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When a doctor should quit and be a full-time entrepreneur

Ryan Amin

In the past, Dr. Amy Baxter was able to practice emergency medicine while developing a new medical device that deadens the pain from injections. But working on her startup during the day and picking up night shifts at the hospital could only go on for so long.

"Eventually your relationships and health suffer," said Baxter, a pediatric emergency doctor."So committing when you're positive you have a good idea should be done sooner rather than later."

Baxter felt confident enough to plunge into full-time entrepreneurship and took a sabbatical in May after seven years of developing Buzzy, a unique ice pack that eliminates injection pain. Her path offers several lessons for physician entrepreneurs in particular.

Lesson 1. Get research funding to support the product. "I kind of went the non-traditional route," she said. "We got a $1.1 million NIH (National Institutes of Health) Grant, which funded our R&D to test Buzzy and prove it worked before trying to mass produce and make this a full company. The perfect situation is to have an academic idea where the research can be funded to test the functionality."

Lesson 2. Convince the marketplace. Initial marketing is critical for every entrepreneur but even moreso in healthcare, Baxter said. "The barrier of explaining and convincing the conservative healthcare markets that a disruptive idea is worth licensing is going to greatly undervalue its worth."

Lesson 3. Understand the trends of the medical market. Do you know who the buyer is? Do you know who needs your product more than others? Baxter figured these issues out – she sells directly to pharma companies instead of patients – before she went full-time.

"Buzzy is disruptive and people don't intuitively understand what it is for," she said. "People don't feel empowered to manage their own pain, so someone who sees Buzzy over the counter isn't likely to buy it unless someone they know tells them how effective it is. I was anxious but I didn't want to risk my academic career. No physician has time to start a business, but if you have to have your idea out there, doing it alone is reasonable and if it's a good enough idea you should be able to license." This year's orders have doubled the revenue from 2012 when Baxter was still balancing Buzzy and practicing medicine.

Here are some other entrepreneurial insights from Baxter:

  • Networking is not all competition - Networking events offer more than a place to display your product or ideas. "I've been introduced to mailing software or inventory management software and have been able to partner with people who are in a related industry and that can make profound differences in your business," she said. Baxter's experience at trade shows and conferences has offered her wisdom, advice and potential for co-branding and co-marketing opportunities from other entrepreneurs.

  • Team commitment is critical - As important as Baxter considered her personal commitment to Buzzy, she mentioned it was especially important for her team of "mompreneurs.""I do think that committing fully is important to your team and to everyone around you," she said. "If you are asking people to work for your idea and put their family's financial future on the line, then being committed to your device is only fair." Society's lack of child-rearing accommodation causes reluctance to commit to careers, according to Baxter. "There have been a lot of exceptional women who have been willing to work for way below their market rate in exchange for working part-time and having the ability to miss a meeting to make an emergency cupcake run," she said.

[Photo by - FuzzCat]

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