From the Internet of Things to the Internet of the Body

As Managing Director of Healthcare at GE Ventures, Leslie Bottorff invests in healthcare industry startup companies—with a preference for medical technologies and emerging business models. Her 15 years of venture capital investing experience includes her roles as managing director at ONSET Ventures, and investments and board seats at Sadra Medical, which was sold to Boston Scientific; Spinal Concepts, which was sold to Abbott Labs; Neuronetics; Relievant; and VisionCare Ophthalmic.

Earlier in her career, Bottorff spent 19 years in operating roles at large and venture- backed companies including Medtronic’s CardioRhythm division, Embolic Protection (acquired by Boston Scientific), Nellcor (now Covidien), Ventritex  (now St. Jude), Menlo Care (acquired by J & J), and GE Healthcare. She has also served on advisory boards or as guest faculty at several universities including Purdue, Stanford, and UC Berkeley.

TEDMED: What’s the most remarkable innovation you are seeing in health tech or medicine, and what is driving it?

Bottorff: We’re seeing tremendous innovation in personal monitoring and in therapies for a wide variety of diseases. Combining therapies, diagnostics and digital communications is creating a more effective systems approach to patient care management. This means helping patients who are in the hospital or coming out of the hospital, living at home with chronic diseases as well as  helping people who are not ill, but taking steps towards preventative care.

This is analogous to the emergence of the Industrial Internet, which GE is a major proponent of. This convergence of personal monitoring technology and advanced wireless communication is a pretty big opportunity for what I’ll call, the “Internet of the Body”. This convergence is going to be the driving force behind the advances we are seeing today.

In addition to personal monitoring, another area of remarkable innovation is noninvasive technologies to treat and diagnose conditions related to the nervous system. We’ll be able to take advantage of some of the electronics and connectivity that is now available. As one example, GE has a brain initiative being led by our Healthymagination unit.

TEDMED: What’s the most important factor for entrepreneurial success in health tech—and is that different from your own key to success?

Bottorff: It’s important for entrepreneurs to embrace innovation through collaboration and not think they have to be experts in everything to bring the many pieces of the puzzle together themselves. This is a multi-functional area. You have to recruit a strong multidisciplinary team and maintain focus. This industry is being re-invented as we speak; nobody’s got the formula. So it’s important to maintain focus and persevere to understand the needs of your target customer.

Those factors are very synergistic to GE’s. We also need to stay focused, and we also need to innovate, which is why we stay close to the new thinkers and innovators. In a young and small company, you can be agile and you succeed or fail in much faster cycles than a large company. At GE, we think the best way to focus on what’s next and what’s coming is to partner with entrepreneurs and startups. We aim to help accelerate their growth and help them commercialize their ideas to really move the needle. At the same time, they may have the problem that they’re not able to scale, get big, or get reach. That’s the kind of thing we can help them with and one of the many reasons why we feel like it’s so important for us to collaborate.

TEDMED: For entrepreneurs with needle-moving ideas in global health, what are the keys to finding collaborators and supporters across specialties, industries, and geographies?  

Bottorff: We’re an infrastructure company that has global reach and global distribution. We see ourselves partnering with all sorts of external partners, including startup companies with great ideas for products and business entities in many of the countries we’re based in. Having operations in 170 countries, we can take the innovations that are going to be most appropriate to the right markets and geographies and help an entrepreneur do that parsing—to ask if their product is a fit for the infrastructure of a given market. So we can say to entrepreneurs, “Let’s talk about how we can help you most, because you don’t have the scale to get all markets .”

TEDMED: In 2020, you’re asked to give a TEDMED talk about the biggest transformation you helped bring about in your field. What is it? 

Bottorff: GE would love to play an important leadership role in coordinating what will be an end-to-end system that delivers on the promise, and not just the hype of “Digital Health”.

A lot of people have grand visions of how Digital Health is going to transform and improve healthcare, and that is exciting. But, getting from point A (where we are now) to point B (the ideal future vision) is trickier than coming up with a grand vision. It’s going to require a lot of cooperation with a lot of parties and GE intends to be right in the middle of it to help make it happen. The transformation between now and 2020 or 2030 will be remarkable.