How to Become the Nation’s Top Health Innovation Ecosystem

Two weeks ago, Steve Case, one of the founders of America Online and a partner at the investment firm Revolution Growth, visited Denver. He arrived aboard a large bus in which he had been travelling the country, driving from one startup hub to another in search of America’s most innovative companies.

As one of the stops on his Rise of the Rest tour, Case’s visit to Denver was part of an effort to highlight our nation’s up-and-coming innovation clusters, the hotspots of entrepreneurism that are appearing in cities like Baltimore, Omaha, and Phoenix. But when he stepped from his bus on the morning of Oct. 3rd, Case had an important message for the members of our thriving startup community.

In many ways, he explained, we’ve already made it. From his perspective, our innovation ecosystem – which spans the Front Range, from Fort Collins in the north to Colorado Springs in the south – is already an economic powerhouse.

His assessment of Colorado’s booming startup economy led me to reflect on several recent developments in our state’s health innovation ecosystem. I began to think about the opening of Startup Health Colorado, the preparations occurring at the future site of Catalyst HTI, and the upcoming Prime Health Challenge.

And I realized something.

Ranking Ecosystems

For years now, we’ve been ranking regional health innovation ecosystems according to a single metric. Whether compiled by Rock Health on the West Coast or Startup Health on the East Coast, annual reports on the state of digital health in America have consistently portrayed funding levels as the principal measure of an ecosystem’s success.

But there’s a problem with this approach. If we use investment numbers to rank regional health innovation ecosystems, the regions with the largest concentrations of capital will always rank highest, because capital tends to stay in its area of origin.

And while access to funding is critical for startups, funding alone won’t guarantee the adoption of innovation within the healthcare system. To accomplish this, startups need access to a wide range of individuals and organizations, including healthcare providers, corporate partners, and regulatory bodies.

If we are going to rank our country’s regional health innovation ecosystems, it should be according to how well they help their members achieve this larger goal.

The Right Metrics

In order to rank ecosystems according to this new standard, we will need a different set of metrics. Fortunately, the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto developed just such a set of metrics when it performed a broad assessment of health innovation hubs in 2013.

By adapting the evaluation criteria they used, a series of questions can be derived. It is my belief that these questions can provide us with a more accurate means of ranking health innovation ecosystems, while also serving as a blueprint that ecosystems everywhere can follow to attain the highest possible rankings.

1. Is there a focus on creating digital health solutions in the ecosystem?

2. Do the members of the ecosystem have experience supporting large-scale initiatives?

3. Is the ecosystem partnered with healthcare providers?

4. Is the ecosystem partnered with corporations?

5. Is the ecosystem partnered with investors?

6. Is the ecosystem partnered with governmental and regulatory bodies?

7. Does support for the development and scaling of innovation exist within the ecosystem?

8. Does a virtual and physical support structure exist for the entrepreneurs within the ecosystem?

9. How accessible is information within the ecosystem?

10. What evidence exists to support the efficacy of the ecosystem in driving innovation?

Strengthening Our Ecosystem

At Prime Health, we’re currently engaged in a three-month-long process, known as the Prime Health Challenge, which is intended to strengthen our ecosystem according to each of these metrics. This year’s Challenge began with the meticulous assessment of several health-tech startups, from which six finalists were chosen.

On September 29th, these finalists met briefly with representatives from major healthcare providers, including Centura Health and Kaiser Permanente. This Wednesday, they will have the chance to convince these organizations to pilot their solutions before an audience of hundreds at the EXDO Event Center.

In its three years of operation, the Challenge has helped startups land pilots with major providers, secure partnerships with large organizations, and attain millions of dollars in funding. It has brought together clinicians, executives, investors, entrepreneurs, technologists, academics, and more to accelerate the adoption of innovation within the healthcare system. But the success of this process has only been possible because of the participation of members of our ecosystem like you.

Please join us on October 19th at the EXDO Event Center, and let’s show the nation why we deserve to be ranked the top health innovation ecosystem.

Jeffrey Nathanson
President & CEO
Prime Health