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University Hospitals Ventures is a branch of the greater University Hospitals ecosystem that uses innovation and commercialization to bring human-centered designs to fruition. UH Ventures uses its unique placement at the intersection of programming, product partnerships, concept development, service line development, technology transfer, pilots, adoption, and venture investment in order to advance the culture of innovation and bring novel ideas and products to market. In particular, innovations such as a new anterior spinal retractor and pin system and startups such as Picture Health, which uses AI tools to analyze clinical images, turning routine images into a critical data source.
However, a more significant innovation in investment decision-making has allowed such an environment to provide these facilities and resources to support more innovations and startups. David Sylvan, the current President of UH Ventures, ascribed the success of UH Venture to a fundamental culture change when it comes to analyzing and predicting what startups will thrive. For Sylvan, success is equally a measure of monetary success as it is a measure of positive social impact. Thus, Sylvan and his team focus less on P&L sheets and other similar metrics and instead on the underlying innovation, the problem it aims to solve, and how much of an impact it can have.
Additionally, Sylvan and his team look to maximize their impact by providing equal opportunities for partnerships with everyone. Consequently, and in stark opposition to the industry norm, half of Sylvan’s team’s portfolio comprises female-founded and led teams and startups.
Sylvan's journey, starting in South Africa and continuing today in Cleveland, is a story of persistence, adaptability, and empathy. Sylvan grew up in a poor household in South Africa, where he was taught that being an accountant was the only way to be "successful." After an arduous effort, Sylvan completed his degree and promptly moved to New York City. Unsurprisingly, Sylvan did not pursue a career in accounting and instead became a bartender. Sylvan describes his time as a bartender as "one of the most impactful experiences when figuring out how to work with people." While on the job, Sylvan often conversed extensively with clients sharing stories of all nature. In particular, Sylvan recalls how often he would discuss the issues plaguing other people's lives and try to give some words of wisdom. Thus, Sylvan developed a keen understanding and deep care for the human condition. However, Sylvan revisited the finance world, where he worked his way up Key Bank's corporate ladder, eventually becoming Managing Director - Head of Public Finance & Derivatives. However, Sylvan described this tenure as hyper-stressful and cutthroat. After taking some time off, Sylvan wanted to pivot into a more fulfilling career where he felt he was changing the world. Utilizing his keen sense of empathy and care for others, Sylvan has been able to invest and promote innovation in a way that provides not only monetary returns but also real-world problem solutions.
Sylvan's venture firm has an enormous impact across many vectors within University Hospitals and with the entrepreneurs and clients they partner with. For them, the impact on the Hospital is twofold: a monetary return value and the value the invention or product provides to the patient. If the investment looks profitable but provides little to no real improvement for patients' conditions, it is not worth putting resources into. The impact that Sylvan and his team have on the startup itself is crucial to the development of the innovation. Sylvan explains that they have a product development team that closely works with the startup during the early stages of product development to ensure that the product provides viable solutions to the problems it is trying to solve.
As a venture firm, the impacts on the business, or University Hospital in this case, are paramount to the firm's success. Therefore, any innovative techniques developed for assessing potential startups and new investments must also highly prioritize monetary returns in order to be considered successful. However, Sylvan and his team have to look at other impacts besides just turning a profit for UH, as UH is a hospital and therefore impacts the patient directly, which affects the business. For Sylvan, benefits to patient outcomes are equally if not more important than the potential startups' monetary return value. This value means that while their team is assessing a new potential investment, they also ensure that the product or innovation the startup is based around provides a viable and tangible benefit to the patient.
Typically, the sole goal of a venture capital firm is to maximize short-term shareholder profits. However, Sylvan and his team are a part of University Hospitals and must look at patient impacts through new innovations and startups. Sylvan explains that UH Ventures has facilitated more research and innovation through their innovative process of assessing new investments than if they were strictly profit-oriented. UH Ventures has also supported the growth of startups such as Biohm, TailorMed, and Renalis, among many more.
Sylvan noted that through his process of exclusively looking at purely business impact-oriented variables, they had developed a profile consisting of 50% women-led teams or startups. Sylvan explains that while only 1.5% of venture capital firms approached women-led startups, he finds them largely successful compared to those run by men. This success led to their portfolio comprising a large percentage of women-led startups.
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David Sylvan, President
University Hospitals is a Northeast Ohio-based group of 21 hospitals. The venture division seeks to transform healthcare through the investments made in its division.