Glafira Marcon is our Minnesota Tech Community Champion 2016
When Healthcare.MN was formed in 2013 by entrepreneurs and for entreprenuers, it marked a movement in Minnesota at the convergence of healthcare and technology. For two years, group founders — Pete Kane, Thompson Aderinkomi, and Solome Tibebu — built their meetup to fast become the place for health tech startups to gather, to learn, and to launch.
As time passed, so did their leadership. Kane and Tibebu gravitated to the coasts while Aderinkomi went all in on his fledgling startup. Yet Healthcare.MN didn’t stagnate or wither away throughout these changes, instead, the growing pains have since brought out the best in this community under the new direction of volunteer Glafira Marcon.
Take us back, what was your first exposure to Healthcare.MN?
I had finished my degree in international development and international health when I soon realized that I didn’t really know anything about the U.S. healthcare system. So I started networking with different people throughout the Twin Cities, and I really wanted to know everything that was going on, not just the business side, but the delivery of service, the policy, etc.
I had made my way to Healthcare.MN and went to a meetup met with Pete Kane at that time and just started volunteering wherever needed. I found that there were a lot of great people in that group and it really showed the strength of this community, that the value that was there for me to learn and opportunities to give back.
At what point and how did you become involved at a deeper organization level?
It’s kind of a blur…there we a lot of tasks and I was just covering more and more bases on the fly.
Solome had left the group around that time, so Pete and Thompson and myself began meeting more frequently, it was more about showing up than anything formal for a year or so there.
…and at what point did you end up taking over?
Thompson was very involved in Healthcare.MN up until his company RetraceHealth started growing, and Pete was, at the time, pursuing Startup Venture Loft, everything was really in flux for a while. Then I officially became lead organizer in October 2015.
What motived you to want to be come the new face of Healthcare.MN?
Well, I didn’t exactly want to, at least not at first because I didn’t believe in my ability to be a good leader. I was open to it though and began speaking with our members and listened to their needs and moved forward with them top of mind. I was also working full time and had a lot of other commitments so the task was actually pretty daunting at first.
What was it that made you believe?
It was a combination of things. First, I felt a sense of responsibility to the group and to the broader healthcare community here. Encouragement from people both in the group and outside of it made a big difference, that was really energizing and I realized that I could do it because they were supporting me and vice versa.
When you think about innovation in healthcare, you picture men in plaid shirts, but in health care there are a lot of people just who don’t fit that description that can make a big impact on the industry. That notion was a driver for me, to foster diversity of the group as well, not just in membership, but in programming and thinking.
Taking a step back, how did you get to where you are today?
I was born in San Francisco and was raised between there and the East Bay. I went to high school in Albany, California and then came to Minnesota to attend Macalester where I focused on international studies with an emphasis on health.
I was born to two Russian immigrants and was always kind of the interpreter between them and the U.S. in a cultural and language sense. A lot of their challenges and our interactions were with the health care system which were always the hardest ones.
I also remember at one point, my mother had started an adoption agency centered around children from Eastern Europe. I observed many differences around them, who were often times physically, emotionally, or mentally under-developed for their age. This really made me curious as to why?
Growing up, I became passionate about human rights in general and then when I randomly took an international public health class, everything merged together in my mind. Health is both local and global, it’s about the well being of people and quality of life, and it’s something that is measurable. That’s all really exciting to me.
What do you do for a living?
Healthcare.MN does have some earned income, but it doesn’t pay me. I work in Optum’s Innovation, Research, and Development unit. I started working here about a year after I got involved with Healthcare.MN, after working full-time at a community health center.
I spend part of my time working on HealthState — our geographic information system (GIS) platform, focusing on bringing GIS consulting services to businesses across our enterprise in order to visualize public and proprietary health care data and conduct geospatial analysis. We use these data and tools to help inform interventions, choose new facilities, and better target outreach and marketing.
About 2 weeks into working with HealthState, I realized that these capabilities could be very helpful for Community Health Workers (CHWs) and Care Managers (roles similar to the one that I had just left). I got the okay to spend about half my time exploring the problems and needs in this space for a few months, and then helped put together a business case for a product. The Optum Community Resource Finder (OCRF) has been a product for about a year and I wear many hats — I am the human-centered designer (of sorts), business development lead, customer implementation and relationship manager, and work on strategy for the future. We are currently in the process of transitioning the OCRF to an existing business unit to operationalize and scale it.
I think my full-time job helps me think about Healthcare.MN from the business/product perspective, and approach the design of it from a similar mix of lean startup and human-centered design. That, and there are many Optum/UHG employees who are members of Healthcare.MN, and see the group as their window into or connection with the startup world.
Serving a community through Healthcare.mn and working on problems that I am passionate about at Optum very much fulfills me and helps me balance design, strategy, and direct service.
How much time and energy do you regularly invest into Healthcare.MN?
On average, 10-15/ hours a week for over a year now.
What drives you to continue investing as you do?
I am very driven to support people and companies in Minnesota that are changing the world everyday by tackling very real healthcare problems. I am motivated by serving a community — much of my role entails listening to peoples’ needs, and helping them get connected to the right people and resources.
I’m noticing that this is a trend in my work as well — at Open Cities Health Center I helped patients get connected to resources that addressed their basic needs, and at Optum I’m developing a tool that enables other community health workers to do that at scale.
How have you seen the group change since taking over?
Our membership base has just about doubled to ~1,500 members this year. Our 2016 goal was to have 12 events and we’ve done 20 with over 1,000 unique attendees throughout. There are a lot of other internal measurements we have as well that are all growth and value signs.
What does the future of Healthcare.MN look like?
A strong healthcare innovation ecosystem that is sector/industry agnostic — and I hope Healthcare.MN will be instrumental in identifying and leveraging the strengths of our ecosystem and helping fill the gaps.
Personally, I am not solely focused on startups and technology. I care about working across sectors and solutions to improve healthcare, regardless of if it is through a startup, large company, non-profit, etc. Startups are very important in this equation as they are in many cases the inventors. They come up with ingenious solutions that would get lost or take a long time for a large company or resource-constrained nonprofit to create. In some cases they can partner with established partners to grow and scale. Startups are also inspiring and push established companies and organizations to innovate. They create a healthy “fire under the …” of established players. They also provide a way for these players to engage in innovation in low risk ways. I’m saying all of this to just get across that I think we are stronger together and we need each other.
Minnesota on is on the map and recognized as a leader in the world for healthcare innovation and startups. We in Minnesota know that we are leaders, but I think it will be valuable to be recognized in the country and world.
I am a systems-level thinker and will focus much of 2017 on understanding the healthcare innovation ecosystem in Minnesota and building more intentional and strategic partners with other groups and organizations in this space.
The original founders of Healthcare.MN’s vision was to ‘make Minnesota the best place to build a healthcare startup’. That is still our vision, and as I get deeper into this work, I am driven by the questions: why is or isn’t Minnesota the best place to launch a healthcare startup? Is Minnesota best for launching startups or building and scaling them? Does it make sense for our vision to also include or change to ‘Minnesota is the leader in healthcare innovation’?
Thank you for your time, commitment and service to Minnesota’s tech community!