2016 Early Career Award: Q&A with Jonathan Baran

// Biomedical Engineering

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Jonathan Baran

Co-founder and CEO, healthfinch; BSBME ’08, MSBME ’10,

Recipient of the 2016 College of Engineering Early Career Achievement Award, Nov. 11, 2016.

 

How or why did you choose to attend college at UW-Madison?

I was born in Appleton, and went to high school in Cincinnati, Ohio. However, I always felt like a Wisconsinite and knew I’d find my way back. So that, combined with the fact that the engineering program was a top program in the country, brought me back to Wisconsin.

 

Why did you choose engineering as your major?

I see healthcare as the biggest challenge facing our country’s economy over the next decade and I’ve always been motivated by the impact I could make on this problem. I thought about medical school, but quickly concluded that in this role, I would have an extremely limited impact on our healthcare system. Instead, I looked at engineering and technology as the way to make my mark. Technology has been the driver that has transformed every industry for the better (except healthcare), and by making it my profession, I knew I would be setting myself up for making the biggest impact.

 

Who was your favorite engineering professor and why?

The professors that influenced me the most were Willis Tompkins, John Webster and Patricia Brennan. When I look back on my engineering degree, the single biggest takeaway was the confidence to solve complex problems. You may be surprised that the engineering coursework didn’t come easy to me. In fact, I sometimes felt like a subpar engineer compared with my peers! However, I learned how to break down complex problems and solve them piece by piece as I worked my way to the answers. All three of those professors taught me how to learn and think critically to get through complex problems.

 

When you were a student, what was your favorite place to hang out on campus?

Definitely the Engineering Centers Building; I spent many late nights there studying and working on side projects.

 

What’s your fondest memory of your time on campus?

My fondest memories were in graduate school as I was beginning to get introduced to entrepreneurship. Our first business idea was to build a company to provide medical devices to emerging countries. It wasn’t the best idea, but we spent many, many hours in the lab on that project. And, I spent a lot of time learning how to start a business.

 

How did your experience in the College of Engineering shape your career path?

I credit my time as a graduate student as being most transformative because I learned to follow my passion. I finished undergrad and then I went to work for a big company, and I learned that the career path that I had gotten into wasn’t something I was passionate about.  In addition, I saw my co-workers who were equally uninspired by their work and I asked myself, “Was this how I was going to spend my next 30 years?” So, I came back to UW for grad school and had the opportunity to work with incredibly intelligent, diverse people and to find my passion, which turned out to be entrepreneurship. I learned that when you follow your passion you “never have to work a day in your life.”

 

What is your current title and company?

I’m the co-founder and CEO of healthfinch. Today, the average physician spends up to four hours per day on work outside of direct patient care, completing tasks that are largely routine and repeatable in nature. At healthfinch, we work with healthcare organizations to automate these routine clinical tasks (such as refill requests, pre-visit planning, and care gap identification), which frees up time for physicians and their staff to spend more time with their patients. We started the business in 2011 here in Madison. We now employ over 30 people, will earn a couple million in revenue this year, and have raised $10 million in outside venture capital to date.

 

Of what professional accomplishment are you most proud, and why?

My proudest accomplishment is the team that we have built—currently over 30 people and growing. David Packard (co-founder of Hewlett-Packard) said the reason that a company exists is “to accomplish something collectively that they could not accomplish separately.”  At healthfinch, we have done a spectacular job of building up a team of people who are passionate and motivated about making an impact on healthcare delivery. While others like to look for external validation of success (e.g. how many investment dollars you have raised), to me those are the things that fall into place when you are doing the right thing.

 

What advice would you give students in your discipline today?

As I said, follow your passion and leverage the university’s resources as best you can because once you leave the university a lot of those resources go away, and they’re very valuable.

 

If you had to do it all over again and pick a major other than engineering, what would you choose?

The most natural for me would be an entrepreneurship major or business major, but I wouldn’t change that. Without my engineering degree, I would not be in the position that I am in today.

 

What are your hobbies/interests?

With the birth of my son, Benjamin, last year, my life outside of work is consumed by my family—and I love it. Starting a company comes will all sorts of uncertainty and having certainty at home is very important for staying level-headed. During the warmer months, I enjoy getting out and playing a round of golf and I’m a die-hard Green Bay Packer fan!

Author: Engineering External Relations