In 2015, Dr. Darren J. Sommer founded Innovator Health, LLC after realizing that the telemedicine marketplace — an emerging field where health practitioners use telecommunications technology to remotely diagnose and treat patients — wasn’t helping to foster strong physician-patient relationships.
According to a 2014 study by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), more than 7,300 veterans committed suicide in that year alone. To put that number in perspective, since the war on terror began in 2001, the total number of veterans we’ve lost in combat operations is less than 7,000.
A physician himself, Darren wanted to help veterans, especially those in rural communities, receive the care and support they deserve. His answer was Innovator Health: a telemedicine platform geared at making remote healthcare experiences more personal and engaging.
Recognizing that relationships lie at the heart of effective healthcare, Innovator Health aims to bring telemedicine to life by creating encounters that are just as meaningful as an in-person visit. To that end, Innovator Health’s patented technology allows the physician to appear life-sized, establish direct eye contact with patients, and interact in a 3-D environment.
Darren’s close collaboration with his COO, Dennis J. Kopp, has enabled Innovator Health, LLC to make major inroads in helping rural and underserved populations to access quality healthcare.
Tackling common challenges faced by early-stage tech startups
As veteran entrepreneurs running a fledgling startup, Darren and Dennis faced the following key challenges:
- How to sell to the government (and specifically, the VA)
- Where to secure funding
- How to protect and monetize their IP
Funding, in particular, is one of the biggest challenges confronting early-stage tech startups. But Innovator Health didn’t want to bring in external investors.
To accomplish this goal, the company turned to loans and self-funding — and they’ve been remarkably successful in their efforts. To date, their funding has primarily been through SBA, lines of credit, and personal savings. To further cut costs, they also used innovative strategies to conduct detailed market studies, capitalizing on free data already available on the internet.
Advice for fellow entrepreneurs
When asked if he had any entrepreneurial insights to share, Darren said, “Other entrepreneurs should listen to their customers and what the market is telling you. Do not put yourself in a position where you cannot be nimble and adjust course.”
For fellow veteran entrepreneurs specifically, Darren and Dennis advised:
- Don’t give up! Obstacles present opportunities for you to grow and learn.
- Don’t rush to get investors. Instead, think about the business decisions you’d make if you had all the money in the world — and then maximize the budget you do have to pursue those decisions as far as possible. Chances are, with some creative thinking, you can get your company pretty far down the road of success without venture capital.
For other entrepreneurs, Darren and Dennis suggested a “hack”: Ask every successful entrepreneur you meet about their favorite business book — then add that book to your reading list. On their part, they recommend checking out “Good to Great” by Jim Collins and “Crossing the Chasm” by Geoffrey Moore.
According to Darren, “Innovator Health today is not the company/vision it was in 2015.” Businesses evolve — and part of the entrepreneurial challenge is to evolve along with the industry landscape.
He’s also found Bunker Labs to be a great resource for getting advice and building your network — all of which can help to grow your business in the long run.
On that note, Darren and Dennis are always looking to connect with new folks who can help them overcome their professional challenges. If you find yourself in the same boat or have successfully tackled similar roadblocks in your own career, don’t hesitate to reach out to them!
About Dr. Darren J. Sommer
Dr. Darren J. Sommer’s military background includes:
- 6 years active and reserve service with the USCG
- 17 years active and reserve service with the US Army
- 15-month combat deployment to Afghanistan in 2007 with the 82nd Airborne Division
- 3-month deployment to Kuwait at Camp Arifjan’s Combat Support Hospital
- Flight Surgeon trained, Airborne qualified, CAB, CMB, and Bronze Star — among other devices and awards
In addition, Darren is a father of 3 and has been married for 22 years. His oldest son, Austin, currently serves on active duty with the US Coast Guard (USCG).