Business is Booming in the World of HIT Start Ups

By Jennifer Dennard
03:33 PM

All together now, dear readers – repeat after me: Rock Health. Blueprint Health. Health Box. Have I missed any? Healthcare start up/incubator/accelerator programs – call them what you will – are popping up everywhere these days. Be they on the West Coast, East Coast or in between, these programs obviously have no lack of interested applicants, as mobile health, patient engagement and social networking show big potential for transforming healthcare on multiple levels. User experience research firm User Insight is even getting in on the act, with news that it will launch a three-month start-up innovation program in Atlanta.

As with any industry, when you have one business model become popular, a number of service providers pop up around it to offer support. I had the chance to chat about these developments with Cynthia Coker, founder of and principal at N2M Advisory – an advisory services firm focused on start-up and early development phase companies that recently formed a division solely devoted to healthcare. I got her take on why three areas in particular seem ripe to foster start ups in HIT, and what sort of challenges they can expect o encounter.

What sort of presence do you have in each city you’re located in – Atlanta, New York and San Francisco?
We are currently doing a lot of work in the San Francisco Bay area and have some Silicon Valley tech veterans on our team. San Francisco has a well-earned reputation for IT innovation and the healthcare IT startup market gets a lot of play in both bright ideas and funding. There are several new ventures springing up that are boosting startup activity such as Rock Health. Some of the noteworthy new startups include Massive Health, Cake Health, and OmadaHealth, among others. The Palo Alto/San Francisco area is leading the nation in new healthcare ventures that focus on IT solutions.

New York is a growth area for us as well, and we are observing a lot of interest in healthcare IT startups in this region of the country. New York will receive nearly $350 million in federal funding to assist with infrastructure and expansion costs for their healthcare delivery network, which includes the adoption of new technology. This amount is four times the national average and leaves $227 million for implementing healthcare exchanges, a prime allocation that lends itself to startups.New York is also home to the health-centric incubator Blueprint Health, the StartUp Health Academy, a mentoring program, and WellTech, a health and wellness focused incubator.

N2M has had headquartered in the Atlanta area for many years focusing upon the healthcare IT sector. The city is poised for explosive growth in healthcare IT due to its leading health institutions and the presence of many established technology companies. There are more than 100 healthcare IT companies throughout Georgia, including McKesson Technology Solutions, currently ranked as the largest IT health provider in the world. Atlanta is among the fastest growing high-tech metro areas in the nation, with over 13,000 technology companies employing nearly 200,000 employees.  Georgia Tech’s Advanced Technology Development Center and Venture Atlanta are just two examples of the technology revolution in Georgia. Atlanta promises to become the next hot spot for healthcare IT startups.

Why do you think the time is ripe for startups in healthcare IT?
The National Venture Capital Association reports healthcare IT is a real bright spot. More than half of firms surveyed said they would increase their investments in healthcare IT. Forty-two percent said they would invest in healthcare services. Neither of these two areas is subject to FDA regulations, which is considered a major roadblock for new enterprises that focus on treatment regimens.

A major part of the emerging focus upon healthcare is due to the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  ACA and stimulus funding have acted as significant drivers for implementing mandatory technology such as Electronic Medical Records (EMRs), which has encouraged the utilization of other technological advancements previously ignored by the healthcare sector.

Today, the healthcare sector is exploring and utilizing mobile technology, cloud technology, telehealth, and much more. Clinicians today have become more receptive to new technology as they gain experience with improved functionality and witness meaningful increases in productivity.

Society has made great strides in recognizing the dangers of chronic disease, obesity and unhealthy lifestyles, and has acquired a better understanding of the high costs associated with managing these disease states. There has never been a better time to introduce healthcare IT solutions that help deliver positive outcomes. We have arrived at the point where technology can play a critical role in the prevention and management of life-threatening illnesses and people will invest in these innovations.

In what area of healthcare IT have you seen the most interest from startups and entrepreneurs?
The entire industry is experiencing an exciting metamorphosis in the way patient information is gathered, services are rendered and processed, data is stored, updated and ultimately purged.  Nearly every current technological development has relevance for improved patient care, whether it is through the use of tablets, mobile applications, the cloud, EMR, imaging, pathology, scheduling, billing, or general Practice Management applications. As such, healthcare startups are developing new methodologies for EMR, HIE, file sharing, digital photography, PACS, LIS, etc.  

What do you think are the biggest hurdles facing healthcare IT startups right now? 
Many healthcare IT startups neglect to involve the wise counsel of qualified practioners. Without proper collaboration, it is all too common to develop products that look good on the drawing board but prove inefficient or unusable in a clinical setting. One of the key services we offer at N2M is to assist in validating new hi-tech designs through qualified focus groups and field trials. We connect our clients with proven thought leaders who can verify the efficacy of a new concept and accurately assess the viability of the product. We bring the startups, entrepreneurs and healthcare professionals together early in the design and development process to ensure a successful result.Without this collaboration and carefully constructed clinical trials, the process can take the wrong path with no definitive means of salvaging the project.

Another key challenge for many healthcare IT startups is distribution. We often hear from the healthcare IT startups that they have no experience in sales, channel distribution or the wherewithal to get their product into the mainstream. Building a direct sales organization can be costly and if the startup doesn’t have experience with healthcare distribution, the process can be lengthy and littered with barriers to entry. A viable plan that centers upon an aggressive launch trajectory is imperative for mass adoption by healthcare providers and patients. Achieving a collaborative integration within the healthcare system is imperative for healthcare IT startups to achieve traction.

Do you envision having any sort of relationship with startup accelerator programs like those mentioned above? 
Many of N2M’s services and programs complement the mission of accelerators. N2M offers a range of services that include the validation of a concept, stimulating velocity, or devising reversal strategies. N2M differentiates itself from typical start-ups and accelerators because we focus on near-term goals and objectives meant to establish durable footprints. Early stage success provides the critical basis for long-term stability and generational evolution.  

What startups doing business right now hold the most promise for not only becoming successful in business, but also transforming clinical care?
A specific answer to the question would be startups that focus on vendor neutral solutions that embody fluent communication among mobile devices, cloud computing, and self-contained client-server communities. 


Jennifer Dennard is Social Marketing Director for Atlanta-based Billian's HealthDATA, Porter Research and Connect with her on Twitter @SmyrnaGirl.