Rock Health Merges Tech and Healthcare

Monday Aug 6, 2012 by Susan Johnston - Contributor, VentureFizz

Boston’s medical and startup communities have largely inhabited separate worlds. But the arrival of two health and tech-focused accelerators to the Hub could bring those communities closer together. Healthbox’s business accelerator will launch in Boston on August 13, while San Francisco-based Rock Health started its three-month summer partnership with Harvard Medical School on June 4.

According to Rock Health’s COO Sarah Pollet, each startup team gets a $20,000 startup grant, free office space in Harvard Medical School’s Countway Library, and mentorship. Since Rock Health is a nonprofit seed accelerator, the organization doesn’t take any equity. Instead, she says, the goal is to catalyze startups that will become part of “thought leadership in healthcare.”

NoviMedicine

Ryan Panchadsaram, an alum of Rock Health’s first class in San Francisco who’s also held technical positions at Microsoft and Salesforce.com, says the program helped him “understand the problem space,” since he had no healthcare background.

“The mentors gave advice on how you should be doing things right,” adds Panchadsaram, who founded Pipette, a mobile platform designed to reduce patient complications and readmissions following surgery. “They’d guide you through how to with Medicaid and Medicare or patent law in the healthcare space.” Since participating in Rock Health last year, his startup was acquired by behavioral analytics platform Ginger.io.

Rock Health’s accelerator program usually runs five months, but the Boston program is truncated into three months, culminating in Demo Day on August 24, when teams will pitch their ideas to investors. Panchadsaram predicts that this could help “light a fire under them.”

Seth Spanogle, a software developer who’s working on a web-based platform for treating acne along with his brother Josh, a dermatologist finishing his fellowship at University of California, Irvine, compares Rock Health to a “mini MBA.” Seth worked at Boston-area startups in the 1990’s and says he’s excited to see the “resurgence of the startup scene.”

The Spanogle brothers’ startup, NoviMedicine, offers remote office visits with a dermatologist, but Josh says the program has helped them refine their pitch and think beyond those transactions as the sold revenue model. “It’s been useful for me in terms of what people find important,” he adds.

The team at Reify Health, a platform for medical experts to create mobile health solutions, says having access to top decision-makers and digital health mentors has been a huge help in figuring out what questions to ask and how to move forward. For instance, Ralph Passarella, an MD/PhD student at Johns Hopkins University asks, “what do I need to demonstrate to a health plan?” His cofounder and Johns Hopkins classmate Joseph Abrahamson points out that because healthcare is heavily regulated, entrepreneurs face additional barriers such as understanding FDA guidelines. “Being able to learn from [other teams’] processes is really helpful,” he adds.

HomeTeam Therapy

Tim Fu and Jason White, recent graduates of MIT’s Sloan School of Management and cofounders of HomeTeam Therapy, which uses online video and video games to help physical therapy patients, expressed a similar point of view. Says Fu, “with HIPAA and data privacy, thankfully there’s a large people who’ve already dealt with this stuff and know all the right people to ask.”

Susan Johnston is a journalist and contributor to VentureFizz.  You can follow Susan on Twitter (@UrbanMuseWriter) by clicking here.

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