Biomedicine as a Social Enterprise

Biomedicine as a Social Enterprise

 In his new book, Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus shares his vision for a kinder, gentler planet. It starts with recognizing what he describes as the inherent cruelty of capitalism, the need to value the abilities of every human being and understanding that saving the environment must be a collective effort.

Now, Pope Francis has thrown his Papal tiara into the ring.

To create and spread the harvest of global wealth creation, Yunus emphasizes going back to our entrepreneurial roots, making low interest loans to those most in need (microfinance) and creating social enterprises that are a balance between selfishness (making money for ourselves) and selflessness (helping others create wealth for themselves and, in so doing, changing the human condition). While corporate social responsibility is the latest fad, most companies don’t take it far enough. Giving fish, or Todd’s shoes, isn’t the same as teaching people how to fish or start their own shoe business. The goal of the latter, as in almost ever social enterprise, is to demonstrate measurable scaleable impact.

Such thinking highlights the conflict between the ethics and purpose of medicine and the ethics and purpose of business. In systems, like in the US, where medicine is a business, the contrast in even starker.

Here are some ideas that might help us reach some of the UN’s sustainable development goals:

  1. Include social entrepreneurship as part of biomedical entrepreneurship education programs and emphasize the relationships between social determinants, like education, and health.
  2. Teach biomedical entrepreneurs more about accounting, finance and business law
  3. Include and achieve learning objectives in international entrepreneurship in the curriculum.
  4. Judge startup ventures by their triple bottom line impact. The TBL is an accounting framework that incorporates three dimensions of performance: social, environmental and financial. This differs from traditional reporting frameworks as it includes ecological (or environmental) and social measures that can be difficult to assign appropriate means of measurement. The TBL dimensions are also commonly called the three Ps: people, planet and profits, or, the 3 Ps.
  5. Provide microfinance loans to patient entrepreneurs
  6. Use more patient funded business models
  7. Tap into the desire to do well by doing good
  8. Include discussions about creating non-profit v for profit business entities
  9. Create a sub-ecosystem focusing on using biomedical, clinical and digital health innovation as a social enterprise in accelerators, scalerators, venture conferences, pitch competitions and courses.

10. Showcase and celebrate biomedical and clinical social entrepreneurs

11. Create products and services that address the social determinants of health and ways to reduce their inequities that contributes to disparate health outcomes. Breakfast and a bedroom has more impact than data. The biggest bang for the buck comes from helping educate at risk populations, like students who are first generation, marginalized or excluded girls, those in the lower socioeconomic classes, self identified minorities and others, like the disabled and recently released prisoners.

12. Incorporate social enterprise into medical systems science education.

Here is the mission driven business model canvas:

Mission Model Canvas

Here are some differences between the mission driven and the elusive medical business model canvas

Elusive Medical Business Model

Here are the top five differences between not for profit and for profit hospitals.

Many questions have arisen regarding hospitals’ status as tax-exempt organizations.

Conscious capitalism is the rational alternative approach, dedicated to advancing humanity, while using tried and proven business principles. The idea has four principles guiding and underlying every business:

  1. Higher purpose. Business can and should be done with a higher purpose in mind, not just with a view to maximizing profits. A compelling sense of purpose creates an extraordinary degree of engagement for all stakeholders and catalyzes tremendous organizational energy.
  2. Stakeholder orientation. Recognizing the interdependent nature of life and the human foundations and business, a business needs to create value with and for its various stakeholders (customers, employees, vendors, investors, communities, etc.). Like the life forms in an ecosystem, healthy stakeholders lead to a healthy business system.
  3. Conscious leadership. Conscious leaders understand and embrace the higher purpose of business and focus on creating value for and harmonizing the human interests of the business stakeholders. They recognize the integral role of culture and purposefully cultivate a conscious culture.
  4. Conscious culture. This is the ethos – the values, principles, practices – underlying the social fabric of a business, which permeates the atmosphere of a business and connects the stakeholders to each other and to the purpose, people and processes that comprise the company.

Medicine in the US is a business. However, it is also a social enterprise, joining many othercompanies and industries practicing social entrepreneurship. Compassionate capitalism is another way to do well by doing good.

Bioentrepreneurship is a means towards an end-creating user or beneficiary defined value through the deployment of innovation. Whether that end is selfless or selfish or combination of both is your decision. What you decide will impact the future of our planet and the people who inhabit it. It will also put a smile on the faces of your stockholders and employees.

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Arlen MyersArlen Meyers, MD, MBA is the President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs at and co-editor of Digital Health Entrepreneurship

Arlen Meyers

Arlen Meyers, MD, MBA is an emeritus professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine ,teaches bioentrepreneurship and is Chief Medical Officer for Bridge Health and Cliexa. He is the President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs at and author of the Life Science Innovation Roadmap.




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