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This week, the experts at the D.C. chapter of the business mentoring group SCORE offer a prescription for helping a health-related small business thrive in a changing market. – Dan Beyers

The entrepreneur

More than 24 years ago, Jean Drummond hung up her white medical coat and set her sights on federal government contracting in the health industry. As a strategy to expand her company, she became 8(a) certified through the U.S. Small Business Administration. She graduated from the SBA 8(a) program and grew HCD International to a sustainable government contractor.

“It has been an incredibly arduous process, but also quite rewarding,” she said.

Committed to a vision of ensuring quality health care for all people, no matter the type of health insurance or ability to pay, Jean was determined to gain a greater understanding of the federal health policies that guide the delivery of care between the patient, provider and payer. Jean confronted the issues of how to bridge the gap, and how to build a profitable company when our policy makers are in the midst of much change and uncertainty. Today HCD International has an extensive health policy practice that creates and implements innovative community outreach strategies to improve the quality of care for vulnerable populations. The services include health policy analysis, data analytics, technical writing, health IT, and social marketing and outreach. She has successfully collaborated with major health care providers and successfully won contracts with federal, state and private sector agencies.

The challenge

Given the dramatic and frequent changes, and uncertainty in the health care market, how does a small company respond? Jean began by conducting market research to support her strategy. Health care costs were astronomical and continuing to escalate. Health care outcomes remained poor. Many people are uninsured and underinsured, creating a critically off-balance system. The Affordable Care Act was the response to the challenge. Although it was not perfect, it did pave the way for innovative systems reform. But many challenges relative to implementation remain. Jean’s quest was to find the right opportunity for HCDI.

“How should I pivot and leverage HCDI’s special capabilities to support these needs, despite the very confused, politically charged, new environment?”

The advice

Bruce Gitlin, SCORE counselor, Washington DC chapter:

“HCDI must leverage its past performances in the key areas of health policy, quality measures, and consumer engagement. HCDI needs to quickly identify a niche that fits its unique skill set, capacity and successes within this large and confusing market. This starts by segmenting the market into small pieces and ranking the segments by a set of criteria (e.g. size of opportunity, strength of competition, fit with skills, capture chances, etc.). Then develop a value proposition and strategic roadmap that leads to HCDI becoming a recognized leader in that niche. The value proposition should be a short statement that tells the customer your solution to their problem, why it is better than competition and why it is credible. In addition, the company should build a board of advisors (compensated on an hourly basis, if necessary) to bring state-of-the-art advice. Engage them at least monthly and use them to keep on top of the expected rapid changes in market direction. Carefully research who are the experts in the field and develop a reason why they would help – what’s in it for them? Overall, keep the focus and understand where the customer pain (real or politically driven) is greatest.”

The reaction

Drummond:

“I appreciate Bruce’s simple, strategic and meaningful advice.”

HCDI was able to gain the wealth of subject matter expertise to build the niche without a continual drain on the bottom line.

SCORE is a nonprofit association dedicated to entrepreneur education. Looking for some advice on a new business, or need help fixing an existing one? The Greater Washington DC Chapter provides confidential counseling and mentoring from more than 50 successful executives across the region. Contact us at capbiznews@washpost.com or request a mentor at www.washingtondc.score.org.