How does one go from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to the world of health tech startups?
Jerry Harrison, the former guitarist for the 1970s new wave band, the Talking Heads, may be the only person on Earth who can answer that question.
“When I moved to San Francisco in the early 1990s, a friend of mine had a microprocessor company called MicroUnity Engineering and I joined its board of directors,” Harrison said. “From that experience, I began to understand stock options, patents and litigation. I was in the weeds of what makes a company successful.”
From there, Harrison’s next career was born.
In the late 1990s, he started a company called garageband.com (not affiliated with the Apple app), which was an online music community that rated songs from emerging bands. The company was sold to MySpace in 2002. His next venture was in medicine with a company called Ophirex that uses a therapeutic to treat poisonous snake bites. It was there Harrison said he learned about the healthcare industry and navigating the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’ approval process
The experiences in healthcare and crowdsourcing led him to his current position as the co-founder and senior advisor of RedCrow, a San Francisco-based company that runs crowdfunding campaigns for emerging health tech, medtech and biotech companies. He founded the company with Brian Smith, a former Morgan Stanley financial advisor. To date, RedCrow has showcased over 250 fundraising companies raising around $250 million.
RedCrow was recently acquired by Alira Health, a Framingham, Massachusetts-based healthcare advisory company that’s primarily worked in medtech and biopharma. Harrison sees RedCrow helping democratize the funding landscape, similar to what he tried to accomplish in music with garageband.com.
“I liked this idea that investing might not just be for an old boys’ network, the people who have special contacts, live in the right cities, belong to the right club and went to the right college,” Harrison said.
Comparisons to the music biz
In 1983, the Talking Heads’ single “Burning Down the House” reached No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Harrison has found that breaking out as a digital healthcare company in a crowded market is nearly just as hard as reaching that threshold in the music business.
“In both cases, the people that you have around you and the wind that you have at your back really helps you get to the promise land,” Harrison said. “No great song will be great if you don’t get it in front of people.”
Finding the right music producer to help a song get exposure is not unlike finding the right partners and outside talent to bring a health tech product to market, Harrison said. In both music and healthcare investing, he also said being unique is a big part of success.
“The companies that get me excited have a singular idea,” Harrison said. “They’ve invented a new solution and I would say the same thing about music. When a song is almost genre creating, it’s a really great thing.”
Harrison said RedCrow is trying to help unique companies that can change the healthcare landscape but haven’t had the opportunity to do so, often because of locations outside the big funding hubs in New York City and San Francisco. He sees rural health as an area where there’s a lot of potential for disruption.
“I do think when you're talking about rural areas, very often hospitals in those areas are trying to find and invest in some way of reaching those more distant patients,” Harrison said.
The Alira acquisition will help RedCrow provide more than just a platform to crowdfund, Harrison said. With the larger consulting firm’s background and support, RedCrow can help emerging tell their business story, discover more funding opportunities and go through the regulatory development process for drugs, devices and other solutions.
“Alira understands the needs of startups,” said Harrison, who sees this as a way to help RedCrow reach its ultimate goal of being the preferred destination for startup investing. “I want RedCrow to be the place for new companies that want to raise money and raise the profile of their inventions and get advice on how to make their company more successful.”
Harrison’s career in business and technology has lasted about as long as his career in music. And for the foreseeable future, the guitarist -turned-business-advisor is staying on with RedCrow and said he will continue to impart his wisdom on companies.
“I’ve been a musician. And then I became a record producer, and I was also producing movies. And then there’s my third career in starting companies, being on their board of directors and helping them try to be a success. There have been some interesting overlaps. I’ll tell you one thing, I'm not bored,” Harrison said.