HIT Startups May Reap the Benefits of Big Business Funding

By Jennifer Dennard
01:39 PM
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Hailing from Atlanta, which has a vibrant startup scene via the resources offered by Georgia Tech’s Advanced Technology Development Center, Venture Atlanta and similarly themed programs (not to mention a strong healthcare IT sector in general), I keep a sharp eye out for news related to just-getting-off-the-ground healthcare IT companies. (Brightwhistle is a great example of a combination of the two.) And so I read with interest a few weeks ago news of Dell’s Innovators Credit Fund, a “first-of-its-kind Dell financing initiative that provides entrepreneurs up to $100M in the financial and scalable technology resources they need to maximize potential innovation, speed to market and job creation,” according to the company. (You can read the specific financing details and fund benefits here.)

Dell has had a pretty strong presence in healthcare IT for a while now, so I didn’t think it too big a leap to wonder how much of this fund would ultimately find its way into the pockets of HIT entrepreneurs. I reached out to Ingrid Vanderveldt, Dell’s first Entrepreneur in Residence and creator of the fund, to learn more about its potential benefits to healthcare startups.

Why did you decide the time was right to start this program?

“As a lifelong entrepreneur and, specifically, as Dell’s first entrepreneur-in-residence, my role is to help Dell connect with, learn from and understand the needs of growing businesses so they can bring solutions and services to market that help them succeed. Over the past year, it’s become increasingly clear in today’s economy that to build scalable, high-return startups, entrepreneurs need access to early stage capital and great resources. According to a McKinsey Global Institute study, Web-knowledgeable small- and midsize-firms in a range of industries outpace their less Internet-savvy counterparts in job creation by more than two to one. Through the office of the Entrepreneur-In-Residence and the Innovators Credit Fund, Dell is committed to fueling the growth of entrepreneurs and the jobs they create.”

How many applications have you received so far?
“During the first week, we received more than 100 applications and we continue to receive additional applications every day. The level of response reaffirms for us that this initiative truly addresses the needs of entrepreneurs and resonates with them.”

Do you have an idea of how many are related in some way to healthcare?
“Life science and healthcare startups are top of mind in the funding community, and for Dell. The 2011 HALO Report shows that healthcare companies received a greater percentage of angel investment dollars than startups from any other industry in 2011. And, a recent survey from the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA) found that 61 percent of venture capitalists expect investment in health IT to increase in 2012. We anticipate the breakdown of the Dell Innovators Credit Fund membership to be similar as we grow and develop this initiative.”

In light of the recent boom in mobile health and related apps, how do you see a program like this benefiting the healthcare industry?
“We are focused on giving entrepreneurs access to the right products, services and software, creating a seamless, end-to-end technology solution that is good for business growth and customers. A great example of this is mobile access to digital health information. Mobile devices – as long as they are properly secured – can enhance clinical productivity, provide a means for patients to become more involved in their care and ultimately lead to better health outcomes. Through the [fund], a mobile health startup could gain access to technology credit that would allow them to do more than simply deploy mobile devices with the right secure infrastructure, but deliver a comprehensive approach to data security with protections at every level.”

Is Dell’s healthcare division having any say in the selection process? Will members of that team be pulled in to advise healthcare startups? 
“One of the first things I did as Dell’s Entrepreneur-in-Residence was to establish an advisory board of leading entrepreneurs from a variety of industries.

“With the launch of the Dell Innovators Credit Fund, my team and I engage with the board on their areas of expertise, including the healthcare sector, to help make program decisions. To best address the needs of a healthcare or life science startup, we consult healthcare experts from the advisory board as well as Dell industry specialists in healthcare to map out an end-to-end technology solution.”

I’ll be interested to see what comes out of this program, especially compared to somewhat more established, healthcare-specific incubator programs like Rock Health. I must say I think it’s encouraging to see Big Business extend a hand to Small Business – especially in light of the hoopla surrounding President Obama’s recent “You didn’t build that” stump speech.

I think it’s no surprise to anyone that small businesses don’t start off without any help from anyone. Whether it’s mom and dad, friends and neighbors, angel investors or the local bank, someone somewhere is giving startups a fighting chance. And a fighting chance is what healthcare needs right now, especially when it comes to getting innovation off the ground and into patient care.

Jennifer Dennard is Social Marketing Director for Atlanta-based Billian's HealthDATA, Porter Research and HITR.com.