By Drs. Navin Goyal and Marshall Kuremsky
Why does a physician decide to pursue the profession? It’s certainly not the career with the shortest period of training. From spending freshman year of college getting up for 8 am chemistry, to crossing your fingers about that first residency placement, there are plenty of milestones during a physician’s educational process that give a doctor-in-training a chance to pause and reflect on the reasons and drive to heal.
Post-training however, the grind begins. There are inherent joys in promoting wellness, helping fellow humankind heal, and contributing to the betterment of society. Yet despite having reached their dream career, many doctors find themselves wanting more from their careers. Take us, for example. One of us is an anesthesiologist; the other an orthopedic surgeon. It was our childhood dream to become doctors. While we love our profession, we thought something from our working lives felt a bit empty. And we’re not alone.
One path to greater career fulfillment is to have a sideline ‘gig’ that provides professional fulfillment outside of medicine. For us, that sideline has been venture capital. While it’s something often considered the West Coast’s answer to Wall Street or a Plan B for tech executives, for physicians, venture capital could be just what the doctor ordered.
How venture capital can improve doctors’ health — and public health
Data show that doctors are feeling burnout at unprecedented levels and are seeking ways to nurture and promote wellness in other arenas. According to a Medscape study released in 2018, nearly two-thirds of doctors have reported feelings of burnout and depression related to their work, with among the highest rates reported among first-line care providers such as family physicians, internists, and ob-gyns. Burnout can lead to physicians cutting back their hours, if not dropping out of the profession completely; meaning less access to care.
The appetite among for physicians for a second job, rather than a complete career change, is there, with the resources to show for it. Physicians Side Gigs, a Facebook group reserved exclusively for MDs and DOs who are looking to broaden their career paths and overall lives, has nearly 50,000 members, a number that has quadrupled since April 2017. Among the more popular sidelines discussed on the forums: investment opportunities, namely those in venture capital.
But why venture capital? And why should physicians go into VC?
While most doctors have a robust academic background in the sciences, fewer have a foundation specifically in business. Yet many of the same skills that create successful investors and entrepreneurs are what create great physicians.
Venture capital requires keen analytical skills and an ability to assess a startup’s potential pain points. Going forward, as the portfolio company continues to grow and develop into a full-fledged company, ready for exit, a VC provides guidance and tips for development and scalability. Seeing a project come into fruition and in full health offers the rewards that doctors seek to find in their daily life; and offers a new path for professional fulfillment that can bring new energy to their medical practice. (Not to mention, many doctors who work in small practices are often entrepreneurs themselves.)
The same passion to improve society and give back to the community that can drive a career in medicine pays out in venture capital. Funding early-stage businesses promotes new energy in the communities they serve and empowers people with strong ideas yet little runway to effect positive change.
As physicians are known to be educators and trusted individuals to do good for people, these same qualities can be a game-changer for the people who are sacrificing their time to solve problems facing the business community and the market at large.
Examples of projects backed by physician-led investment
Conventional wisdom here might have physicians being drawn toward projects with an obvious healthcare bent. At first blush, pharmaceuticals, doctors’ tools and services, or biomedical products might appear to be a natural fit for physicians looking to make inroads into venture capital. Certainly, physicians’ knowledge can be indispensable to an investment board on this front, and a possible way to break into the field. Venture capital firms constantly assess decks across industries, so specialization, especially in such burgeoning areas as telemedicine, biomedical technology, and office services that stand to disrupt and upend medical care for the better.But is this only sector where a physician’s contributions can be valued? Hardly.
Being able to diagnose and recommend a course of action are skills that transfer across an array of sectors. Physicians need to feel empowered and know they are ambitious, intelligent, and respected members of society who can bring value to any business table. Like their VC colleagues who might be coming to the table with backgrounds in, say, finance or tech, analytical reasoning can help a firm assemble a quality portfolio of firms in which to invest.
Take for example SHARE, a microtransit rideshare service that has provided more than 200,000 rides in the Columbus and Cleveland metros, with plans for expansion to other cities in the works. When SHARE came to us in 2017, it was a team of two: a husband and wife, with some business plans and a minimum viable product. Our team was able to assess and read into the startup’s likelihood for success, as well as identify target areas and potential pain points. We gave the project our vote of confidence; that is, early-stage funding, and off they went. This fall, SHARE was named by business organization VentureOhio as the early-stage startup of the year.
With some of our portfolio companies, it’s not just about the product or service itself, but how its very mission stands to make a positive impact. Hot Chicken Takeover, a Columbus-area chain of Nashville-style chicken restaurants, aims to hire employees who have run into barriers when seeking employment, whether it be previous incarceration, homelessness, or otherwise. Having Hot Chicken Takeover in the LOUD Capital portfolio is a way both to support our local community and foster entrepreneurship.
Early-stage investment without the portfolio assembly
We realize that not every physician has the time or the energy to devote to an entire second career. Physicians can participate in venture capital and help spur development by investing into a fund that backs promising companies as a whole. Like an asset management firm pools assets for individual and institutional investment, so do venture capital firms with the funds they allocate and deploy to their portfolio firms. We encourage physicians to seek out venture capital investment opportunities as available.
As physicians, we carry the Hippocratic Oath of “do no harm.” Bringing this oath outside of medicine and into the world of venture capital and entrepreneurship can leave an impact on society that complements the successes accomplished as a physician — while utilizing some critical values that physicians espouse such as integrity, transparency and a passion for serving others. Venture capital and investing as a sideline can bring new energy to a medical career — and a sense of achievement that would make that bleary-eyed college freshman awake with hope and anticipation.
Navin Goyal, MD, an anesthesiologist, is the co-founder and CEO of LOUD Capital, an early-stage venture capital alternative investment firm headquartered in Columbus, Ohio and with a presence in Chicago, Atlanta, and Beijing. Marshall Kuremsky, MD, is a partner at LOUD and in addition to his work with LOUD, is a practicing orthopedic surgeon working out of Raleigh, N.C. LOUD has a vertical dedicated to educating physicians wishing to get into the venture capital space, physician.vc.