April/May 2016 Issue
Arkansas is welcoming health care entrepreneurs from
around the world into its new HubX-Life Sciences accelerator,
the first health care-focused program of its kind in the state.
In a particle accelerator, scientists slam tiny bits of matter together at high speed. The collisions produce information of great value. Business accelerators work in a similar way. They draw in entrepreneurs with ideas, investors with money and mentors with expertise, slamming them all together in a short-term, fast-paced environment. The results, hopefully, are valuable new products and profitable companies. Think of it as the TV show “Shark Tank” on steroids.
HubX-Life Sciences, a new business accelerator focused on health care innovation, takes place at the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub in North Little Rock from April 4 to June 30. It will be held at the Hub’s new “co-working” space, called The Silver Mine — a large, office-type environment also open to other entrepreneurs for a monthly fee. Helping the Innovation Hub to organize this accelerator is Iron Yard Ventures, an accelerator and investment firm in South Carolina. Its managing director, Marty Bauer, knows what it’s like for an entrepreneur to go through an accelerator program. He’s done it himself.
“There are a million different ways to start a company and grow one successfully,” he said. “What any successful accelerator is really geared towards is helping the founders [of a startup] sift through the learning of others and get their product to market, figure out the hard parts early and do that within an ecosystem of other founders, other mentors, other potential customers, investors, etc. It’s an opportunity for a company to start in a positive way and really surround themselves with the right network they need to get off the ground.”
Health Care Focus
HubX-Life Sciences is the first health care-focused accelerator in Arkansas, but not the first accelerator.
“We’ve had in the state of Arkansas four different accelerators,” said Jeff Stinson, director of entrepreneurship at the Innovation Hub who is overseeing HubX. “However, they were general purpose kinds of accelerators — not focused on any one industry — open to any type of entrepreneur.”
Prior accelerators also lacked corporate sponsorship, which Stinson said makes a crucial difference.
“They were funded by individual angels…and then also funded by state government, as well. So, the difference with HubX-Life Sciences is that we are…partnered with Baptist Health and Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield. And, that has turned out to be a tremendous advantage for us. Because not only are those two organizations financing the accelerator for us, in terms of providing the money for the overhead for us to administer the accelerator, but they’re also making the upfront investments into the cohort companies. Part of the traditional accelerator model is you bring companies in and accelerate them…and you also provide them with upfront investment capital. In our case, it’s $50,000 per company that they’ll be getting upon entering HubX.”
According to Stinson, an even bigger draw for entrepreneurs wanting to be “accelerated” is industry access.
“Baptist is the state’s largest hospital system, and Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield is the state’s largest health insurer,” he said. “Having the state’s largest provider and the state’s largest payer is a very powerful combination. So, if you’re a health care entrepreneur in Chicago or San Francisco, what is your draw to come to Little Rock, Arkansas, to be a part of our accelerator? The companies that we’re attracting many times have already raised a significant amount of investment capital, and they’re making great progress with their companies. But the reason they want to come to Little Rock and be a part of this accelerator is so they can work intimately with Baptist Health and Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield to advance their technology and their competence.”
Though he wouldn’t reveal the total number of applicants for the accelerator, Stinson said his team’s expectations were exceeded in both the quantity and quality of firms hoping to take part.
How Arkansas Benefits
A team of 12 people (six from Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield, three from Baptist Health and three from the Innovation Hub) narrowed the applicant companies down to 25. They held video calls with those to help winnow the field further. Applicants were judged on the strength of their team, their technology and their business model, among other criteria. In the end, the committee invited the eight firms judged the best fit for the accelerator.
Companies participating include:
• Aces Health (Atlanta): The first all-in-one, multi-platform application for clinical trials that keeps patients connected 24/7.
• Admetsys (Boston): An innovative artificial pancreas for hospital and surgical care, leveraging adaptive learning algorithms and counterbalancing treatment of insulin and glucose.
• Callie Solutions (Philadelphia): A communication platform that leads to better patient outcomes by supporting patients and their care team; improved efficiency, reduced accidents; leverages existing data sources to save money.
• Chrona (St. Louis): A first mover in noninvasive deep sleep solutions using machine-learning, analytics and emerging sleep research.
• LineHealth (Boston & Portugal): A connected pill dispenser that helps patients adhere to complex drug treatment regimens.
• Practech (San Francisco & Saudi Arabia): Wearable barcode scanners to converge data through hands-free input, output and process.
• Rubitection (Pittsburgh): Technology developed at Carnegie Mellon University to address limitations of early pressure ulcer assessment with a low-cost monitoring tool.
• Vital Metrix (Huntsville, Alabama): An innovative, patented technology enables sophisticated, noninvasive, essential cardiac monitoring performed in a nonhospital environment.
Leaders of the firms will spend an intense 13 weeks in central Arkansas, working with mentors from Stinson’s team and at Baptist Health and Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield. But, with none of the companies being from Arkansas, an important question remains. When the accelerator ends, and the entrepreneurs presumably return to where they came from, will there be any benefit left to the state?
“We do think there’s the potential that some of them will want to stay and maintain a presence [in Arkansas] of some shape or form, because we believe we have a lot to offer as a state,” Stinson said.
“We’ll be connecting these companies with our very best professional service providers, PR and marketing firms like Cranford Co. and TeamSI, with IP patent attorneys, with finance and accounting experts, HIPAA [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act] compliance firms, FDA [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] regulatory experts…and they’ll be developing relationships with those. But the primary relationships they’ll be developing are with Baptist Health and Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield. And we think because of those relationships that they will develop we’re hoping that they do want to maintain a presence in Arkansas at the conclusion of the accelerator.”
But, what about a worst-case scenario, where none of them stay?
“We still feel like there’s a benefit to Arkansas for a few reasons,” Stinson said.
“One is they have fundamentally helped Baptist Health and Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield address fundamental challenges in health care that those two organizations face. And, if you’ve helped those two organizations, by that you’ve helped the provision of health care for all Arkansans. The technologies that we will be developing inside of HubX are new, cutting-edge technologies. And those technologies will improve the way that we provide health care throughout the state. So that’s a big benefit. Another benefit is, and this may be more indirect, but [the accelerator] pulls the entire entrepreneurial ecosystem up inside the state of Arkansas. So all of our tech entrepreneurs can see, here’s what it takes to be a world-class company, and they get to work alongside those companies. And, I think it makes all of us better in terms of what we’re doing, to have that high of a caliber of companies inside the state.”
Driving the point home is the fact that the Innovation Hub intends to host a new HubX-Life Sciences accelerator each year. They also plan to create additional HubX accelerators to focus on other industries. Together these accelerators could function as a giant super-magnet in the middle of Arkansas. In an age when attracting mobile economic resources such as ideas and expertise is crucial to economic success, such a super-magnet may be just what the state needs.