Rachel Ryu on Health Engine

An interview with Rachel Ryu, the Managing Director of Health Engine, on how they support early-stage healthcare startups and how to join the team.
February 24, 2024
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Rachel Ryu is a junior at UC Berkeley, double majoring in Math and Computer Science. She is one of the Managing Directors at Health Engine. Health Engine is a student-led healthcare startup accelerator. They have accelerated 36 companies over 5 cohorts since 2020. I talked with Rachel to learn more about how Health Engine supports the founders they work with and how to join the internal team.


  • Health Engine is open to all early-stage healthcare startups. You don’t need to be affiliated with Berkeley to apply to the accelerator program.

  • Rachel mentioned you would be a great fit if you’re working on a tech-enabled solution to healthcare problems like Shimmer and Ferrum. They tend to avoid medical devices, therapeutics, and drug development companies with significant regulatory hurdles.

  • Health Engine seeks knowledgeable and passionate students regarding healthcare, startups, and entrepreneurship. They don’t recruit every semester, but they are always open to hearing from you if you want to join the team – email one of the MDs or Directors expressing your interest.

Interview Transcription

Kieran: Thanks, Rachel, for joining me today. To kick us off, do you want to introduce yourself?

Rachel: I’m Rachel. I’m one of the Managing Directors at Health Engine. I’m a junior at Berkeley studying Math and Computer Science. Health Engine is a student-run accelerator that works with early-stage projects in healthcare. We don’t focus on founders from (one) University, although some of our alums hail from Berkeley. We focus on founders who are building in health tech. So, they can be from all around the world and (enter the program at) different stages (in their company’s journey) – just with the unified goal of building something cool to improve people’s lives and solve the mess that is healthcare today.

Kieran: Health Engine is run by the Phoenix Consulting Group, another student-led organization at UC Berkeley. How would you describe the relationship between the two?

Rachel: Health Engine was founded by a group of Phoenix Consulting Group members. Phoenix was the group that had been here longer. It’s the big consulting group for undergrads at Berkeley. Back in 2020, some students from Phoenix thought, “Hey, what if we start a startup accelerator in healthcare?” We have a lot of projects with different pharma, biotech, and small to large corporations in healthcare. With this network, knowledge, and a tremendous ecosystem for healthcare right now, they thought to start a healthcare accelerator. So, these students founded Health Engine in 2020. We’ve been around since, and up until recently, Health Engine’s internal team was sourced directly from Phoenix. Members of Phoenix who may have finished their consulting projects or didn’t want to do consulting anymore and wanted to work on something else would work on Health Engine. This past semester was the first time we recruited students outside of Phoenix. We did a recruitment process that was separate from Phoenix’s recruitment process. We directly interviewed people from outside of Phoenix. Lots of undergrads were interested, and that was really exciting. We have a team of around 10-13 right now.

– let’s start with questions directed to help healthcare founders considering Health Engine – 

Kieran: Can you give an overview of the admission process?

Rachel: We accept startups twice a year for our two batches. The first one is in the fall. That application comes out in July. The second batch is in the spring. That application will come out in December or January. So, the next time you can apply will be this upcoming December or January. The application itself is a series of questions. We’ll ask you things like:

  • How did you come up with this idea?

  • What unique insight do you have into the problem you’re trying to solve?

  • Who are the founders, and why are you the best team to solve this problem?

  • How much money have you raised? Who did you raise money from?

  • How much progress have you made on the product? What stage are you at?

That’s a rundown of basically everything we ask in the application. Then, we’ll screen through and select some startups for interviews. The interview is a conversation with myself and other members of the team. We’ll ask you questions based on your application, dig deeper into some questions we might have, get to know the team better, and see if you all would be a good fit for our community, resources, and program. So, it’s just a two-step application process. Then, you’ll find out and join our community. We accept small batches of startups. We only accept 6-9 startups per batch. We do this because we don’t want to spread our resources too thin. We’re student-led, and our team isn’t big. We have resources that only apply to certain startups working on specific problems. We want to make sure you get value out of the program. Second, we pride ourselves on a tight-knit community of health tech founders. That’s hard to do when hundreds of startups are in one batch. We like to keep things small, intimate, and personalized.

Kieran: What makes a startup a good fit for Health Engine? What are you looking for during the application process?

Rachel: The overarching thing that we look at is whether we think there’s a good fit with the founders. Whether the founders will be active in our community, have good synergy with other companies in the portfolio and mentors, are passionate about healthcare, and it’s a community they would really enjoy being a part of. The second thing that comes to mind is what problem they are working on and how they’re trying to solve it. We tend to work with startups using tech-enabled solutions, like software to solve healthcare administration or care delivery problems. You’d be a great fit if you’re a startup working on a tech-enabled solution to solve healthcare problems. We don’t particularly work with therapeutics, biological drug development companies, or anything heavily regulated, such as medical devices and drugs.

Kieran: What stage are most of the startups that are applying to the program?

Rachel: Most of them have at least an MVP. They can’t just be an idea. We don’t work with founders that early. In terms of funding, many of them have just finished raising a pre-seed or seed round and are looking to raise a Series A or in the midst of raising money. So, that’s the stage at which our founders are usually in. Although, there are some outliers. We’ve accepted companies in the past that were in the process of building their MVP and companies that have raised ~$15 million in funding. There’s a range.

Kieran: The program includes a weekly standup, grants, workshops, clinical connections, and more. Can you share more details of how the curriculum is structured and what is covered?

Rachel: I can talk about it on a week-to-week basis. Every week, our startups have a standup on Mondays. During this 30-45 minute standup, our founders gather together, share updates, and any asks or discussion questions they have. This is a really important part of their community. Community is a huge part of our mission at Health Engine. We’re trying to create a space where founders can candidly talk about the problems they are facing, and because they are working with providers, payers, and healthcare, they have many things to discuss. This is an excellent space for discussion. On Wednesdays, we bring a speaker or host an activity or event for the startups. Our speakers are successful founders in health tech. Most recently, we had one of the co-founders of Hippocratic AI speak to our startups. You can see that on our social media. We update that every time a speaker comes in. Mentors in our network will come in to do workshops or maybe give feedback on pitches. We’ll have industry experts, like VPs at top companies in healthcare or big tech companies trying to break into healthcare, talk about their view on the industry and what healthcare and health tech will look like. So, there is a range of topics, and different speakers come in. We try to curate it to be helpful for the specific batch of 6-9 startups we’re working with. At the end of the entire 3-month program, we have a Demo Day. We invite people in our investor network, people from Berkeley, and our partners and mentors to come together to listen to the pitches from our cohort. That’s when startups looking to fundraise can get new investor connections. We also try to host events and in-person mixers so they can feel integrated in the community and go to meetups to talk about founding and healthcare with other folks.

Kieran: What are the biggest opportunities to improve Health Engine regarding how you support founders?

Rachel: The biggest thing that comes to mind for our internal team is knowing more about healthcare. We screen for domain expertise when we interview potential people to join our internal team. We want to be a team of students who can provide feedback or useful information to these founders. That’s one area that we’re constantly trying to improve on. I think that’s also along the lines that we want to be a team that’s always learning about the space. For the program at large, we want to get to a point where we do great work with our startups, and startups apply to Health Engine without us having to reach out. We did start kind of a couple of years ago. Until now, we haven’t had an extensive network or past success to attract startups. We’ve been reaching out to thousands of startups to apply. So, reaching that point would be great, and I think it would be a reflection and testament to the good work we do for our startups.

Kieran: What are some of the startups that you’ve worked with in the past? How do you engage with the alumni of the program?

Rachel: We’ve accelerated four cohorts and are currently in our fifth. In total, it’s 36 companies. I think all of them are super interesting. For example, one of our cohort’s startups is working on integrating AI solutions to detect diseases or read X-ray images in hospitals. There’s a significant barrier to hospitals adopting AI and tech in their systems because they are not tech companies. They raised a pretty big seed round recently. We also have companies that are working on the consumer side of healthcare. One of them from a couple of cohorts back is working on a personalized ADHD coaching platform for people with ADHD. The founders themselves were recent graduates of Berkeley and Stanford. They have ADHD themselves, and we’re working on a better solution for people with ADHD that isn’t as expensive and is more personalized. Those are two companies on opposite ends of our spectrum regarding the startups we work with. One sells to hospitals, and the other sells to consumers through a digital app.

– now, let’s transition to questions to help students who want to join the Health Engine internal team –  

Kieran: Can you give an overview of the application process for internal team members?

Rachel: Domain expertise is one factor. Another is, have you built anything in the past? Are you naturally passionate about building and owning your own things? A lot of the work at Health Engine relies on people who are very proactive and like to take ownership. That’s one thing that we look for and ask in our interviews. The other would be a passion and interest for entrepreneurship or the health tech space. It’s rare to see candidates who have everything, but even if you don’t have solid domain expertise in healthcare, I don’t want to discourage you from applying. Some of our team members who are leading the team now didn’t come into Health Engine with a lot of experience or background, but they were passionate about startups and building things on their own to support startups. Those are the kinds of things that we look for. In terms of the process, we recruit alongside Phoenix. It’s kind of whenever Phoenix starts recruiting, typically when consulting clubs recruit at the beginning of each semester. That’s when we open our applications to recruit internal members. One caveat to this is we don’t recruit every semester. We keep our team small. So, when we feel a need to recruit members, we open up applications. I would encourage anyone interested in applying to apply and contact our MDs or Directors. It doesn’t have to be during the typical recruiting cycle. We always want to know who is interested in working with us. The process is pretty straightforward. You submit your resume alongside some essay questions, and then we interview you and have a conversation to get to know you.

Kieran: As you onboard new team members to your org, how do you train them to give good advice and be helpful?

Rachel: This is a question that we ask ourselves each semester. Are we providing good training for new members, and are they providing value to our startups? We’re still working on it since we’re a new organization and only started recruiting new members this semester. Outside of synchronous meetings, people always share interesting articles and things they are thinking about in Slack. We emphasize this culture because we want to be drivers of each other’s personal growth and learning. We do that through meetings, Slack, and discussing ideas and things we care about. I think facilitating this culture has been beneficial in understanding each internal team member’s strengths and what they like to work on. In the future, we’ll have a more formal education program where we make them go through stuff they need to read and know. We don’t have that in place yet, but we’re trying to uphold this pillar that everyone should learn and contribute to each other’s growth and understanding of the healthcare space.

Kieran: Is there anything I didn’t ask about that is important to know if you’re considering Health Engine as a founder or someone who wants to join the internal team?

Rachel: If you’re interested, don’t hesitate to reach out. Contrary to many of the bigger clubs on campus, we’re more informal with bringing people on board, so you don’t necessarily have to wait until the beginning of the semester when recruiting season starts to reach out to us. So, reach out. Also, if you’re interested in entrepreneurship or what new ideas and problems people are working on in healthcare, then I think Health Engine is the best place to do that at Berkeley. Our internal team gets access to the founders, works closely with them, meets them every week, and meets them at the standups and workshops – you interface with founders very frequently and hear about their day-to-day problems that they are working on. Second, at Berkeley, you get to build a network of people in entrepreneurship, whether VCs or other organizations that might be accelerators or incubators. If you’re interested in venture capital and entrepreneurship, then Health Engine is unique because you can pave your way to build that network for yourself.

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