Spectrum Scores, LGBTQ+ Health Disparities, and HealthX Labs (Episode #11)

 Ryan O’Keefe, MS2 –

In the most recent episode of The Penn HealthX Podcast, I was able to sit down with Phil Williams, Naveen Jain, and Jun Jeon, the three co-founders of Spectrum Scores. Spectrum Scores looks to address health disparities in the LGBTQ+ population by connecting patients with providers who are able to address any unique healthcare needs they have. The project was launched out of the 2017 HealthX Labs accelerator program, and has continued to grow since.

Some takeaways from our conversation:

1. If you don’t care about the problem, you will quit

The team repeatedly mentioned the importance of identifying a problem, rather than trying to force a solution you’ve come up with down people’s throats. This is important advice to remember when starting a company – the idea needs to be born out of an identifiable need. Otherwise, when push comes to shove, no one will use your product. More importantly, if you aren’t drawn to the problem you are looking to solve, in all likelihood, you will lose motivation, and give up. You may be able to push through for a while, but if your heart isn’t in it, you won’t last.

2. If your idea is truly innovative, most people won’t understand it

History tells us that inventors and innovators who are well ahead of their time are met with severe skepticism, and even ridicule. Not everyone will have the same vision as you, which can be rather troublesome in the modern world, considering meaningful innovation in healthcare often requires substantial investment and buy-in from larger players in the system. In the case of Spectrum Scores, it wasn’t that people didn’t understand the idea. Rather, many who are not members of the LGBTQ+ community simply can’t appreciate how crucial the problem is. Further, the same people won’t understand that tight-night communities are able to help a project like Spectrum Scores gain traction. The usual concerns companies need to address when pitching their ideas – what is the market, how will you make money, how soon can you exit and see a meaningful return on investment – are simply not the main focus of Spectrum Scores, at least for now. Those who want to work at the intersection of advocacy, medicine, and business will likely deal with these very objections. It doesn’t mean your idea is unattainable, but it does mean you face a steeper incline.

3. If you worry too much about perfection, you’ll wind up with nothing

I appreciated when the team shared their initial discomfort with releasing their product to the masses. Many in medicine are Type-A personalities, who want to do things right and have their work be flawless. However, if you spend all of your time fussing about how your product is imperfect and not ready to be judged, you will wind up with nothing. Being vulnerable is part of the process – feedback from others is what drives improvements in your products, and will bring up things you never even thought about. Compromise can be difficult, but if you put yourself out there, and have a truly innovative and meaningful idea, the details will work themselves out over time.

4. Publicity can build on itself, so be ready!

Though you may have to sacrifice perfection when starting a company, you do need to have a polished, presentable pitch ready to go. As the team shared, you never know when NBC will want to interview you. Publicity in the modern age can be confusing and surprising, but if you are lucky, it will build on itself, and others will begin to take notice of your company. This can be nerve-wracking, but it also keeps you on your toes, ensuring you are putting out the best product you can. Nothing lights a fire under you as much as built up expectations and hype. You may not always be able to control your messaging, but you can do your very best to deliver what you promise.

– Ryan is a second year medical student at the Perelman School of Medicine. He is the co-VP of curriculum for Penn HealthX, the co-host of the Penn HealthX podcast, and founder/editor-in-chief of the Penn HealthX blog. You can contact him at ryan.o’keefe@uphs.upenn.edu –

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