AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 28, Number 4, 2019


How to be a Successful Neurosurgeon-entrepreneur

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There has never been a better time to be a surgeon-entrepreneur. The health care environment is undergoing significant transformation and during times of change there is ample opportunity. What is the definition of a surgeon-entrepreneur? Entrepreneurship, in this context, is about experimenting and taking more than the normal risk in the business of medicine. Unfortunately, surgeons are not comfortable with risk-taking and their risk-aversion complicates the ability to become successful entrepreneur.

The young and inexperienced, but potentially successful, surgeon-entrepreneur must perform at a higher level than ever before. Taking “a drawing on a napkin” of a new instrument or idea to a company or potential investor and expecting meaningful support is not realistic anymore. The current health care business environment demands some risk taking on the behalf of the young entrepreneur. Some seed money from the entrepreneur or his/her friends and family may be needed ($50,000-$100,000) to create a prototype and secure a patent. Once a patent has been secured, the value of the device is much more convincing to companies.

Customer development is the next key to success. Many young entrepreneurs (and surgeons) focus on the creation of a final product without considering the needs of the customer, preference of other surgeons or the potential marketability of the product. A minimum viable product (MVP) is all that is initially needed; afterwards, it is all about customer development. There is a big difference between startups and full-fledge companies. Startups create an MVP and then sign up their customers and implement their specifications before creating the final product, while companies develop a product and then promote and revise it.

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Top Qualities of a Successful Surgeon-entrepreneur

  • Motivated and not afraid to take risks
  • A confident innovator
  • Flexible and adaptable to rejections, while remaining persistent
  • Knowledgeable about the market
  • Able to network and create appropriate connections

Some of the Most Common Reasons Why Entrepreneurs Fail

  • Unreasonable and grandiose expectations
  • Inappropriate soft skills (impatient, poor listener and intolerant of opposing ideas)
  • Unfit partners and poor team management
  • Pivot paralysis: the inability to revise plans or adapt based on new information and market conditions)1
  • No preplanned exit strategy

The potential for creating ventures are limitless in the current health care environment. Ventures that attempt to improve quality and value are especially welcomed additions. These ventures require a team approach with a different set of talents and skillsets (considering the busy schedule of surgeons). The best strategy is to use the initial idea, revise it based on the input of appropriate authorities and then team up with a qualified CEO, who has significant experience in health care startups, to promote venture development. Gaining traction is the most difficult step, but with an adaptable, persistent and appropriate team, venture development can be a lifelong satisfying endeavor.


Andriole, S. (2016, April 1) 10 Reasons Why Entrepreneurs Fail, Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/steveandriole/2016/04/01/10-reasons-why-entrepreneurs-fail/#2df8d43642d9

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