Mapping the Journey of a Public Health Innovator


What happens when you follow opportunity all over the world? The Hatchery invited Dr. Dirk Schroeder, ScD, MPH, to our Emory Innovators series to hear how taking the road before him shaped his career as a Public Health practitioner, social entrepreneur, and Adjunct Associate Professor of Global Health at Emory.

Dr. Schroeder is also the Managing Director of the Advancing Health Innovation in Africa (or AHIA) Program, based at Emory. Fluent in Spanish and Indonesian, he has lived and worked in 30 countries. Dr. Schroeder has Doctoral and Masters degrees in International Health from Johns Hopkins University and a post-doc from Cornell. He completed his undergraduate work, with honors and distinction, at Stanford University.

Dr. Schroeder's outlook on his entrepreneurial career is much like his love of climbing. He enjoys the climb, tackles the challenges along the way, and when he gets to the top of the mountain, looks around for his next mountain. For him, it’s about always being open to the next opportunity.

Much of Schroeder's drive for social entrepreneurship was sparked by his early public health work in Indonesia. Living with a local family with no running water or electricity opened his eyes beyond his disciplinary studies. Throughout his travels, he realized access was the most pressing issue for people he encountered in developing countries. Although public health work was necessary, it didn't help with jobs. Because of poverty, the people around him had to choose between healthcare and food, or healthcare and education. He wanted to create better opportunities through social entrepreneurship. 

In 1999, Dr. Schroeder co-founded and helped build HolaDoctor Inc. As the internet bubble was bursting, he and his co-founder found themselves with too little business to support their initial business model, and realized they would have to pivot or shut down. When the 2000 Census came out, it showed the massive growth of the Spanish-speaking population in the United States. With that, Schroeder and his partner changed their model to support hospital systems in the U.S. that needed resources for Spanish-speaking patients. From there, Dr. Shchroeder and his co-founder grew HolaDoctor into the largest Spanish-language digital health company on the Internet, and it was acquired by Pan American Life Insurance Group (PALIG) in 2017.

Schroeder is currently writing a book called Getting Past the Pilot: A Practical Guide for Health Innovators and Entrepreneurs, based on his personal experience building HolaDoctor and insights from over 100 interviews with investors, purchasers and builders of health innovations. Schroeder gave us a taste of the book's findings, saying that the biggest miss for entrepreneurs is not deeply understanding their customers. 

To hear more from Dr. Schroeder, you can watch or listen to the conversation. To stay up-to-date on everything happening at The Hatchery, you can subscribe to our newsletter

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