As CEO, Paul Vernich leads Winnow’s mission to maximize the success of clinician recruiting through the power of A.I. Paul brings to Winnow a track record of operations, business development, and strategy success in financial services, healthcare, and real estate. His prior career at GE Healthcare included spearheading major turnarounds for two struggling business units. Paul earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Tennessee and his MBA from Vanderbilt’s Owen Graduate School of Management.
What inspired you to go into health care? Tell us a little bit about your career journey.
I did not start out my career specifically to work in healthcare, but my journey was shaped by the incredible mentors that I found along the way. I started my career at Avenue Bank, which gave me wide exposure to a variety of industries. That is where I met my friend and former colleague Aaron Dorn, who is now chairman, president, and CEO of Studio Bank. Back then, we had a shared dream about running our own companies and spoke often about our professional goals about our futures. It’s amazing to look at how far we’ve both come since then. Just last week, we were both finalists at the NEXT Awards. It felt like we had come full-circle at that event.
Aaron and I both went on to get our MBAs at Vanderbilt, and that is where I met another mentor of mine, Michael Burcham. His class furthered my passion for entrepreneurship. At GE Healthcare, I met my next mentor, Mark Lombardi. My experience working with Mark helped me develop a deep domain expertise in healthcare and learn firsthand the ways in which large companies can build teams and strategic solutions to support provider organizations.
After years of working all over the country with GE, I charted a course back to entrepreneurship. As a part of my mapping process, I interviewed 72 different healthcare business leaders in Nashville, trying to understand their needs as customers and how I could put my experience to use. My 72nd conversation was with Ray Guzman, CEO of SwitchPoint Ventures (and a Fellows alumni). Ray invited me to lead one of his promising new startups, Winnow, which we formally launched a year ago.
There has been a lot of buzz about Winnow, and as you said, it just won Healthcare Startup of the Year at the NEXT Awards. Tell us more about Winnow and how it came about.
Winnow exists, believe it or not, because of the Fellows program. Fellows coming together, talking about problems, and solving them. It is exactly what you hope and expect to happen when healthcare leaders collaborate. Ray Guzman, Marty Bonick (CEO of Ardent and a Fellows alumnus), and I took the early concept and co-developed Winnow with Ardent, which gave us the advantage of building the company from within a health organization and shaping it around the pain points we observed in real time. In fact, when I explained the genesis of Winnow to one of our most esteemed founders of the Fellows Program, Senator Frist, he was clearly moved. This was his vision from the beginning, after all!
Clinician staffing poses an extraordinary challenge to the entire healthcare system, but its success really comes down to three simple things: timing, context, and relationships. Winnow’s platform uses predictive analytics to synchronize all three.
Winnow has become a breakthrough AI solution that increases the efficiencies, savings, and success of in-house healthcare recruiting. We accurately source the best clinical providers for each role, whether those candidates are active or passive. Then, we uncover existing relationships that the candidates have with the hiring organization’s own providers, enabling physicians to efficiently recruit their fellow physician friends.
Winnow automates many of the antiquated processes of recruiting, shrinking the timeline of some tasks from weeks into seconds and allowing physician recruiters to exponentially improve their time-to-hires and quality of hires. We eliminate the time-wasting, antiquated processes that recruiters hate, giving them time to focus on the art of building relationships and engaging candidates. A year in, we’re encouraged by the number of provider clients who are seeing results and the number of prospects knocking on our door.
What problem do you most want to solve in health care?
We all know that the current healthcare model is unsustainable, so there are endless opportunities to innovate. Having seen healthcare from both a wide and narrow lens, it’s clear that we can make headway by chipping away at the larger problems from many different angles. One hurdle I see: many leaders in healthcare are, understandably, proud of what they built and therefore resistant to change. This creates an inhospitable environment for transformation. We need to provide greater incentives to innovate. I give a lot of credit to our hospital partners who are open to change and willing to rethink their processes.
How did the Fellows program influence your career?
I participated in Fellows just this year, but already the program’s influence has been monumental. I now have a much broader network of key decision-makers in various sectors, including providers, payers, policy, and tech. Having a global range of perspectives is vital as we map out the future of healthcare. I know that my association with the Fellows will continue to be a driving force in my career.
What is the most surprising part of running a startup?
I always knew that I would need to manage the general uncertainty that comes with building a new company, and I correctly anticipated that there would be many high highs and low lows. What I was not sure about was if I would actually be successful in launching a startup. I certainly have a long way to go before I can call anything I am doing a success, but I’ve been amazed at all the support that has come from the Nashville community to help me along in this journey. Most days, I feel that we are on a path with so many champions that we simply cannot fail. I’m grateful that I made the leap in a city that takes care of its entrepreneurs, and healthcare startups specifically. For anyone who has thought about taking the leap, I have one piece of advice: go for it.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
“Always do the right thing, no matter what, and success will follow.” Sometimes that means doing things the hard way, but it’s always worth it. Early in my banking career, I learned how important it is to provide world-class service if you want to differentiate yourself and create raving fans. At GE, this advice served me well; we created strategic programs that required us to do the right thing by our customers so that they kept coming back. Today, we’re bootstrapping a young company, with limited time and resources. But I know how important it is to really listen to our clients and make sure they know they are valued. That means spending time in their seats and understanding their pain so we can develop better solutions. I know that if we invest in our people and in our clients, the winding road will lead to success.
What books would you recommend that have shaped your business thinking?
Adam Grant’s Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know. We’re in such a polarizing time for the world. Everyone has become more entrenched in their beliefs. In healthcare, we often stay stuck in a mindset of how we can or can’t change. But we must think and do things differently. We need to ask more questions and address old assumptions if we are going to evolve into a better system.