Halle Tecco, co-founder of digital health startup accelerator Rock Health, talked to TechRepublic about the best startup characteristics, the future of health tech, and working on multiple ideas at once.
Halle Tecco is successful in three different worlds: venture capital, startups, and non-profits. Well, four worlds if you count the foundation for most of them: healthcare. And she credits her success to a characteristic she has been known for her entire life — empathy.
"I feel other people's pain, literally everything from watching a movie — I have a hard time watching sad movies — to feeling and sensing that other people are suffering and having an internal reaction to that," Tecco said.
Every time she feels that empathy, that urge to help, Tecco asks herself a question: "Do you walk away or think about how you can help them? Doing something is always the right answer."
Tecco is a co-founder and the managing director for Rock Health in its New York City office. The San Francisco-based company is an accelerator for startups in the healthcare sector, providing full service seed funding to support and empower the digital health system.
After eight years in California, Tecco moved to New York earlier this month. She said she came kicking and screaming, as she considers herself a California girl at heart (though she is originally from Ohio).
The reason for the move? To do something bigger than herself and her love for Silicon Valley culture. Tecco wants to expand Rock Health nationally to attract entrepreneurs from all over the place. She wants the next five years to be formative for her professionally and personally. To make sure that happens, she wants to soak in as much information as she possibly can from a new circle of people in a variety of industries.
Tecco sees Rock Health evolving into its own "little think tank," which has surprised her since the accelerator simply grew from a Harvard Business School project.
"That was really an 'aha moment' for me, recognizing that this industry needs new talent more than any other industry, yet it's so hard to break into for many reasons — partially cultural, partially for FDA guidelines and the fear you're going to do something wrong," she said. "And until recently, not a lot of dollars were flowing into the space. That sparked my interest in digital health."
That aha moment came while finishing school in 2010, after Tecco interned at Apple, where she worked with the healthcare and medical apps in the App Store. She didn't see much innovation in the space compared to other areas of the store like lifestyle or games, which upset her.
"We really haven't created ways for people outside of healthcare to come into healthcare. There's a big focus on becoming a doctor, but healthcare is a system that takes all kinds of thinkers — designers, economists, business [people], everyone has something they can contribute to helping our healthcare system to improve."
According to Rock Health, healthcare represents about 18% of the US economy, but was one of the last industries to join the digital world — and it's still moving slowly. But Tecco is serious about changing that, and is making progress. In 2010, she founded the company, which now has more than 60 portfolio companies and partners with big-names like United Healthcare, General Electric, and Deloitte for funding. Rock Health also does original research, including publishing reports annually, which are used by industry leaders as well as the startups participating in the accelerator program.
Tecco's work to help startups succeed doesn't end with her company. Since there were still entrepreneurs and ideas she believed in outside of her day-to-day work, Tecco and her husband decided to become angel investors. They invest in companies that don't necessarily fit with Rock Health. That includes things like a crowdfunding platform, a new wearable, a video game magazine. It's a constant learning process, and one that excites her because she is in control of where the money goes and what it funds.
Then there's the non-profit part of her world where she is perhaps most passionate and is also making progress. In 2006, Tecco founded a non-profit, Yoga Bear, which connects cancer fighters and survivors with free online access to yoga classes specifically designed for the problems and pain that comes along with treatment. Aside from her own non-profit, Tecco can discuss all day the improvements that can be made to US prisons, mental health treatment facilities, food security, and animal rights. She constantly researches the topics on her own and wants to eventually work with organizations through both time and money to tackle these issues and really improve the systems.
"I am pretty involved in just the greater non-profit community, not in any formal way but I am really passionate about doing good," she said. "I find a lot of reward in it and I'm interested in innovative models for positive change."
She'll always strive to learn from the people around her, especially the entrepreneurs she works with. In the next few years, Tecco plans to grow and scale Rock Health, and hopes the move to New York will drive that. Her focus is on helping the companies Rock Health funds to become catalysts for change in the healthcare industry.
"In a few years we will have companies that are pretty sizable, and I'm really looking forward to seeing how you truly build something, and [go for an] IPO. I'm professionally excited about working with entrepreneurs on that to learn a lot," she said.
In her own words...
How do you unplug?
"Not enough working out...I wish I did more of that to unwind. I'm pretty social, so I like going to meetups or dinner with friends. I get energized by being around people. My husband is just the opposite. I really love being around people and talking and learning from them. That's how I relax."
What do you like to read?
"I read a lot of design magazines. My guilty pleasure is Architectural Digest. Lately it's been design because we are redoing our apartment in New York. So it's my focus when I get a chance to sit down and do anything else other than work."
What tech trend excites you most?
"On a macro view, the existing players are excited vs. being skeptical. When I started people were very skeptical, saying 'Will it dehumanize the healthcare industry?' And there still is skepticism amongst doctors and health insurance plans etc., but more and more are warming up to digital health, which is great."
What do you look for in entrepreneurs?
"It all comes down to the team. We've learned time and time again, when you're investing in the early stage, the company is going to evolve so much. It's a very dynamic process, but one thing that should be steady is the founding team — they need to be smart and agile and thoughtful with a bigger vision."
- GE's Venkatakrishnan: Engineer. Startup Leader. Manufacturing Innovator. Trekki
- Laura Weidman Powers: CODE2040 Founder. Minority Advocate. Discomforter.
- Scott Sandell: VC. NVCA Chairman. Rower. Always hungry.
- CloudFlare's Michelle Zatlyn: Co-Founder. Cloud Pioneer. Limo Driver.