Dr. Arlen Meyers – The Society of Physician Entrepreneurs (SoPE)

Dr. Arlen Meyers is the CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs or SoPE. Arlen is also a professor at the University of Colorado – Denver. He is the founder of four companies, consults for several life science, IT, and investment firms, and in 2011 was named one of the 50 Most Influential Healthcare Executives of the Year.

Do you have brilliant ideas that could revolutionize healthcare and patient’s lives? Have you wondered how you can do more than patient care and contribute more to your profession and feel even more satisfaction? Have you wondered how to bring your ideas into reality and get them to patients? Listen as Dr. Meyers talks about:

  • How the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs or SoPE can help you get your ideas into reality and to patients more quickly and efficiently
  • What the gaps are in getting innovations to market and how connections and how the Society facilitates those connections
  • What a portfolio career is and why you might consider one

Josh Mettle: Hello and welcome to the Physician Financial Success Podcast. My name is Josh Mettle, and this is the podcast dedicated to advising physicians how to avoid financial landmines. Today, we have a very special guest. We’ll be talking with Dr. Arlen Meyers, CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs or SoPE. Arlen is also a professor at the University of Colorado – Denver. He is the founder of four companies, consults for several life science, IT, and investment firms, and in 2011 was named one of the 50 Most Influential Healthcare Executives of the Year. Arlen, you’re an interesting man. I’m excited to find out more about SoPE and have an opportunity to speak with you. How are you today?

Dr. Arlen Meyers: Thanks, Josh. It’s a pleasure to be with you and thanks for inviting me.

Josh Mettle: Yeah, absolutely. So, let’s just get right into it. One of the things that I found so very interesting about you is that you are an MD, as well as having an MBA. You have such kind of a diversified career. I’d love to just hear very quickly a little bit about your background, and then we can go right into talking how you got involved with SoPE.

Dr. Arlen Meyers: Sure. I was raised back in Philadelphia. I went to school back East. I pretty much went through a traditional medical academic career. After my residency, I was recruited to the University of Colorado, and I’ve been there since the mid ‘70s. As most academics, you get into a research and publication track, and mine happened to be in bioengineering. I was always interested in bioengineering solutions. My specialty is in head and neck cancer and facial plastic surgery, so I was interested in research and development problems.

To make a long story short, I had previously graduated from business school in 1984 and sort of got the bug probably long before then, but in the process of trying to commercialize our invention, I learned a lot about technology commercialization, and more importantly, I learned about the gaps. The main reason that the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs was formed was to fill the gap because most doctors have good ideas, but they really just don’t know what to do with them.

Josh Mettle: Yeah, absolutely. I can see that, and as it feels like the medical profession is moving more and more away from entrepreneurism and more and more towards being a part of the government process, so that’s what brings us to you. I’m excited to hear more. So tell us the purpose of SoPE and just a little bit more background about what the group does and what kind of benefits you provide the members.

Dr. Arlen Meyers: Sure. SoPE was created in January of 2011. We’re a nonprofit, physician-led, global biomedical and health innovation and entrepreneurship network. Our mission is to help our members get their ideas to patients, and we do that by providing education resources and networks via both virtual and face-to-face ways. We have a chapter network that now extends around the world. We have participation in national meetings. We provide all kinds of things on Facebook, social media, our website, etc., but fundamentally, our members, who are about 40 percent to 50 percent health professionals, the rest are service providers, industry investors, anyone who’s interested in biomedical innovation or more importantly getting an idea to a patient, is part of the group. You can just think of it as basically a big sandbox where we throw a bunch of folks together and hope good things happen and usually they do.

Josh Mettle: I love it. Well, you get the right people and the right seats on the bus, and miracles can happen.

Dr. Arlen Meyers: Right. We’re essentially a big global biomedical dating service.

Josh Mettle: That’s great. I love. Well, I think you nailed it right on the head that the ideas, the genius comes from the physicians that are in practice, working on patients, but how do you put that practice, and that’s what you guys do.

Dr. Arlen Meyers: Yeah. Actually, I would take a different spin on that. I actually don’t think the genius comes from the doctors. In fact, I think that healthcare ‑ the problem with healthcare, is that healthcare hasn’t embraced innovation outside of its walls. The fact that doc – I mean when we created the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs, we could have made it a society that just included doctors, but that would have been the blind leading the blind and asking the people who got us into trouble in the first place to get us out of it. The whole notion of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs is to encourage outside innovators because it’s my view that most of the process, the faults in healthcare have been solved by other industries.

Josh Mettle: Interesting.

Dr. Arlen Meyers: Unless we listen to those people, we’re not going to fix healthcare. I just don’t think it can be fixed from inside.

Josh Mettle: Got it. I love it. I think you know from an entrepreneurial standpoint, that’s really where the magic happens is when you bring cross-pollination concepts and ideas from different industries, and that’s where a lot of our‑

Dr. Arlen Meyers: Yeah.

Josh Mettle: Entrepreneurial and business magic happens. I understand where you’re headed with it.

Dr. Arlen Meyers: Well, the example that I give people is I’m a surgeon, so I spend my life trying to start operations at 7:30 in the morning. If you talk to any surgeon, they’ll tell you that they don’t start operations at 7:30 in the morning. They usually start them about a quarter of or 8 o’clock. Well, if you ran an airline that way, you’d go bankrupt, but we keep doing it, and the turnover time is too long. The start time is, you know 25 percent to 30 percent of the time it doesn’t start on time. And if you figure an operating room is about 200 dollars a minute, times all the operations that are delayed times all the, you know, basically the planes that don’t take off on time.

Josh Mettle: Right.

Dr. Arlen Meyers: If we monitored start times the way airlines did and published them, then you’d see a change. It’s an example of how outside industry, I mean I’d rather have a flight controller, an air traffic controller running the OR than a nurse.

Josh Mettle: Wow. Interesting thoughts. Interesting thoughts. Well, let’s talk about some of the innovation that’s come from SoPE so far. Is there a success story or two that are recent that you might want to mention and share with us?

Dr. Arlen Meyers: Sure. Well, first of all I want to say that we can’t take credit for an individual entrepreneur’s success. I mean that takes a lot of people. It takes a lot of input. It takes a lot of factors. And again, we’re just a network that facilitates or accelerates or catalyzes innovation. SoPE does not create anything. What we do is connect dots, so our members can create things, and so, I can point to ways where we have helped. For example, if you’re a surgeon and you have a medical device idea, you need an intellectual property lawyer, you need a bioengineer, you need a guy that can make a prototype, you need somebody who can design for manufacturing, you need money and investors. Well, that’s what we do. We connect people to those people, and hopefully, we will have participated in part of their success. There’s lots of examples, particularly in digital health, which seems to be a hot topic now ‑ people creating iPhone apps, mobile medical apps, electronic medical records things, business intelligence, etc. We create a lot of activity and try to catalyze that progress.

Josh Mettle: Got it.

Dr. Arlen Meyers: So that, you know the things I can point to, there’s several members that have created and exited from digital health companies. Lots of them are creating mobile medical apps or health apps for various disease chronic management, several companies dealing with helping patients buy, use, and monitor prescription drug use. There’s just lots and lots of things that we have our fingers in and our members are active in.

Josh Mettle: Right. I’m getting a very clear picture of what you bring to the table, and I could see where the holes are there. Let’s take it to the next step. You sent me some interesting information about physicians creating portfolio careers‑

Dr. Arlen Meyers: Right.

Josh Mettle: Kind of bridging the gap from standard practice.

Dr. Arlen Meyers: Right.

Josh Mettle: You mind telling us just a little bit about what a portfolio career is, and the steps that physicians need to follow that type of career path.

Dr. Arlen Meyers: Yeah. Well, actually the notion of a portfolio career, which means that you’re expanding your capabilities beyond a traditional job role. In the case of – it’s something that’s been talked about outside of healthcare in industries because of the changing economy. You know, we all know about people who are trying to find jobs, people who have been out of jobs for a long time, the dissociation between longtime employer and the loyalty between a longtime employer and an employee. So there are many more freelancers, consultants, independents, creative that kind of thing who literally may have five or six jobs at the same time. They may consult to one gig one week, and do another one another week, and do something different another week.

This notion of having a portfolio career means whereas in the old days, the traditional career advice was when you get out of college or during college, try to pick your spot, build the ladder, and move up the ladder.

Josh Mettle: Right.

Dr. Arlen Meyers: Well, the new paradigm is there is no ladder, and you’re going to have to put several stakes in the ground and figure out because it’s unlikely that any one is going to get you there. In the case of healthcare, in the case of doctors, we’re so focused on producing clinicians, and it’s such a long pipeline that you really don’t have time to do anything else or focus on anything else once you are committed to being a doctor. Whether it’s in – and it starts in high school. It’s so competitive that you work really hard in high school to get into a really competitive college. You work really hard in college to get into medical school. You work really hard in medical school to get into competitive residency, etc., etc., so what I’ve just described is like 18 years.

Josh Mettle: Right.

Dr. Arlen Meyers: No one can really focus on anything else, and everyone keeps telling you how smart you are, how successful you are, and how you’re going to be a doctor, and all this. By the time you get to be a doctor, you can’t do anything else, at least you think you can’t do anything else, and the whole notion of a portfolio career, therefore, is relatively foreign to a medical mind. I mean I’m trained to be a doctor. I’m trained to take care of patients, and the traditional thing you hear, the usual thing you hear is I can’t do anything else. Which I think is absolutely ridiculous and is not the case. And it’s part of the reason, part of the mission of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs is to help doctors do other things to help patients.

Basically, doctors are in the business of helping patients. One way they help patients is to see them face-to-face, 20 a day for 40 years if that’s what you want to do. But I would rather have a guy or a woman create a company that’s going to build a device to treat a million people than have one doctor see 20 patients a day for 40 years. There’s lots of different ways to help patients. One way is to see them clinically.

Josh Mettle: Absolutely.

Dr. Arlen Meyers: We’re trying to educate people about what are some of those alternative careers, and one of them is as a physician entrepreneur.

Josh Mettle: Yeah. I love that information on portfolio careers, and it made it, you know the steps of how someone could start to bridge the gap between practice and start to think towards more entrepreneurial paths. I’ll make sure and put it a link to that information in the notes from our podcast here.

Dr. Arlen Meyers: Yeah.

Josh Mettle: So our listeners‑

Dr. Arlen Meyers: Yeah. Yeah. And I might say that – I might say this notion is getting more traction with younger doctors.

Josh Mettle: Sure.

Dr. Arlen Meyers: Because there are very different generational attitudes between baby boomers, people who are in their 45 to 60, and people who are just finishing medical school, residency, or been in practice less than five years. Their headset is totally different.

Josh Mettle: Right.

Dr. Arlen Meyers: So they’re much more interested in extending their horizons and not being stove-piped into just being a doctor taking care of patients, so that’s part of the reason for the growth of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs.

Josh Mettle: You know, Arlen, I was going to pass on this next question, but I think that it dovetails nicely into the kind of where we’re going with this and what you guys bring to the table for your members, so let me just ask it. There was an article in the March newsletter, the March SoPE newsletter that talked briefly about the trend of private practice physicians migrating towards joining hospitals.

Dr. Arlen Meyers: Right.

Josh Mettle: And so I guess my question to you is, how do you perceive, what do you perceive the catalyst to that is, and how do you think that will either encourage more entrepreneurism or stifle it?

Dr. Arlen Meyers: Okay, so let’s back up a minute. The things that are driving physician employment, have to do with ‑ and these are things that polls say and I’m not making it up. They asked a bunch of docs who have become employed, “Why did you do it?”

Josh Mettle: Right.

Dr. Arlen Meyers: And you talk to medical students and you talk to residents, “Why are you, you know‑” Very, very few of them now are interesting in going to private practice. However, the reasons they usually cite are, student debt. They want a reliable income. They want a reasonable quality of life and work-life balance. They don’t want to have to deal with administrivia, running a practice, and it really has to do with, I think, primarily security and quality of life. On the other hand, the reality is that people in private practice, you know, are there because they want to be independent, they don’t want to work for the man, and the fact of the matter is they make more money in private practice than they do as an employed physician, specialty for specialty.

Josh Mettle: Right.

Dr. Arlen Meyers: There’s lots of reasons why one person would want to do one or the other. That having been said, there are, I perceive, five different kinds of physician entrepreneurs. One is the doctor who is in private practice. In other words, they’re small to medium size business owners, and they’re basically trying to do what they’re trained to do for a profit, a reasonable profit, not gouging people, not Medicare fraud, but a reasonable profit.

Josh Mettle: Sure.

Dr. Arlen Meyers: Two, they’re technopreneurs ‑ people who have a gadget, an idea, an invention and they want to build a company, and they want to scale it and exit so they can create shareholder value. Number three, there are employed physicians. You know, employed physicians are intrepreneurs. Some of them behave like entrepreneurs in the employed situation, and their goal, if they decide to do that, is to create value for their organization. The fourth kind is the social entrepreneur, someone who wants to cure malaria in Sub-Sahara Africa and generating enormous profits is a secondary interest. Finally, there are freelancers and consultants who are helping the other doctors that I just mentioned, do what they’re supposed to do: financial planners, service providers, wealth managers, marketing consultants, etc., etc.

So to get back to your question, a relatively small percentage of it – so, is there a conflict between being an employed physician and an entrepreneur? No. You can be both. In fact, your employer wants you to be both – at least that’s what they’re going to tell you. But the reality is, they’re very, very few. The last Gallup poll indicated that 13 percent of all employees are engaged. In other words, they’re psychologically motivated to contribute to their organization.

Josh Mettle: Right.

Dr. Arlen Meyers: Thirteen percent. My view is fewer than that, of employed physicians are engaged, for the reasons that I just mentioned. They’re supporting their organization as a secondary interest. Their main interest is paying off their debt, being secure, getting a paycheck, having a work-life balance. Now, does that mean there aren’t any? Of course not, but I think it’s going to be a relatively small percentage of employed physicians who turn into intrepreneurs. That’s even more of a challenge, having been there, than actually creating a company on the outside because organizations love to stifle innovation. They’ll squash you like a grape. And unless you know how to do it, it’s not going to work.

Josh Mettle: So that brings about my next question. That was great. I love the information. Thanks for sharing all that. So, let’s talk about your book because I think you know, our listeners are probably listening to this. Some of them are inspired but not sure where to go and how to get more information. Tell us a little bit about your book titled, Sell the Bullets: Advice to Physician Entrepreneurs.

Dr. Arlen Meyers: Well, actually that’s one of several books. That one happens to be a compendium of commentary and blogs that I’ve written over the years, and it’s basically a sort of a tongue-in-cheek, here’s my world, if you’re thinking of being a physician entrepreneur, here are some things to think about. It goes everything from you know how to create a business model to some of the topics that we just talked about to entrepreneurial lifestyles to portfolio careers, all of the stuff we’ve discussed. In the other book, one of several other books, is one called The Life Science Innovation Roadmap, which is really more of a how to get your idea to a patient. It walks you through the different steps that you have to go through to get a drug, a device, a diagnostic, a vaccine, a digital health idea, a business process innovation to market. It just really walks you through the steps.

Josh Mettle: Interesting. Well, you’ve brought a lot of interesting ideas to our listeners. I’m certain that we’re going to have some questions and some people that want to connect with you. Tell us how to find you and how to find out more information about SoPE.

Dr. Arlen Meyers: Sure. So, the best way is to – you know, if you’re interested in this, the best way is to join us at the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs. As I said, you don’t need to be a doctor to be a member. All you need to do is have an interest in getting an idea to a patient, and you could be a patient who is interested in getting an idea to your family. We have some of those folks. We have patient advocates. So, you join us at www.sopenet, S-O-P-E-N-E-T, .org. It costs $50 a year. If you want to contact me, I’m at ceo@sopenet.

Josh Mettle: Arlen, thanks so much for your time. It was a pleasure talking with you and finding out more about SoPE, and we look forward to connecting with you soon.

Dr. Arlen Meyers: Thanks for having me, and I look forward to talking to you again.

To learn more about portfolio careers, please watch Dr. Meyers in this video blog.

To see more video blogs with Dr. Meyers and to see the books he has written, please click here.