Health Care Challenges Create Opportunities for Innovation

When Immanuel Thangaraj, AB ’92, MBA ’93, started looking for a summer internship in venture capital while at Chicago Booth, he didn’t find a whole lot of competition.

"People always ask me how I got into venture capital," Thangaraj said. "Nobody else applied for a job working for a small portfolio company. That turned into a job at ARCH Venture Partners." Thangaraj shared his views with students October 28 at the ninth annual Chicago Booth Healthcare Conference, sponsored by the student-led Chicago Booth Healthcare Group.

Now, of course, venture capitalism is one of the more popular fields for a graduate with an MBA to enter. And Thangaraj, managing director at Essex Woodlands Health Ventures, has some advice for those seeking a career in VC: "It’s always advisable to have a background in the industry you are going to invest in. I say that without having done that myself before coming to venture capital. But that was a different time, a different place. The competition for those jobs and the needs for the role have evolved.

"Go into an industry you really love. I think that will give you a good background to make investment decisions."

Thangaraj, who gave the conference’s keynote address, said would-be venture capitalists also need to be open to working with emerging markets, from where lots of innovation is likely to come in the future because it’s cheaper to develop. "For decades, we’ve been the leader in the United States for innovation. I think we will retain that for some foreseeable period of time, but it’s not going to be forever, and we’re not going to be the undisputed leader," Thangaraj said. "I’m not scared by the competition, because the more innovators we have, we all benefit."

Specifically as it relates to health care in the United States, Thangaraj outlined several challenges facing the industry, including the expense driven by the amount of labor and infrastructure currently in the industry, and the diversity of the population.

"For example, in L.A. County today, there are newspapers in 175 different languages printed daily," Thangaraj said. "So if you are physician at a hospital, you could be facing 175 different languages on a daily basis. Can you imagine what that would be like?

As technology offerings in the field increase, that should help increase access while limiting the cost of health care, Thangaraj said. To underscore his point, he used the example of his home wired network, which cost $15,000 to install. Instead, however, Thangaraj uses a $200 wireless router, "which I can upgrade every year to get the latest security and technology."

Also look to technology to make health care more efficient. For example, Proteus Biomedical, a Redwood City, California–based company that Essex Woodlands invested in, is developing technology that would put a small digestible radio chip on pills, allowing a doctor to see exactly when a pill was taken and its impact on a patient’s vital signs.

"No doctor or nurse can provide this data without such technology," Thangaraj said. The chip and, more importantly, the data gleaned from it will allow pharmaceutical companies to make their drugs more efficient, thus lowering the overall cost, he said.

Kunal Jain, a first-year student in the Full-Time MBA Program and co-chairman of the conference, said Thangaraj’s talk accomplished exactly what the event set out to do.

"We are embarking on a new era of health care policy, so it’s important that we hear from the leaders who are changing the landscape and are offering new companies that are providing new technologies and promising treatments for all of us," Jain said.

—Patrick Ferrell