team, I have designed programs for clinicians across Partners to take them through creative problem-solving experiences and develop the mindsets necessary for innovation within healthcare.

What do you enjoy the most about the work that you do?

To innovate, you shouldn’t look for opinions or research that validates your assumptions; you should go after the evidence that challenges those preconceived notions and assumptions. To be able to do this, you need a safe environment that facilitates openness, collaboration, healthy disagreements among teammates and ability to rapidly turn ideas into rough prototypes.

What trends are you most excited about in healthcare? Where do you see the future of healthcare heading?

Companies and health systems are opening their minds to human-centered design. Before building a product, most forward-thinking companies are showing interest in understanding what the end users need through qualitative research and data. Groups like ours at Partners HealthCare are uniquely positioned to facilitate such product design, development and clinical research that is rooted in user needs.

Looking back at your career, what would you tell your younger self?

Learn the lingo and listen intently! The words you use to describe your ideas have a profound and lasting effect on people. Read relevant books, take online courses, attend enough classes to understand what your interests are, what your own ideas are and learn the right language to convey those ideas.

What challenges have you faced in your role?

Everyone wants more ideas and innovative products, but they don’t want to invest in their people or workforce in creating a culture change that facilitates and is necessary for innovation. It is challenging to figure out how to convince people the necessity of investing in programs targeted to change organizational culture, mindsets and foster creative approaches to solving problems in their front-line workforce.

Dr. Laurie Glimcher, CEO, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

What trends are you most excited about in healthcare? Where do you see the future of healthcare heading?

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When I dream about the future of cancer treatment, I hope to see a day where our patients come in and when we biopsy their tumor, we know exactly how to treat it. It feels like a dream, but I am confident that with the use of digital technologies, it will happen. We are collecting massive datasets as we treat our patients in hopes that we can make informed clinical decisions based on our knowledge of the various diseases. Cancer is a very scary disease and we owe it to our patients to surround them with care and empathy.

What advice would you give to young women looking to navigate their careers?

To me it wasn’t worth it to be a scientist and play it safe. I decided that to make big discoveries, I had to take big risks. I had some crazy ideas and if they didn’t work and I went up in flames, then I knew I would just try again. These are the ups and downs of being a scientist and also being an entrepreneur. You are taking a risk and some things sound insane, but you must give it a try anyway.

Aneesha Metha, Healthcare Investor, Bain Capital Ventures

What is your role and responsibilities?

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I invest in seed to growth stage healthcare companies at Bain Capital Ventures. Most of my time is split into three buckets—finding and meeting new companies, doing diligence on companies that we are excited about, and partnering with portfolio companies to help make them as successful as possible.

What do you enjoy the most about the work that you do?

I love that investing allows me to both look at the market from a high level and also go deep in a handful of markets with a handful of companies that we believe can be market leaders. I also love how collaborative the team at BCV is—I work with some really special people and it truly feels like a team.

What trends are you most excited about in healthcare? Where do you see the future of healthcare heading?

I spend a ton of time thinking about how to better manage high cost, high complexity populations, whether it be behavioral health, women’s health, musculoskeletal health, or a number of others. It’s tough to drive impactful engagement and savings, but companies see tremendous momentum when they figure this out.

What advice would you give to young women looking for leadership opportunities?

I think it’s important to have male mentors and sponsors that not only respect you but are willing to stand up for you in tough situations. In some ways I hate to say this, but it can be incredibly powerful to have a man say “you need to give her a shot”. I’m lucky to work on a team of not only great investors but great people who advocate for me and push me every day, but for those that don’t have this, I think it’s important to be proactive about finding sponsors in or outside of their organizations.

Nikki Vance, Senior Manager of Experience and Design, Wellist 

What is your role and responsibilities?

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I’m a Senior Manager of Experience and Design and I lead our analytics. Wellist helps connect patients and families to the support they need - from hospital resources and information to non-medical services and social support from family and friends. My responsibility is ensuring successful development and implementation of new programs.

Why healthcare?

The healthcare industry is a wild combination of complex incentives, incomplete information, and real human cost. I've been interested in irrational behaviors since graduating from Dartmouth with a double major in Neuroscience and Economics, and healthcare is full of these. I work in healthcare because I believe that solving some of these behaviors would improve the quality of care while reducing costs.

What do you enjoy the most about the work that you do?

I enjoy leading a data-driven design process, and I really love how many people I get to connect with in my role. For example, I enjoy speaking with patients and caregivers to understand how technology can meet their needs, connecting with medical staff to explain how to demonstrate change in their organizations, and discussing ways to implement successful programs with provider executives.

Looking back at your career, what would you tell your younger self?

GRIT gets you farther than having all the right answers. As long as you keep an open mind, you'll learn so much more by grinding on than trying to find the perfect solution.

What challenges have you faced in your role?

The most challenging part of my role - though also the most rewarding -  is building partnerships with our clients through shared learning. The space is still evolving so when we design our programs we often want to look to data or answers that we don't have yet. It's exciting to navigate the unknown together but definitely a challenge.

A.G. Breitenstein, Partner, Optum Ventures

What is your role and responsibilities?

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I am a partner at Optum Ventures.

Why healthcare?

I was an attorney in Boston during the AIDS epidemic in the 90s. During that time, I was working with homeless children who were living on the streets of the city. I was frustrated that the healthcare system was ill-suited to support them and other underserved populations so I got inspired to kick off my career in healthcare because I wanted to make the system work for them.

What do you enjoy the most about the work that you do?

I enjoy listening to people pitch their dreams because I’m inspired by people’s ambitions and devotions to making healthcare better. Also, I really enjoy the team at Optum Ventures because they are so smart and great to work with.

What advice would you give to young women looking for leadership opportunities?

Women typically question themselves, and it’s their biggest challenges when navigating their careers. Remember that you are more prepared than anyone in a room when you walk into a meeting, and be unapologetic for who you are and own your role!

What challenges have you faced in your role?

It’s hard to say “no” to people after they pitch their dreams, especially when you feel super inspired about the work they are doing. Also, it’s hard to explain to startups about the role of economics in healthcare because they need to be able to understand the complexity around healthcare economics.

Natalie, Marketing & Communications Coordinator, MassChallenge HealthTech

What is your role and responsibilities?

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I am the Marketing and Communications Coordinator for MassChallenge HealthTech. As the marketing lead for program I have many responsibilities such as driving content, executing marketing strategies for events, managing the social media accounts and blog, and communicating with our startups as well as our community through newsletter and emails.

Why healthcare?

Healthcare has touched my life personally, which is why I’m excited to work in the industry. For example, I look forward to seeing my sister become one of the future doctors who can impact patients’ lives. I’m excited about the different technologies that are emerging, and I’m inspired by my mom, a cancer survivor, and my dad, who was an amazing caregiver to my mom.

What do you enjoy the most about the work that you do?

From the marketing side, I like having my hands in a lot of different responsibilities. Everyday is exciting and I get to touch something or work on unique projects; no day is the same. What I really enjoy the most, though, is knowing that the work that I do is impactful, whether its touching our startups, partners or the community, and that’s pretty cool.

What trends are you most excited about in healthcare? Where do you see the future of healthcare heading?

I am interested in seeing how startups are pushing the envelope because they are driving innovation. I’m excited to see what new technologies and solutions will come out to impact the industry. I’m also excited to see how voice will continue to play an impact in patient care.

What has been the proudest moment in your career?

My proudest moment at MassChallenge was Opening Night. It was probably my proudest moment because it was a lot of work, but it was super rewarding for everyone in the room, especially the entrepreneurs. We started something different that hadn’t been done before and it was great to see the execution from start to finish. 

 

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Mission

MassChallenge strengthens the global innovation ecosystem by accelerating high-potential startups across all industries, from anywhere in the world.