Massachusetts Launched A Digital Health Initiative: What Does It Mean for Startups?

I was just about to post a blog on the first announcement from January when the newest one came out. It either speaks to my ability to get things done or that the state and city are moving fast with this digital health initiative. Let’s go with the second one…

Last week, MassChallenge unveiled more details about its Fenway innovation lab during a ribbon cutting ceremony, including – drumroll, please – its name: PULSE@MassChallenge. Also announced was the Massachusetts Innovation Catalyst Fund, a $25.8 million fund that will invest in digital healthcare companies headquartered (or with significant operations) in Massachusetts.

Governor Charlie Baker announced the statewide digital health initiative back in January

Governor Charlie Baker announced the statewide digital health initiative back in January

This much-anticipated news came on the heels of the first announcement, delivered in January. I was honored to be in the audience at Boston Children’s Hospital when Governor Charlie Baker and Mayor Marty Walsh announced a new, statewide digital health initiative to leaders from the government, technology and healthcare sectors. Led by the Massachusetts eHealth Institute (MeHI) of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative and the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership (MACP), and a group of top-tier pharmaceutical and technology corporations, the program aims to bring public, private, academic and healthcare leaders together in order to grow digital health efforts.

“We can create an environment where the digital healthcare industry can thrive and we can better serve our patients and their families,” said Mayor Walsh in a press release about the initiative, which cites a 2015 report by Goldman Sachs projecting digital health will become a $32 billion market over the next several years.

Members of the digital health and startup community, myself included, were beyond excited to hear our elected officials and business leaders recognize – and vow to support and expand – local digital health efforts. Now, with this new announcement, our enthusiasm is greater than ever.

As we translate this excitement into action, today I want to break down what this all really means for startups. How will the initiative work? Who’s involved? What outcomes can we expect? And, at the top of everyone’s list: how will new funding be awarded?

Here’s what we know:

  • PULSE@MassChallenge, a New Digital Health Innovation Hub: As part of the initiative, MassChallenge will provide 8,000 square feet of space, mentorship, programming and industry networking opportunities for up to 40 digital health startups at a time. The hub is located in Fenway’s Landmark Center, a quick walk to Longwood hospitals – including BWH – encouraging cross-disciplinary collaboration. The program is supported by a $250,000 state grant and potentially private sponsors in the future.
  • Tools of the Trade: MACP announced the development of standardized software, technology, sponsored research agreements and user guides aimed at facilitating the process of doing business with Boston-based academic institutions for entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and the private sector.
  • Legislative Support: Governor Baker has filed legislation to expand MeHI’s efforts, including a program designed to help digital health innovations get to market faster, and a partnership with state agencies to better promote electronic health records and capture big data opportunities.
  • Industry-Powered Private Funding: MACP’s work to establish industry-led initiatives to help accelerate growth in the digital health sector is evident with the announcement of the $25.8 million Massachusetts Innovation Catalyst Fund. A Boston Globe article quotes Jeff Leiden, chief executive at Vertex Pharmaceuticals and leader of MACP’s digital health efforts: “Seed funding and funding for young companies…was really one of the things that we were getting beaten on by New York, by Silicon Valley and others,” Leiden said. “[This fund] is going to give us that edge in terms of being able to provide funding that might not have been there before.” The article goes on to suggest that recipients may emerge from PULSE@MassChallenge, but no further details about how funding will be allocated have surfaced – yet.

We’re not-so-patiently waiting to hear what happens next!

In other news, a recent report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation ranked Boston the #1 city in the U.S. for fostering entrepreneurial growth. Governor Baker and Mayor Walsh and company are on to something big.

What are you innovating today?

Lesley Solomon
iHub Executive Director