A new incubator program for health care startups promises participants won’t be sitting through lectures on how to build a pitch deck or participating in team-building seminars.
Instead, 1501 Heath, a partnership of LifeBridge Health, a health care provider in the Baltimore region, and Healthworx, the innovation leg of CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, aims to help startups navigate the bureaucratic and highly-regulated health care ecosystem through highly individualized guidance and mentorship.
Health care startups will be invited to apply to the year-long program beginning in February, and those selected will be given up to $100,000 in investment, access to educational and networking opportunities and the guidance of experts on both the payer and provider sides of the health care industry.
This will be achieved by pairing the approximately five companies that will be selected with “cabinets” — a group of three to five LifeBridge and CareFirst employees that will be hand-selected to help each start-up with its unique challenges. Startups and cabinets will formulate how the cabinet can best support their companies, and will work together to develop the projects that they will work on over the course of the year.
“Instead of a calendar of educational programming, it’s about working with the start-up to understand their needs and to customize support and leverage the resources that we have,” Emily Durfee, program manager for 1501 Health said. She noted that the program will still feature some cohort-wide events, which will likely occur on a monthly basis, but most of these events will be developed to address common challenges amongst members of the cohort.
1501 Health is the second collaboration between the innovation teams at LifeBridge and CareFirst; the first, a 2019 Shark Tank-esque pitch competition for health care entrepreneurs, attracted over 100 entries.
The relationship between the two teams dates back to a meeting in 2018, during which they realized they shared similar goals “of trying to reduce the overall cost of care … and improve health care to make it more patient-friendly,” according to Pothik Chatterjee, LifeBridge Health’s executive director of innovation and research.
“[We’re] so excited that our vision from 2018 is now coming to light,” he said.
Despite the coronavirus pandemic delaying the program by several months — it was originally planned to launch last June — its format did not have to be altered significantly to accommodate a virtual format, according to Chatterjee.
The most significant change will be the use of a physical incubator space, housed in CareFirst’s Baltimore headquarters, which was designed to facilitate collaboration, innovation and communication amongst the participating startups.
This space — located at 1501 S. Clinton Street, the program’s namesake — includes desks, meeting rooms, a kitchen area and model in-patient and outpatient clinics. Movable furniture pieces can be configured to fit the needs of the teams, and the open model of the space also encourages communication between members of the cohort.
“The startups will be around other companies, so they can observe and learn from their experiences,” Chatterjee said.
While participants won’t be able to access the space at the incubator’s launch, the 1501 Health team is hopeful that they will be able to utilize it before the end of the year-long program.
Health care startups can apply beginning Feb. 1, via the 1501health.com website. Adjudicators will primarily judge applicants based on the viability of their business, the business’s positive impact on health care and alignment with Healthworx and LifeBridge’s goals and philosophies.
There are no hard guidelines of how developed a startup has to be to apply, Durfee said, but she feels companies that have already developed a prototype or a customer base, but are still small enough to benefit from 1501 Health’s support, will fare best.
“We want to be able to add value to companies,” she said. “So we don’t have a structured minimum and maximum.”
While businesses do not have to be based in the D.C., Maryland and Northern Virginia areas that LifeBridge and CareFirst serve, those companies will be utilizing the startups’ projects, so it is important that the projects can benefit patients in this region.