This summer, several undergraduate students have been interning at startups through the Kathryn Stewart Fellowship program. Undergraduate Stewart fellows are awarded a $3,000 scholarship if they are able to secure a summer internship with venture capital or angel-funded startups and early stage companies. The Dingman Center interviewed each fellow about their experience.
Erich Meissner – LiftOff Health
Tell us about LiftOff Health. What is the company’s mission and core competencies?
LiftOff Health is accelerating healthcare innovation in all areas, whether it be HIPAA-compliant instant messaging services or a nanoscale glucose monitor. LiftOff Health has valued connections with the public sector as it is located right outside DC in Crystal City. Our most immense industry by GDP makeup, the healthcare industry, is also the most highly regulated. Things like FDA approvals for medical devices can easily take over a year, and for a startup, that timeline is dangerous. LiftOff Health leverages our proximity to over 200 foreign embassies and international organizations to expedite the process. Startups can find success abroad and monetize their product-to-market fit faster in other countries. We seek to help healthcare executives achieve 10x equity value for their businesses, a principle that mimics Peter Thiel’s first rule for creating a great business: Build Proprietary Technology That Is 10x Better.
Tell us about your responsibilities thus far at LiftOff Health?
LiftOff Health is putting on a series of healthcare hackathons at dozens of colleges and universities. Our lineup so far is global, with hackathons planned in Belarus, Venezuela and local schools like George Washington University and James Madison University. My responsibilities thus far have been around these hackathons. Participants need a place to upload their hacks, and although Devpost and Github are excellent solutions for demos, we want students to come together and popularize our LiftOff platform. I am currently working on the web functionality to host all these hackers. Also, just like with Bitcamp at UMD, we need to have hardware labs ready and enough 3D printers for the events. The most exciting part of this hackathon series is that it is healthcare focused; we will invite speakers to talk about the biggest challenges facing healthcare today. The industry accounts for almost 20% of US-GDP yet the World Health Organization ranks our healthcare as 37th overall in patient outcomes—it definitely needs some innovation.
What projects are you most looking forward to working on with LiftOff Health?
The healthcare hackathons have been the most interesting project at LiftOff Health, and I continue to look forward to working on them. Now that the series of schools have been lined up, the next steps will be finding corporate partnerships. Doing research here is quite valuable as I learn about the up and coming products of some of the largest healthcare consumer companies, like GSK, P&G, and J&J. These health conglomerates promote intrapreneurship quite well and are consistently names on the Forbes most innovative companies list. They have open sourced hardware for certain medical devices not even on the market yet, and these resources could be perfect for the hackers to tinker with. I am excited in learning more about local and global healthcare businesses as we look for sponsorships.
Why did you want an internship with LiftOff Health?
Hackathons are awesome. Ever since my first one at PennApps this past January, I really appreciated the environment. Where else can you draft and print CAD, embed hardware, and compile software on some random idea you came up with all in 36 hours? The best part about hackathons: the mentors. I was able to learn how to mine data and use the “shiny” package of the R language in just 10 hours at HackUMBC because four different mentors taught me everything I needed to know about parsing a 1.4 terabyte file off of data.gov! The possibilities are endless, and I knew I wanted to help plan a series of hackathons in the US’s most lagging industry.
What do you hope to gain from a summer spent at LiftOff Health?
I hope to learn as much as I can about the challenges facing a startup that seeks to disrupt or simply engage in United States healthcare. I learned that there are four general business partners in our country’s largest industry: patients, providers, payers, and vendors. These four partners combine to form the most expensive per-capita healthcare system in the world ($8,713) with the nearest country being Switzerland over $1,000 less per capita ($6,466). Michael Slage, the CEO and co-founder of LiftOff Health, is an encyclopedia when it comes to international healthcare! I hope to learn more about the intricacies of the policies that make healthcare startups have some of the largest barriers to entry.
Have you had any cool startup/networking experiences since you’ve been at LiftOff Health?
I was able to attend the popular CONNECTpreneur forum while at LiftOff Health. This networking experience was the best you could ask for in the DC area when it comes to the startup environment. There were dozens of consulting, accounting, and law firms that were sponsoring the event, and it was intriguing to see growing startups actually make deals with companies like EY to handle all of their accounting needs. I’ve noticed through my experiences with pitches, most notably the Pitch Dingman Competition, that the last slide, the one that is the big ask, always has a large allocation for services like the ones listed above. “Legal” is usually the most expensive line item when it comes to investment spending. When at this networking event, I saw entrepreneurs making costly decisions in who they decide for legal aid. It was great to find several Dingman-affiliated UMD students in attendance as well, like the founders of Posh and the founders of CourseHunter.
What has been the biggest adjustment?
My biggest adjustment was definitely foreseeable: how to work in a startup. Startups want to remain lean and do not employ a lot of people—so every person counts. As a member of a small, committed team, your contribution really makes a difference in the business. You can see your impact day in and day out, and this can be both inspiring and daunting at times. In almost all startups, there is no red tape or hierarchy to cut through to solve problems and implement new ideas— I found myself going from “zero to one” when starting on a project. You will not have to battle or navigate a corporate bureaucracy either, which I found as a huge upside. There just isn’t time for that kind of thing in a fast-paced startup. I got to work right alongside a company founder. I’ve read that early startup employees get exposure to the real movers and shakers in the industry, and I valued that exposure greatly during my time at LiftOff Health. That was a powerful experience, and I can build relationships that boost my career later down the road because of it.
Erich Meissner is a sophomore studying electrical engineering and entrepreneurship. He is a part of entrepreneurial organizations like the Startup Shell, the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Honors Program (EIP), and the Hinman CEOs program. He cofounded uBoard, a UMD startup that competed in the Pitch Dingman Competition Finals. He is working on the NASA Space Race Competition, an international challenge for student entrepreneurs to harness ten open-sourced NASA technologies into a consumer-facing product and possibly a full-fledged company. Erich has interned in the healthcare industry and is interested in founding a startup in predictive medicine and preventative diagnostics in the future. His past awards include UMD’s Banneker/Key Scholarship.