Sprint's startup accelerator moves away from digital health focus

By Aditi Pai
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Sprint has announced that its accelerator will no longer focus specifically on digital health technologies, and instead will accept startups that are focusing on any mobile technology.

The Sprint Mobile Health Accelerator, which first launched in September 2013, will now simply be referred to as the Sprint Accelerator. It will continue to be powered by TechStars and stay based in Kansas City.

Startups that participated in the accelerator's first class included Baltimore, Maryland-based illness mapping offering Sickweather and Cambridge, Massachusetts-based patient coordination app Yosko, which announced plans to launch pilots with as many as five hospitals last year.

John Fein, managing director for Techstars at the Sprint Accelerator told Startland, a local Kansas City publication that the accelerator is broadening its focus, in part, because it is looking for companies that Sprint itself might actually work with. 

"We are super excited. It opens up so many possibilities for us," Fein said. "One of the reasons that we’re so excited is [that] I think there’s going to be so many more opportunities for work between Sprint and the companies. With mobile health, it’s a little bit more of a challenge because Sprint has to figure out if there’s a fit after the companies come in… In the coming weeks, we’re going to be sitting down with Sprint and putting together the areas that Sprint finds interesting."

He added that areas like mobile commerce will likely be or interest.

Sprint's accelerator program lasts three months and companies receive up to $120,000 in funding, $20,000 upfront and the option to accept a $100,000 convertible debt mode funded by Sprint. Techstars retains 6 percent of the equity for each company, but at the end of the program, if a startup is not satisfied with the value of Techstars, they will have three business days to lower or eliminate Techstars’ equity position.

Sprint's is just the latest in a long line of mobile operator back tracks from digital health over the years.

Last year, Verizon stopped offering both its patient-to-provider Virtual Visits product and its FDA-cleared telehealth hub software. Like other major mobile operators, Verizon re-focused on supporting digital health with enabling technologies and services but not its own products. Around the same time Verizon’s Director of Product Management for Mobile Health Julie Kling left the company to join health insurance company Anthem as its director of mobile marketing.

AT&T launched AT&T EverThere, a cellular mobile personal emergency response system (mPERS) in December 2013 with fall detection technology from Numera, but at some point in 2014 EverThere shut down (AT&T never made a big announcement about it but its product page indicates it is no longer in service.) EverThere partner Numera also recently exited its mPERS business too.

In 2013, across the pond, UK-based mobile operator O2, a subsidiary of Telefonica, discontinued two of its mobile health offerings, consumer-facing emergency response service Help at Hand and provider-facing remote patient monitoring service Health at Home. MobiHealthNews reported on the launch of these two offerings just a few months prior.