Hackensack Meridian Health has invested $25 million to set up its own healthcare incubator with New Jersey Technology Innovation Institute (NJII), according to an announcement from the Institute. The collaboration reflects a broader national effort by hospitals and health systems, particularly academic medical centers, to create their own innovation network or partner with groups that can give them access to one.It also raises questions about what will be the success rate for hospitals adopting a Field of Dreams mentality — build it and the promising healthcare startups will come.
The Newark-based incubator will help inventors obtain patents and accelerate product development, Dr. Andrew Pecora, Chief Innovation Officer and the head of Physician Services at Hackensack Meridian Health, noted in the release. The health system envisions the incubator as a place where entrepreneurs will collaborate with corporations, research scientists, students and faculty from New Jersey Institute of Technology to solve the health system’s healthcare challenges.
Aspiring residents will be vetted “Shark Tank” style, making their case before an “expert panel” who will vet each applicants pitch for the kind of healthcare challenges they intend to solve. Four finalists will be chosen to start the process to bring the products to market.
Hackensack’s network includes 13 hospitals in seven counties, more than 100 outpatient centers, and 6,000 physicians. The incubator will rely on this network to pilot the technologies under development once a panel of experts determines they are advanced enough.
Hackensack’s interests in an incubator reflect a trend that’s been common among larger hospitals and has come in many different formats. Texas Medical Center set up its own accelerator to attract health IT and medical device startups — its fourth cohort included 24 companies. Boston-based Brigham and Women’s hospital created an iHub to help clinicians, researchers, and staff to accelerate and commercialize digital health ideas. Penn Medicine has the Center for Health Care Innovation, which includes an innovation accelerator program and a medical device accelerator program to encourage people from within the Penn Medicine community to develop ideas and products that could increase the value and lower the cost of healthcare from postpartum hypertension management to telegenetic counseling to identifying efficient data entry strategies for physicians using Epic Systems electronic medical records.
Hackensack and NJII regard their venture differently from these other efforts because they are not just bringing together entrepreneurs and innovators from the clinical side, but also involving those who come from life sciences, engineering and technology backgrounds, according to the news release.
The argument for hospitals taking on these initiatives is that they can have more control over the process of looking for and choosing the entrepreneurs they work with, they understand their own culture better than outsiders might, particularly their needs. On the other hand, hospitals’ efforts to commercialize their own products has received some criticism from investors who question the success rate for these initiatives. Cleveland Clinic Innovations’ website, for example, says it has created 40 active spinoff businesses since 2000. It will be interesting to see how effectively Hackensack can leverage the resources in its community to make its incubator initiative a success.