Pulse@MassChallenge Spurs Deals in Digital Health Lab’s 1st Session

The refrain among digital health startups is it can be difficult and time-consuming to convince hospitals and other healthcare organizations to try out their products, let alone buy them.

Pulse@MassChallenge, a new Boston “lab” dedicated to supporting digital health ventures, matches startups with partner organizations—think hospitals, insurers, larger tech companies, nonprofits, and government entities—to collaborate on specific projects. One of the goals is to foster business deals within six months.

The model can work, if Pulse’s first six-month session—which culminated with a demo event Tuesday night—is any indication. Program director Nick Dougherty says some of the 31 participating companies’ products were being used by partners in real-world environments within two months. By the end of the session, some had turned those pilots into paying customer agreements, he says.

“We have these startups where by the end of [the session], they have paid contracts, they have real data, and they have touched the lives of real people,” Dougherty says. “It’s really cool to me to see if you bring people together and provide them with resources and provide them with a deadline, you can get the community to move quicker.”

Pulse is run by MassChallenge, the Boston-based nonprofit that operates startup accelerator programs around the world. Like MassChallenge’s other programs, early-stage companies selected for Pulse don’t give up any equity to participate. In addition to receiving access to mentors, partners, potential investors, and office space, Pulse companies are eligible for prize money.

Pulse awarded the bulk of those grants Tuesday night. The biggest winners were SyncThink, which was awarded $100,000; Twiage, which got $60,000; and Rendever, which won $40,000.

Dougherty declined to share many details about the partnerships forged through Pulse. But he says SyncThink secured agreements with collegiate athletic associations and professional sports teams for its eye-tracking device. The company says the technology can be used on sidelines to help quickly evaluate players who might have suffered a concussion.

Twiage’s communications software for paramedics and other hospital staff was deployed in several regional hospitals during the six-month program, Dougherty says.

Rendever, which creates virtual reality experiences for people living in nursing homes and assisted living communities, has been working with AARP. Dougherty declined to share more details about that partnership.

In addition, he says some of the participating startups are close to scoring venture capital. (He didn’t share specifics.)

The questions now are whether Pulse can continue fostering partnerships that give startups a leg up, and whether the work will have a meaningful effect on healthcare and the local healthtech cluster.

“Is the community prepared to come together and collaborate year after year, to bring healthcare innovation forward?” Dougherty says. “I think that’ll be the real test.”

Jeff Engel is a senior editor at Xconomy. Email: jengel@xconomy.com Follow @JeffEngelXcon

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