For Many Startups, the Prime Health Challenge Represents a Turning Point

Matrix Analytics CEO Dr. Akrum Al-Zubaidi pitches at the 2016 Prime Health Challenge.

It’s the highest funded pitch competition of its kind in the nation. Each year, dozens of digital health startups apply for it. Those selected spend the next several months being rigorously vetted by a variety of executives, clinicians, patients, academics, investors, and entrepreneurs.

The companies that make it through this process are then given the opportunity to pitch in front of a crowd of hundreds at the annual Prime Health Challenge. Their pitches are evaluated by representatives from national health insurers like Aetna, major health systems like Centura, and safety net institutions like Metro Community Provider Network (MCPN).

Winners of the Challenge are awarded a share of $150,000 in prize money provided by the Colorado Health Foundation. This money is intended to fund pilots with those payers and providers who have offered to partner with Challenge participants.

For many of these startups, the Prime Health Challenge represents a turning point in their development. We recently spoke with three finalists from the 2016 program to find out how the Challenge helped their companies grow.

A Brain for the EHR

Representatives from major payers and providers applaud the participants of the 2016 Prime Health Challenge.

“Every company that is successful almost dies,” said Dr. Akrum Al-Zubaidi, CEO of Matrix Analytics. “The Prime Health Challenge came at a point when our company almost died.”

Described by Dr. Al-Zubaidi as “a brain for the EHR,” Matrix Analytics uses machine learning and automation to streamline provider workflows and patient management. Its first product,  LungDirect, is a cloud-based solution designed to help clinicians manage pulmonary nodule and lung-cancer screening patients.

According to Dr. Al-Zubaidi, the Prime Health Challenge played a pivotal role in the growth of his company.

“It allowed us to really focus our message,” said Dr. Al-Zubaidi. “Then it gave us the exposure we needed to get to the point where we could build a sustainable business.”

At the 2016 Prime Health Challenge, Matrix Analytics received pilot offers from SCL Health and National Jewish Health. The company was awarded $50,000 by the Colorado Health Foundation to fund the pilots.

“The exposure helped us secure a deal with HealthONE, where all of their hospitals will be using our product,” said Dr. Al-Zubaidi. “The Cleveland Clinic also expanded us from their main campus to all of their sites.”

 “After the Prime Health Challenge, Mark Cuban invested in us.”

Better Tools for Nurses

dBMEDx CEO David Shine was awarded $75,000 by the Colorado Health Foundation at the 2016 Prime Health Challenge.

“Oftentimes the newest technologies aren’t necessarily directed at nurses,” said David Shine, CEO of dBMEDx. “It’s an area that’s ready for technologies that simplify their lives.”

According to Shine, dBMEDx builds technologies that allow providers to take more accurate measurements. Its flagship product, BBS Revolution, is a next-generation bladder scanner that quickly lets clinicians know whether or not a patient needs a catheter.

“Catheters can cause infections,” Shine explained. “If you can avoid putting a catheter in someone, the risk of getting an infection from that catheter drops to zero.”

As the first-place prize winner of the 2016 Prime Health Challenge, Shine was awarded $75,000 by the Colorado Health Foundation. The money funded pilots with Centura and SCL Health.

From Shine’s perspective, the clinical data produced by the SCL Health pilot was a game-changer for his company.

“Clinical data is so important for a startup,” said Shine. “Collecting it is usually quite hard, but because of the Challenge we were able to interface with these large entities quickly and easily.”

Since participating in the Prime Health Challenge, dBMEDx has completed its pilot with SCL Health, and is preparing to start clinical trials with Centura. The startup also recently gained a distribution partner in the elderly care industry that has allowed it to more than double its sales.

“The data from the SCL Health pilot showed the benefit of our product,” said Shine. “We’ve used it many times with our partners and salespeople, as well as to help nurses justify buying our technology.”

Early Identification of Risk for Teens

Preventative Technology Solutions Co-Founder Dr. Kathryn Lusczakoski pitches at the 2016 Prime Health Challenge.

“We create medical technology solutions that provide tailored risk assessments and prevention services,” said Dr. Lisa Rue, co-founder of Preventative Technology Solutions. “Our solutions target three big problem areas in adolescent health: sexual risk, mental health, and substance abuse.”

An audience favorite at the 2016 Prime Health Challenge, Preventative Technology Solutions specializes in the rapid and efficient assessment of at-risk youth. The company’s OPTIONS app consists of a survey regarding mental health, sexual behavior, and substance abuse risk that can be completed prior to an appointment. Once it’s filled out, the survey instantly creates a structured report for clinicians.

“We want to solve these problems that have been polarized traditionally,” said Dr. Rue. “We want to break down the silos and do some good work with digital health technology.”

According to Dr. Rue, the Prime Health Challenge helped her startup improve its pitch, its business plan, and its understanding of its customers. The introductions and connections that resulted from participating in the Challenge have been especially helpful for the company.

“It really was a launchpad for us,” Dr. Rue explained. “The Challenge launched us directly into an ecosystem that is rather vibrant and collaborative.”

Preventative Technology Solutions recently completed a pilot with UCHealth that examined physician and patient satisfaction with its app. The company also received an evaluation of OPTIONS from Denver Health, which it used to improve and further refine the product.

“Since we took the stage at the Prime Health Challenge, we have also decided to develop a license agreement with cliexa,” said Dr. Rue. “We realized that we didn’t want to reinvent the wheel and develop our own platform when cliexa had this wonderful platform available.”

The 2018 Prime Health Challenge will bring together business leaders and industry experts to evaluate early- to growth-stage companies oriented towards achieving the “Triple Aim” of enhanced patient experience, improved population health, and lower costs with a focus on underserved populations. If you are interested in participating as a judge, mentor, or host institution, please apply here.