A Step-by-Step Guide to Supporting Business and Product Development

Published on July 9, 2019

Director | Kaiser Permanente Ventures * Board | Family Caregiver Alliance * Advisor | End

from a conduit of strategic healthcare innovation, sitting between a large, mission-first health system and earlier stage, innovative portfolio companies.

Helping a company navigate its KP relationships, both current and prospective, is a crucial role that we at Kaiser Permanente Ventures try to play for our portfolio companies. I lead Strategic Engagement for Kaiser Permanente’s venture fund (creatively named KP Ventures), in this capacity I help support, spread, and introduce health care innovation that is in support of our mission to provide high-quality, affordable health care services that improve the health of our members and the communities we serve.

I’ve engaged in numerous projects to help our portfolio identify relevant champions and the most appropriate “front door” – you can read more about this work in my last post.

Health care systems, plans, and provider groups don’t always embrace direct business development and sales techniques. These organizations tend to be more relationship-based. I find myself having to guide our portfolio, helping these early stage companies think about business development differently, building a strategy that focuses on developing a baseline understanding of desired targeted areas – achieving more clarity around the health care perspective. This enables the ability to form relationships that are more than transactional, and ultimately leads to more effective business and product development.

In this blog I outline how we approach portfolio development. In sharing best practices, I hope to evolve how we in the industry think of portfolio development, providing ideas of additional things portfolio companies may ask of their strategic investors, and tips for how strategic / corporate investment leads may be able to better utilize their internal networks to support their portfolio, and help their parent organization better access innovation from these companies.


Step 1: Ask “What’s stopping you from winning the strategic investor’s corporate business right now?”

I often start this process by asking our portfolio companies, “What’s stopping you from winning KP business right now?” Usually it’s something like:

“we’re not sure what KP’s priorities are around X” or “we’re not sure if KP is building this capacity internally versus externally” or “we’re not sure what products/services KP cares about when it comes to X”

If you are a strategic investor that does not tie operational contracts to investment decisions, your super power is being able to create transparency around corporate priorities and needs for the company’s targeted areas. Identifying and defining gap areas in knowledge is a key place to start. Based on the responses to “what’s stopping you,” I’ll ask our portfolio companies to identify 2-3 questions that will help them better understand the KP perspective as they think through business and product development.

Step 2: Identify Targeted Leads 

Now that we’ve identified the 2-3 targeted questions that will help our portfolio company better understand the KP perspective, the next step is to figure out, within our layered organization, who are the best leads to answer the identified targeted questions.

We operate under the single umbrella of Kaiser Permanente; however we are also 8 wonderful regions that may have their own, slightly varying perspectives on any given topic. This means I will reach out to several leads in each region, seeking to identify the most targeted subject matter expert (SME) I should be speaking with to answer the 2-3 targeted questions in KP Northern California, Southern California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, and the Mid-Atlantic.

I’ll start the inquiry with senior-level operational budget-holders – someone who is akin to the COO of the health plan and Permanente medical group of each region. Institutional knowledge is critical for identifying the right people at this step, understanding the structures and dynamics of the corporate organization can save a tremendous amount of time in getting to the right leaders quickly. I provide these leaders with information on the questions and area of interest, seeking recommendations of who they consider the most senior SME and ultimate operational decision-maker for this particular focus area.

There are two critical aspects of large corporate business development that I want to repeat here: 1) it is important to be targeted and 2) you are seeking operational decision-makers. And remember, your initial goal is to understand the perspective of these operational decision maker(s) for the focus area. Not to sell them anything. The more genuine you can be in this, the stronger your potential long-term relationship will be, and that is a necessary foundation of how all things work in large corporations.


Step 3: Develop Targeted Materials

Over the years of connecting operational, quality, and strategic health care leaders with relevant innovative companies, we’ve noticed a pattern in what information these leaders usually request.

As we embark on these projects, collecting information about the 2-3 targeted questions, we’ll explain why we are asking these questions and provide a brief introduction of the company that will receive the feedback. To effectively communicate an overview of the company to these targeted SMEs, we ask our portfolio companies to develop a one-page overview that features key areas that we have understood to be the most relevant information for operational, quality, and strategic leaders.

Typical marketing materials tend to be a) too vague and b) too long for these functional leaders, who’d prefer material to get right to the point, and address their key questions and concerns concisely. Stay tuned for my next blog to learn more about what we’ve discovered are the key areas of interest for our leaders!


Step 4: Engage in Conversations with Identified SMEs with a Strategic Agenda

Our time with these SMEs is precious, and we may only get 30 minutes for these conversations. To use this time well, we follow a crisp, strategic agenda. Below is the general approach and agenda we use:

  1. Thank you and Introductions– These people are busy…respect the trade-off they’re making in talking to you. You cannot thank them enough for their time. Be curious. Ask them about themselves – what brought them to this work, what do they care about. Tell them about yourself, including why you care about what you do. Understanding each other’s motivations will help build long-term rapport.
  2. KP Ventures introduction –We’ll ask leaders if they are familiar with KP Ventures and our work, if not, we’ll provide a few minutes of introduction about KP Ventures, and potentially, how Venture generally works. Remember, these leaders may not be familiar with venture and/or your specific function in the innovation ecosystem. Do not assume they already have an orientation to your world.
  3. Introduction to Research Project and Company –Inform the SME the questions you have and why you’re asking these questions with reference to the specific company the feedback will be going to. Provide a brief overview of the company, sharing the 1-page overview.
  4. Engage in Discussion Reviewing Targeted Questions
  5. Wrap-Up– Thank the SME for their time, communicate how their feedback will help the company (calling attention to developing products that meet real health care needs), ask the leader if they’d like to learn more about the company – offering to connect them directly to relevant company leads.


Step 5: Execute on Follow-up Items in a Timely Manner 

I’ll go ahead and state the obvious, because it’s critical to building strong relationships. If there’s interest in being connected, connect the SME with the company. As soon as possible. To strengthen the time they’ll spend together, brief the company before their meeting with the SME.

If there is no interest in a connection, set up time with the company to let them know what you learned from the conversation with the SME – answers to the target questions, including details about how the leader approaches this work and what’s most important to them. If the leader declined to be connected to the company, let the company know why they were not interested – perhaps they are building this function internally, waiting on another partner to build it out, or don’t have the budget for something like this in the near future… Any details you can provide back will be helpful to the company, as they seek to better understand the marketplace and what are potential barriers of adoption for their product.


There you have it! Our 5-step process to helping portfolio companies build or strengthen the foundation of their KP relationships. We’ve had significant success with this approach in a variety of situations:

  • Creating targeted exposure
  • Pilot-to-scale partnerships
  • Expansion of existing partnerships
  • Identifying internal champions
  • Creating deeper understanding to support product development that meets healthcare enterprise needs

My hope is that these insights start a conversation with strategic investors, entrepreneurs, health system and health plans, and others working advance meaningful innovation. Let’s take the mystery out of enterprise and smaller stage company partnerships, create more transparency and support innovative companies on their journey to solving real, targeted health care needs. As one of my favorite proverbs says, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”