@Health2Con: Digital health incubators, academies, kitchens

By Brian Dolan
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Brian Dolan, Editor, MobiHealthNewsOne of the more entertaining panels at this week's Health 2.0 Spring Fling event here in Boston was the panel on digital health incubators. While the lineup did not include a rep from Rock Health as originally advertised, the panel did include founders from a handful of other increasingly high-profile organizations. Only two of them self-identify as "incubators", however. One is more like an academy. The other? A collective, or a "kitchen".

Here's how each of the four founders described their organizations on-stage at Health 2.0:

Steve Krein, StartUp Health: "StartUp Health is an academy for health and wellness entrepreneurs. We use the term academy specifically because we provide a longterm program for the life of the entrepreneur's startup. What we have learned -- being entrepreneurs ourselves -- is that the real work begins after you get customers and after you get funding. Our focus was to design a program and curriculum around peer groups that would travel together over a three to four year program with nine other entrepreneurs. They meet quarterly in live sessions throughout the country. We had our first session in New York. We are going to Washington DC in a couple of weeks to meet at the White House, actually. We will be heading to San Francisco, too. These quarterly programs are supplemented each month with programs on the web where our entrepreneurs can collaborate via an online toolbox."

"Our goal is to help entrepreneurs connect with customers, talent, board members, investors. At each stage we are there to support that. We work really well with incubator and accelerator programs -- we partner with almost all of them. So, once you graduate from a 12-week incubator program, StartUp Health is the graduate program you go to. The idea is to provide that continuum of support. We have had over 600 applications come in and our application process is on a rolling basis. We will launch four classes this year and between five and 10 more next year. Since it is a longterm program, we will have 150 to 200 entrepreneurs in the health and wellness space at the same time. Entrepreneurs typically enter StartUp Health once they get beyond the idea phase -- in fact, nine our of 10 entrepreneurs in the first class were already funded. Together they had raised about $24 million dollars. Between them they have more than 58 employees. Our entrepreneurs include five serial entrepreneurs, two doctors, and two clinicians. So, these are seasoned entrepreneurs in most cases."

Dan Phillips, HealthBox: "Healthbox is a program that spun out of a company called Sandbox Industries in Chicago. Sandbox manages two venture funds for Blue Cross Blue Shield. The impetus for the program was a sense that there was a gap in funding and support for earlier stage healthcare companies and we wanted to find a way to support entrepreneurs and healthcare startups that weren't necessarily ready for funding yet. Healthbox is a very intensive three month accelerator program. As Steve mentioned, StartUp Health is a little bit more longterm and for companies that already have funding and in some cases customers, we work with companies that are not at the point and we help them get there. Over the course of three months companies gain access to our great mentor network -- folks from across the healthcare spectrum that help them figure out their user needs, business models, and define products. We also provide $50,000 in seed capital and a demo day at the end where these companies are able to pitch to -- not only investors -- but also potential customers and partners. We ran our first program with 10 healthcare startups in Chicago and had our demo day about a month ago. We are launching a new three month program here in the Boston and Cambridge area in the fall... We take a 7 percent equity stake."

Brad Weinberg, Blueprint Health: "I am one of the founders of Blueprint Health, which is part of the Techstars network [Ed. note: It's now known as the Global Accelerator Network]. Like Techstars, it is heavily mentor-driven. The genesis of Blueprint was really based on my experience as a founder of a company in the healthcare space, called ShapeUp, that I started while in medical school. It was also based on my experience mentoring some companies in a different Techstars program that was more technology focused. Two years ago I was mentoring some companies that were benefiting from the program they were in but they didn't feel like they had enough mentors that understood the healthcare system. We wanted to bring together a mentorship network that could help people get in front of the right people and have access to angel investors that had interest in providing seed capital to these early stage companies. We ran our first program from January to March and seven of the nine companies have since closed their seed rounds. It's been very successful for them. We have the largest network of mentors that have healthcare expertise than any other accelerator. We work broadly and try to collaborate with other accelerators like Healthbox and we have established what we think is a hub and great ecosystem in New York City for healthcare entrepreneurs. We also run a co-working space there and networking space for healthcare entrepreneurs. The Health 2.0 New York office is also located in our office. Our next program begins in July and we are taking applications right now. We provide $20,000 and take 6 percent equity."

Matt Wiggins, Remedy Systems: "We are not really an incubator actually we are a collective of mobile engineers. Remedy assembled a team to work with large existing players in the healthcare space to build out our own products for licensing. The way that we are set up is as a group of outliers all geared toward fixing major problems that are going to saddle our generation with financial issues that we don't want to deal with 10 or 15 years from now... What we have designed is a system where we can get the top chefs to come in and participate. We don't do any open recruiting or have a public profile. I'll stay with the chef analogy -- we have spent 2.5 years building an infrastructure -- really a platform -- to help people get into mobile. That's the kitchen. Then we spent 1.5 years stocking our shelves with ingredients. That meant partnering with the different companies that were the leaders in their space. We partnered with Optum on some things. We partnered with Teladoc. We partnered with some of the best Medicare risk adjustment people in the country. So now we can go out, find the right talent, and get them to understand that this is the kitchen where they can create whatever they want. We are less like an incubator, what we are really operating is almost a talent management fund of mobile engineers."

Wiggins perhaps had the best soundbite of the panel after he noted that health-focused incubators (ideally) can help technologist-types meet the right people -- those who really understand healthcare. Why is true healthcare expertise and mentorship so important?

"Because healthcare is not a 'click-boom'," Wiggins said. "It's hand-to-hand combat in cities around the country. That's what makes it amazing. That's why it's great: Because it is a 'human' industry. You can't be Mark Zuckerberg and do well in healthcare. You have to have an ability to relate to people."

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