How Suneel Gupta hopes to bring lessons from the digital health world to Congress

By Jonah Comstock
04:47 pm

When Suneel Gupta founded Rise Health in 2013, his inspiration was his father. He shared with MobiHealthNews that he started the digital health company after seeing his father struggle with making lifestyle changes after a triple bypass surgery. But for Gupta's latest endeavor — a Democratic run for Michigan's hotly-contested 11th District — it's his mother who serves as his inspiration.

"My mom was a refugee in her early childhood," Gupta told MobiHealthNews. "She grew up as a refugee in the 1940s in India. If you’re a woman at that time, at that place you’re told that you don’t have a future. You’re told that your future belongs if anything in the kitchen learning how to cook and clean. That wasn’t good enough for her. So she found a way to learn science and math, and she found a way to put herself through school. And she found a way to get herself here to Michigan. And in 1967, 51 years ago, she found a way to become Ford Motor Company’s first ever female engineer. That is how our family established its roots. She met my father and both of them were in the auto industry for over 30 years, and then in the same day in 2001 they both got laid off."

Having an auto industry career come to such an unsanctimonious end is not an uncommon story in Michigan, and Gupta — whose mother appears in his YouTube ad — feels it connects him to a lot of Michigan voters. It also connects him to his digital health past.

Learn on-demand, earn credit, find products and solutions. Get Started >>

"That story has driven my whole career including everything I’ve done in digital health, because since then my sort of goal has been how do you actually create social and responsible businesses that do good for people and that actually create jobs," he said. "Digital health is a great space to do that because you can actually help people, you can see the effect of what you’re doing day to day and you can create businesses that actually do good and do well."

Political analysts are looking to Republican Dave Trott's empty seat as a barometer for a political season where Democrats are working hard to flip the house. With a primary scheduled for August 7, the race has a number of entrants on both the Republican and Democrat side, with no obvious leader yet.

But Gupta's run should interest digital health afficianados because the relatively young space hasn't fielded a lot of political hopefuls. Gupta, who sold Rise Health to One Medical Group for $20 million, says it's a great training ground.

"First of all, healthcare is a very important issue out here. How are we going to extend coverage for the people that need it the most? I’m the one candidate in this race who actually has healthcare experience," he said. "But second of all, I’ve been a problem solver. Healthcare has been a complicated space. Solving problems and being able to deliver quality healthcare to people is easier said then done. And we’ve been able to create a track record for doing that, which took creative problem solving, and it took a lot of hard work, and it took a determination to get real results. Those are the things we’re missing right now in our public arena, is people who have a track record for getting things done and delivering real results to the people who need it the most. I will be bringing the healthcare expertise that I’ve built, but also the energy and problem solving that went in to creating a successful business that helped improve the lives of people and created jobs."

And job creation is Gupta's number one issue. Specifically, he thinks he can bring tech jobs to the state by building programs that encourage entrepreneurs like him to do their innovating at home, rather than running away to the east or west coast.

"People sometimes forget that Michigan was Silicon Valley before Silicon Valley was Silicon Valley," he said. "And I think people here all know and agree that we have the talent, the infrastructure, and the hard work ethic to be an epicenter again, particularly when it comes to connected vehicles. We also know that cities around the world want to be the home for what comes next with vehicles, and I want that to be here in Michigan. [...] I’ve been lecturing at the University of Michigan and I always ask when I’m in front a group of students ‘How many of you want to start a company or join a startup over the next few years?’ Without fail, at least 80 percent of them will raise their hands. We need to make sure that they’re doing that here. Because I think if we can make sure they’re doing that here and they’re bringing that entrepreneurial talent and energy and the jobs that they’re creating here, then we won’t have to worry about companies like Amazon putting us on their short list. We’ll be putting them on ours."