During the month of October, Town Square Delaware will be hosting a discussion on Jobs & The Economy, featuring written op-ed pieces and Q&As with Delaware’s business, labor and government leaders.
As part of our series on jobs and the economy, TSD asked several local business leaders, entrepreneurs and investment experts for their thoughts. Today’s Q&A is with Ryan Sysko of Wilmington, the CEO of WellDoc, a healthcare company that uses technology to improve disease management outcomes and reduce health care costs.
TSD: Putting government policy aside, what can business leaders do right now to help get this economy moving again?
RYAN SYSKO: First, we think it’s important to take a long-term perspective. Companies that want a strategic advantage tomorrow need to invest today in the appropriate infrastructure and people to achieve that advantage. Making those investments is never an easy decision, but they can actually often be less expensive during an economic downturn due to lower costs of capital and the increased availability of human and physical resources.
As technology, regulation and the global economy continue to evolve, business leaders need to make the appropriate investments that will allow them to maximize their company’s potential over the long-haul. Furthermore, they cannot wait until the need to innovate becomes acute, as this is surely a sign that it is too late to drive a meaningful transformation. Of course, appropriate investments in these areas will have the double benefit of positioning a company for positive growth while positively impacting the economy.
TSD: What can government do to help spur investment, innovation and job creation?
RS: Government can help spur investment and job creation through 1) finding new ways to incentivize corporate investment and 2) promoting programs that provide capital to small businesses. Economic downturns can actually be a good time for corporate investment, however, anything that government can do to help corporations leverage their investment dollars will only help spur job growth and innovation. Government can accomplish this in many ways (e.g., tax credits, tax reductions, etc. specifically targeted at growth initiatives). Lastly, the current economic crisis has had a significant impact on the capital markets and has made it significantly more difficult for small businesses to access the cash they need to grow and expand. Government should look for ways to responsibly improve access to capital for small businesses.
TSD: How has your company managed to grow during this rough climate?
RS: We participate in a segment of the healthcare market that is ripe for innovation and disruption – the treatment of chronic diseases. This area, which constitutes 70% to 80% of our healthcare spend, represents a significant opportunity area for the improvement of patient outcomes and the reduction of costs, both of which are spiraling out of control. Our business model leverages the pervasiveness, accessibility and affordability of mobile technology to address the needs of multiple constituents along the chronic disease value chain, including prescribers, payers and, most importantly, patients, in a new and innovative way. It is the confluence of addressing these opportunity areas and high-tech innovation that has driven our growth.
TSD: What advice do you have for other would-be entrepreneurs who might be reluctant to start a new business today?
RS: According to the Kauffman Foundation, more than half of the names on the 2009 Fortune list of the 500 largest U.S. companies, including Microsoft, FedEx, Starbucks, and Intuit were founded during a recession or bear market. Today’s economy is no less fertile, should one choose to start a business! The basics of starting a business remain the same but entrepreneurs should consider opportunities that latch on to major macro-economic problems that present significant public benefit, such as health and economic pandemics. By leveraging the power of low-cost, available and accessible technologies, entrepreneurs can lower their need for capital expenditures, thereby reducing the investment hurdles required to rapidly realize profits.
TSD: Any other thoughts on how America and Delaware can get back on the front foot and become the land of opportunity again?
RS: A popular approach in the BRICs (i.e., Brazil, Russia, India, China) to stimulate and sustain global competitive advantage is the deployment of new PPPs, or Public Private Partnerships. While academia, public organizations and private enterprises have collaborated in the past, what differentiates the successful PPP initiatives is a new-found set of roles for government – at both the State/Provincial as well as Federal levels. Today, in the US, the role of government has traditionally been to create policy and regulate. Implementing this status quo approach with disruptive innovations – such as the application of mobile technology to address chronic disease – tends to burden the innovation cycle with the usual bureaucracy associated with new policies and regulation. In the BRICs however, the government has turned this around, by playing three key and sequential roles:
- Government as a Catalyst: In order to allow private and academic leaders to innovate nimbly, Governments are first acting as a catalyst for innovation. Outside of the typical programs, such as funding grants and emerging crowd-sourcing approaches to competitive bidding, they are also creating the notion of “SEZs” or Special Economic Zones; that is, the creation of an environment that provides tax advantages for companies to hire local talent, use local resources and collaborate with their peers and collaborators in the value chain. In many SEZs, the cost of R&D for innovative health, energy, public safety and other domains ripe for disruptive innovation, is typically 80% to 100% tax deductible. And, such methods are a tremendous stimulus for the creation of high-value and sustainable jobs.
- Government as a Consumer: Once the basis for catalytic innovation has been established and prototypes are created, the Government “eats their own dog food;” that is, they become the early adopters for the innovation. Examples are the provision of mobile health solutions for Government employees, the deployment of advanced infotronics-enabled automobiles for Government fleets, “smart highways” for advanced public safety and security, etc. In these cases, the Government keeps true to its word: the public perception of their involvement and leadership and their actual involvement and leadership are one and the same. Needless to say, there are significant political benefits that arise from this strategy as well!
- Government as a Legislator: With unequivocal proof that the innovation is delivering both a value proposition to stakeholders as well as contributing towards macro-economic growth, the Government is now in a position to create and enforce an informed basis for policy and legislation that’s backed by visible success. This transparent process of nurturing innovation from concept to economic output is something that the State of Delaware should consider. The State of Delaware should endeavor to become a role model for other States, and help the United States at large to restore its lost luster and global competitive leadership in the realm of technology-enabled innovation.