The seeds for Ajit Verghese’s thoughts about healthcare were planted a decade ago when he founded GoodEatsFor.Me, which provided social media analytics for the hospitality industry. The company’s primary aim was to help establishments make sense
of the copious data generated by their customers across a range of social channels. Despite Verghese’s experience — “I saw an awful lot of things while working in the front and the back of the house at restaurants” — he encountered quite a few self-anointed experts along the way.
“You’d meet somebody and they’d say, ‘Oh, I know all about this. I like restaurants, I like food,’” he recalls. “That’s kind of what we have with health right now: ‘I’ve gotten sick before, I’ve gone to the hospital.’ You need to know and understand all the actors. You need to solve a specific problem.”
Helping health organizations focus on those problems has become one of the primary specialties of Verghese’s current company, Humble Ventures. The firm aims to be the connective tissue between health companies both large and small and academic/research institutions, the investment community, nonprofits and, well, pretty much anyone else interested in driving change. The company also counts working with diverse entrepreneurs among its missions.
With Humble’s intensified focus on health, Verghese has come full circle. He’s the son of two doctors who worked in academic teaching hospitals; he had planned to follow in their professional footsteps. “I saw how much love they gave patients and received back in return,” he says.
But then the internet happened. While Verghese says he was “an OK to good” pre-med student, his family sensed that his attention was shifting. “My dad did me a solid,” he recalls. “He said, ‘You’re into a lot of things. You don’t have to be a doctor.’”
After earning his MBA at Babson, Verghese founded a video-intensive service designed to reorient the recruiting process for high school athletes and coaches. GoodEatsFor.Me came next, with Verghese exiting the venture in 2013. It was a conversation with Eric Kostegan, a Babson grad who serves as Mount Sinai Health System’s deputy chief of corporate development and entrepreneurial relations, that set Verghese on his current path.
“Eric told me about all the amazing entrepreneurial activity taking place at Mount Sinai and about all the smart, innovative people working there, but said that some of the best work either got buried or disappeared,” Verghese says. “There wasn’t really a way to connect those internal entrepreneurial opportunities with what the market was looking for, with the outside community.”
That tricky charge ultimately became one of Humble’s signature offerings. “Open innovation has been tried in consumer packaged goods and other industries for years. Essentially, these companies are saying, ‘Hey, all organizations should recognize that they don’t live in a vacuum,’” Verghese adds. “We realized that if we could create a sandbox where the right kinds of conversations could take place between Mount Sinai and other organizations, we could better understand where patients and customers are getting served, or underserved.”
Humble counts Mount Sinai and Merck among its health clients and Ogilvy as a prized partner. While Verghese says that Humble has operated as a “fundless VC” until now, the next few years will likely see the company “putting in our own capital at a greater rate and on a greater scale. Right now, we’re just uncovering the diamonds.”
At the same time, don’t expect Humble’s sense of mission to evolve all that much in the process. “We’re always going to focus on solving problems, rather than, ‘That’s an amazing piece of technology that’s never going to fit into the workflow of the humans that are supposed to use it,’” Verghese promises. “Health isn’t a place for a Field of Dreams strategy. You can build an amazing ball field, but people won’t always come.”