What Does It Mean to Be a “Hub”?

Why collaboration and coordination can be the key to
advancing digital health in Boston and beyond

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As “the Hub,” Boston is widely recognized for bringing together some of the best and most innovative institutions and minds. At Brigham Health, iHub serves a similar connector role for the digital health community, by linking internal innovators with each other, and introducing them to external companies and neighboring organizations. More recently, we’ve extended that network to introduce promising startups and companies we’ve met to our sister innovation teams across Partners HealthCare.  

Last summer, we shared our experience participating as a champion organization in the inaugural year of PULSE@MassChallenge, the Boston-based, Commonwealth-backed digital health accelerator. Reflecting on the definition of a “pulse,” we looked back on six months of energy and advocacy as markers of the thriving digital health community that is Boston. Looking forward into 2018, as we are about to start the second PULSE@MassChallenge (PULSE@) cohort and celebrate iHub’s fifth birthday, we wanted to share some thoughts appreciating what it means to be a “Hub” – both the unofficial nickname of Boston and our team’s guiding principle. 

During last year’s PULSE@ matchmaking process, we swapped notes with our colleagues at Massachusetts General Hospital, making introductions and sharing updates. This year we took it to the next level and worked collaboratively with our colleagues across the Partners HealthCare System: we sat together in the same room with MGH and Newton-Wellesley Hospital, and Partners HealthCare Innovation, to meet startups.  

As large hospitals serving similar communities, we face common challenges. By physically sitting together, we were able to broaden the set of potential challenges any one of our teams might have been interested in, amplify shared interests, and think strategically about which companies made sense to introduce across our system. In the long term, this collaborative approach will elevate the conversation from considering a single-site pilot to the possibility of an enterprise-wide contract, should the initial pilot succeed. We believe that having those conversations upfront was a powerful way to streamline the notorious hospital sales cycle, or even turn some of those client-vendor relationships into deeper collaborations for greater impact. 

It is vital that we form strong links with the startup community who can help us to broaden our perspective and think creatively about varying approaches to innovating in healthcare operations. - Sarah Hosein, Director of Strategy Implementation

As a “hub,” we connect not only between institutions but also strengthen relationships within our own walls. Each institution invited hospital administrators and clinicians to hear startups pitch, and business development experts from Partners Innovation, our licensing and technical transfer office. I was excited to see such a strong presence from these cross-functional teams. The half-day investment (far removed from the hospital campus, no less) was a heartening sign of our institutions’ strategic commitment to digital health innovation, and optimism and openness toward early-stage startups.  

Sarah Hosein, Director of Strategy Implementation at Brigham Health, noted, “Participating as a judge was a fantastic opportunity for me to learn about the business problems the startups were trying to solve in healthcare and to help me think about how some of this could be applied at the Brigham. It is vital that we form strong links with the startup community who can help us to broaden our perspective and think creatively about varying approaches to innovating in healthcare operations.” 

Last year, our PULSE@ strategy was simple – bring a focused topic or challenge area to reverse pitches, and meet the companies who addressed our needs.  

After observing the power of the PULSE@ network, seeing relationships formed between ourselves and other champions, and also being exposed to other startups unrelated to our original focus (these conversations led to one contract and two matches in the PULSE@ 2018 cohort), we knew we wanted to focus on relationships this year.  

During the fall PULSE@ kick-off sessions, Champion organizations were asked to “reverse-pitch,” or share our challenges and why startups should work with us. This process laid the foundation for matchmaking because it helped inform which startups with potential solutions should apply to PULSE@, increasing the likelihood of successful matches down the road. We reverse-pitched to be the “clinical leg of the stool” in a multi-champion match: we hoped to work with another champion to co-sponsor for greater impact, whether with another health system for scale, or an industry collaborator who could help develop an early business model.  

Out of December’s matchmaking, we are pleased to announce that we have matched with five digital health startups, including Astarte Medical Partners. This was a doubly-sweet match in that it fulfilled our multi-champion goal (MGH also matched) and was a great “homecoming”: the original research underpinning Astarte’s work came from a Brigham nurse scientist.  

Other startups we’ve matched with cover topics ranging from voice-enabled technologies to remote coaching and virtual care plan adherence. Though common in other industries, the full potential of these enabling technologies remains untapped within healthcare for many reasons.  

Through our PULSE@ matches, we not only found interesting solutions to real challenges, but also emerging technologies which will drive practical conversations about barriers to their adoption. When our hospital’s teams work together, we can avoid duplicating each other’s research and arrive at consistent polices that can speed up implementation across the enterprise. 

“When the digital health innovation ecosystem wins, we all win.” 

Underscoring our commitment to streamlining the sales cycle, later this month, we are excited to combine forces with MGH and Partners Connected Health to invite matched startups to a “bootcamp” to help onboard them to our system. Sessions will include a crash-course overview of required approvals for a digital health pilot, a presentation from Information Security leaders, and a working session to focus in on goals for the six-month PULSE@ accelerator period. 

It’s no secret that the rigors of academic medicine can foster a high level of competition between institutions. But with digital innovation teams, we have much to gain by working together. 

We look forward to sharing and learning from a second PULSE@ cohort! To paraphrase MassChallenge’s constant refrain, When the digital health innovation ecosystem wins, we all win.” 


Written by: 

Beverly Hardy
Innovation Strategy Manager