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Beyond good ideas: How purpose and grit shape and drive start-up success in health care


Physicians and entrepreneurs are smart, but they need persistence and drive to get their businesses past the ‘no’ phase of development.

medical technology tablet concept: © ra2 studio - stock.adobe.com

© ra2 studio - stock.adobe.com

We have all heard about a start-up with a world-changing idea. A start-up facing insurmountable odds, changing an industry, to seemingly become an overnight success. If this narrative seems familiar, that’s because this is the popular story one often hears. The reality, however, is that bringing an idea to life is a long arduous journey. This is especially true for breakthrough technologies where translating and commercializing research takes years. Success here requires more than a good idea. In my experience, success relies on two critical factors: purpose and grit to fulfill said purpose.

The heart of the matter

© Nutromics

Hitesh Mehta
© Nutromics

Purpose is not just a slogan on a wall or a catchy marketing line – it is your company’s raison d'etre. It is a north star that always guides you in the direction you need to head and helps you to stay focused, highlighting other paths you need to avoid. Research from Deloitte shows that purpose-driven companies on average achieve higher market share grow three times faster and have higher satisfaction ratings than their competitors.

Often start-ups can begin with a solution in mind and look for problems that it can solve. However, my journey in health care, and towards entrepreneurship, is driven by a purpose my co-founder Peter Vranes and I share: to put an end to preventable deaths in the health care setting. Armed with a purpose to fulfill, we started on the journey of how this could be done. We focused on the problem, and actively avoided falling in love with a solution.

We did this by speaking to several doctors all over the world and quickly learned that there was a very real problem they faced in clinical decision making due to a lack of continuous diagnostic technologies, especially for dynamic targets (like antibiotics) and fast-changing conditions (like sepsis). At the same time, we witnessed the dramatic improvements that continuous glucose monitors had made in the field of diabetes and turned our attention to the question: How would you monitor other biomarker targets continuously and in real time? A technology like this could provide valuable and timely insights to doctors, helping them save lives.

Finding the answer to this question resulted in many pivots as we explored a range of options from nutritional patches to an even better glucose monitor. Looking back, in some ways it would have been much easier to pivot on the problem and build a consumer product. Here again, our purpose helped us to redefine our playing field and stay focused on what mattered most – solving for the urgent, unmet needs of the doctors we had spoken to because we were led by impact. This is why when we read about a DNA-based sensing technology that had been developed at the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) we knew that this was potentially the key to fulfilling our purpose.

Add a little bit of grit

One word every start-up founder is familiar with is “no.” This is a word you will hear innumerable times throughout your journey, and it never gets easier. It is this word that can wear down most entrepreneurs and make them want to give up.

Here, grit is an essential tool in a founder’s toolkit, helping you to persist with the journey and see it through to the end. In fact, research by Angela Duckworth, PhD, shows that grit is a key predictor of success.

Peter and I flew from Australia to the United States to meet with USCB in 2020 to license the DNA-based sensing technology we wanted. However, we were told “no” because the technology was already sub-licensed to another company and promised to a third when the rights reverted in a few weeks. At the same time, news cycles were dominated by COVID-19 and imminent lockdowns. With time against us and our seemingly one chance slipping away, it would have been easy to give up. Instead of giving up, we reached out to the company that currently owned the sub-license and asked for a meeting. We shared our purpose with the founders and after ten minutes of deliberation, they agreed to give us the exclusive license, which we own to date.

The magic combination

It is inspiring what individuals can achieve when purpose and grit are combined. Leaders that understand and channel this create more than a business. They create purpose-led organizations that attract incredible individuals who believe in the purpose and have the grit to see it through.

Consider the American clothing company for outdoor enthusiasts, Patagonia, with more than $1 billion dollars in annual sales. In my opinion, the company has always prioritized purpose over profit. This resonates with their team who have stuck by the company through challenging times, and leading it to be one of Fortune’s 100 best companies to work for. Their purpose is a key part of their culture and all they do.

While we have a long way to go as a start-up, we have found that purpose and grit have created the right ingredients to build a great culture and incredible team. Our purpose has allowed us to attract incredible talent from over 15 countries, and companies such as Abbott, Goldman Sachs, and Universal Biosensors to join our team. Our team of 56 are an extraordinary group of founders, scientists, and start-up operators with a shared mission to revolutionize diagnostics. They have been right by our side through the ups and downs of fundraising and the challenges that accompany commercializing revolutionary technology, all working towards the day that we can save a life with our wearable Lab-on-a-Patchä.

The path of an entrepreneur is not an easy one, considering 90% of start-ups fail. It is full of insurmountable odds, naysayers, and impossible problems. You may be tempted to stay in your lane or even give up. However, purpose and grit are your armor. If you have courage to persist – to wake up every morning and remember what you’re fighting for – you will succeed in changing the world.

Hitesh Mehta is the co-founder and chief operating officer of Nutromics. He is a corporate consultant turned entrepreneur who has more than a decade of experience in health care consulting. His vision is to make health care more accessible and inclusive globally.

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