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How to name a medical technology startup (hint: add beer)

Amy Siegel, Co-founder, S2N Health

Recently we were pulled into the exercise of renaming a med tech company (lesson learned: application specificity in your name provides great clarity, and also guarantees a name change if your strategy shifts). When we founded S2N Health, naming was not a service we intended to offer our clients. But when you work with small, scrappy companies, you get caught up in the pain point of the moment, and boy can company naming be a pain. Brilliant names are few and far between, and probably accidental, so success usually feels like exhausted resignation. Okay, good enough, let’s go with it.

So what makes naming a med tech company, or product, or platform, so difficult? For one thing, a name has to please, or at least not piss off, several worlds-apart constituents, including:

  • The Founders and Employees: Nerd-heavy group, like gizmo descriptions
  • The Investors: Looking for sizzle (or subliminal hint of exit? Tedmontric?)
  • The Regulators: Let’s just say Miracle is better suited to certain lingerie items
  • The Hospital or Payor: Sounds fancy and expensive, let me hide my wallet
  • The Clinicians: Tell me what it does, and please don’t kill my patient

To address all of these varied and conflicting demands, the process of naming generally follows a highly structured, scientific, five-phase methodology that looks something like this:

  1. Lock your small team in a room with sugar, caffeine and a white board
  2. Seek additional ideas from friends, children, consultants, UPS delivery people
  3. Get desperate, lower standards (e.g. not pornographic in any major language)
  4. Get small team back in room with a case of beer
  5. Settle on something

Once you agree on your short list of names, get ready to engage in a fun round of speed-dating on Trademarkia for trademark availability and Go Daddy for domain names. If you are a .com snob, like we are (.net is the 888 of the toll-free world – so second rate), then you start playing with your desired, but alas taken, names and enter the world of the 'invented' name. There is a reason why tech start-ups get named things like Xobni, Flikr and Answerly.

But let’s face it, med tech entrepreneurs (and the people they answer to) are just plain older than web entrepreneurs and need more gravitas in their name to be taken seriously by the people that fund them and pay for their stuff. Some companies at the nexus of healthcare and IT are pushing the envelope on this front, such as Virtify, Aspyra and Skimble. Generally speaking, though, med tech companies don’t have as much freedom for creativity as tech companies in choosing a corporate moniker.

The big device companies have very conservative names, often not very descriptive, evocative or even remotely related to what they produce, e.g. Boston Scientific, Smith & Nephew, C.R. Bard, Baxter, etc. Those that have had to rename because of changes in company structure or unfortunate brand associations, for example Hospira and Covidien, have gotten on the invented name bandwagon, albeit without the double XX’s or adverbial bent of the internet start-ups. And you know they paid a lot of fancy brand consultants for those fancy names.

In the end, the true test of a company name is if you can imagine someone in a hospital or doctors’ office shouting, without a hint of irony, “The people from [insert company name] are here; They brought donuts.” So sit back, relax, and enjoy the beer.

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