By the time prolific entrepreneur, writer, and speaker Bunny Ellerin co-founded New York City Health Business Leaders (NYCHBL), she already had a long record of accomplishments. Among them, she founded the Harvard Business School Healthcare Alumni Association, a very successful network designed to keep the school’s business leaders in touch. She and her colleague Dr. Yin Ho decided to bring that same networking ability to healthcare business leaders in New York City to foster connection and innovation. PM360 spoke with Bunny about the founding and the mission behind NYCHBL.
PM360: In 2009, you co-founded New York City Health Business Leaders with Dr. Yin Ho. What propelled you to found this organization?
Bunny Ellerin: Today, I am the Director of the Healthcare and Pharmaceutical Management Program at Columbia Business School, but at the time I was working in InterbrandHealth’s Research and Analytics division. Yin and I had met several years prior through the Harvard Business School network. We had both moved to New York, and were building our healthcare careers here.
We lamented the fact that there wasn’t an organization in NYC that came close to the HBS network that we knew of—in terms of smart, talented leaders, and senior people who wanted to talk about trends in the healthcare industry.
Yin and I were mystified by that, because we thought of NYC as an important player in healthcare. We have pharma in and around the city, world-class hospitals, major payers, tons of health media and advertising agencies, investment banking, consulting. Plus 2009 was a time when health tech was starting to bubble up.
So we thought it would be good to connect people in healthcare with each other. My mantra became: Healthcare is one big continuum. All of the sectors touch each other so we have to work together and collaborate.
So you were able to see the big picture. What, then, was your vision?
Our vision was to bring people together who were interested and passionate about healthcare, who wanted to understand industry trends that they may not know about—but should. We also wanted to see the different parts of the system interact. From early on, it was all about cross-sector pollination—people from all sectors in the same room.
How did it start connecting for you? What happened when you initially launched?
Yin and I are both entrepreneurial and already built substantial networks. We had worked in startups and larger companies and had access to distinct pools of healthcare professionals. We knew MBAs, doctors, consultants, lawyers, clinicians, and the like. At the time, there wasn’t necessarily any group like the one we were building.
Our focus was to look at the key issues of the day. We both have a good sense of what the top trends are at any one time. We assemble diverse panels around an issue to examine it from many different sides.
Because the people who knew us had come to other events we held, they were confident we could provide high-quality content. They were very helpful in helping us get NYCHBL off the ground.
What kind of industry changes have you seen since co-founding NYCHBL?
I’ve seen a lot more interconnection among industry players than I did before. People in pharma are interested in what payers are doing; doctors are more interested in what digital health people are doing. People are now more aware of the interrelated nature of healthcare, and although it’s tough to break down the silos, people understand that it’s critical. We see those changes happening, and that’s very gratifying, because it is an important step
NYCHBL has become a great success. What are you most proud of after accomplishing this feat?
We connect people who might never have met each other but for a particular event. And maybe they go on to do something together, they form a partnership, or one hires the other. That’s what creates momentum in an ecosystem. There’s got to be business happening in order for an ecosystem to function well.
NYCHBL has been a catalyst for that. Our goal is for New York to become a true center of healthcare, be seen as such, and attract big players and the leaders who are creating new business models. It’s rewarding that we’ve been able to play a part.