Brad McCarty • January 4, 2018

Around the halls of AngelMD we often talk about investing in what you know. This is the thesis upon which we’ve built the company, and so it’s an exciting moment for us when members of the network echo how important that sentiment is to them. We recently had the chance to speak with Dr. Navin Subramanian, a Houston-based orthopedic spine surgeon, whose own experiences are a testament to the power of the AngelMD network.

Dr. Subramanian is an interesting case for an Investor Profile. Normally we focus on investors who have been Syndicate leaders, or those who have the time to serve on AngelMD’s Scientific Advisory Board (SAB). Dr. Subramanian has not yet worked in either of these capacities, but he is a significant investor in the AngelMD Catalyst Fund (the money with which AngelMD, as an entity, invests directly into startups) and has joined a number of syndicates as well. As such, he’s a good example of the typical investor in the AngelMD network, so his experiences should speak to many of you who read this.

Beyond the money, what is your motivation for investing?

One thing that we’re driven to in healthcare is the idea that everything revolves around the doctor-patient relationship. That’s true to an extent, but that relationship is evolving. We’re just so focused on our training and experiences, and on the personal interaction, that we forget all the other things that surround healthcare. There is so much innovation, technology, and an evolution to a digital era that the future holds. For me, investing gives me the opportunity to see new technology and ideas that otherwise I might not have thought of or heard of. Those ideas and technology can lead to so many other possibilities.

You’ve been an active Angel Investor for a few years now. Looking back, what would you have done differently?

I wish that I’d known how to truly evaluate a product. There are analytical ways available, but I was using more esoteric and anecdotal ways. Today you can use data analysis to get a really good indication of the viability of a company or product.  The AngelMD platform allowed me to do that, and it’s sort of like Moneyball for investing.

There is still value to what we call “the eye test”. What are the impressions that we’re getting? But that’s just one aspect of whether a company will become successful. I want to know how they’ll be different than other companies that have tried to do the same thing, so it’s important to take those impressions and combine that with evidence-based investing.

What gets you excited about the potential in a deal?

First and foremost, what clinical applications it has. Is it piercing a market that is otherwise untouched, or only has limited penetration? Particularly with spine, I want to know if it’s actually new or just a regurgitation of something we’ve seen in the past. I also like seeing things that are a novel approach to a previous treatment. Is there IP that can be protected, and have they done so?

On the other side of that equation, I want to see things that will save a physician time. It goes back to the idea of the doctor-patient relationship, and anything that can help to improve that.

How much of a role does healthcare play in your portfolio?

I get deals all the time to invest in areas that I don’t know — like ride-sharing startups and such — but I think you have to invest in what you know when it comes to high risk. For my Angel investing, healthcare makes up over 50 percent of my portfolio. I also don’t use my life savings for high-risk investment. I use money that’s otherwise earmarked for other areas.

What attributes do you want to see in an entrepreneur? 

I want to know their passion. Do they have emotional investment in what they’re doing? I also want to see some personal financial and time investment from them. The technology is really just one piece of the puzzle. I also need to see how they do with marketing, and the general points of running a business.

Is there any advice that you could offer physicians who are looking to invest?

I think the most important thing to me is that I understand my limitations, the primary one being time. But I believe that AngelMD does the work of the due diligence for me, and that’s especially true with the Catalyst Fund. I also know my limitations when it comes to measuring financial viability, and using hard data to find the answers.

What are three things that you’re really excited about right now?

I feel like there’s a revolution coming in spine, and it’s centered around regenerative and digital medicine. When you look back, medicine tends to go through 10-15 year stretches of innovation, starting with the advent of penicillin. This allowed us to finally treat and cure infections. Looking at surgery, anesthesia was a huge revolution. We could finally cure these diseases because we could keep the patient asleep and comfortable long enough to perform the procedures.

More recently we’ve seen a revolution in diagnostic imagery. X-ray became nuclear medicine, CT, and MRI in the 1980s. Then in the 1990s we saw a pharmacological revolution with new medications being invented, allowing us to treat all of these conditions that you previously couldn’t do much for. There was another surgical revolution in the late 90s with the surge of minimally-invasive, laparoscopic, and arthroscopic surgeries. Now we’re poised for another revolution in digital health and regenerative medicine as far as ortho is concerned.

What’s the last book that you recommended to someone?

I love American history, especially related to the American Revolution. The last great book that I read was Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation by Joseph J. Ellis.

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Image Credit: Dr. Navin Subramanian