Healthbox, Busy in Boston, Expands and Diversifies Amid Seed-Stage Flood
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Now that gap has largely been filled, and the healthcare industry—which is well known for being risk-averse—is clamoring for more mature companies and ideas. “What’s the right stage for us to be sitting at?” Nashif asks. “What’s the right stage for the accelerator as well as the industry?”
Diversifying the stage of its companies will probably mean adjusting the deal structure, she says—currently the startups receive $50,000 in return for a 7 percent equity stake. (Each program has a different fund with different limited partners, Nashif says.) But what will stay the same is Healthbox’s fundamental offering, she says: “Our value is speed to market, given our network. We help move them towards commercialization.”
The biggest question remaining, then, is how to actually solve the huge problems in healthcare through innovation driven by small companies.
To that end, Healthbox is trying to create a “pipeline of innovation into the industry, versus a pipeline for VC, through partnerships and dialogues,” Nashif says. (Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts is a major local partner for Healthbox.) There’s a big knowledge and communication gap between large companies and small companies, she adds. “We need to be the bridge.”
For example, health and wellness is a hot sector these days. “But the right incentive structures don’t exist. Why? Why haven’t we seen results? What are people willing to buy?” she says.
Ultimately, the answers lie in “learning how big corporate works with the small entrepreneur,” she says. And the various pilot programs running in Healthbox’s cities, with help from local partners, should shed more light on that innovation process.
“We don’t have all the answers,” Nashif acknowledges. “These are things we continue to think about.”
Meanwhile, the current graduating class of Healthbox Boston startups exemplifies a trend toward patient-centered care, she says. “There are more and more companies around patient engagement, patient choice, patient access, and how do you provide the tools and information” to make that happen.
And Healthbox’s interest in the Boston ecosystem seems as strong as ever. “Boston was the best place that we could be, after launching in Chicago,” Nashif says, “because of the concentration of hospitals, amount of VC funding, and leadership in creating the health exchanges.”
Tellingly, she adds that Boston is a “progressive environment, but you’re still dealing with a very entrenched industry.”