Hacking Health: What Does It Take to Build a Med Tech Ecosystem?

Regional healthcare organizations, IT experts, clinicians, and entrepreneurs will spend the weekend at TechTown Detroit for the third annual Hacking Health event, which is designed to break open silos and inspire new collaborations between med tech innovators on both sides of the Detroit River.

Attendees of the weekend hackathon, hosted by TechTown and Ontario’s WEtech Alliance, will work together to create new apps facilitating patient-centric care and solutions to public health challenges.

Hacking Health is meant to be a companion event to February’s MedHealth Summit, which drew more than 300 participants to Detroit from Southeast Michigan and greater Windsor, ON. At the summit, keynote speakers and panelists covered topics such as how to build health tech ecosystems, startups pitched investors and met potential customers, and future collaborators spent the afternoon networking. Paul Riser Jr., TechTown’s manager of technology-based entrepreneurship, and his fellow event organizers also looked at what the region’s med tech cluster does well and how it stacks up to other regional clusters.

“Healthcare systems are able to intentionally engage with the startup community at these events,” he says. “The med tech environment regionally has a compelling story to tell, especially cross-border. That’s a huge differentiator—we have two different healthcare systems with totally different regulatory structures.”

While the Detroit-Windsor region might provide a unique proving ground to healthcare technologists, it’s a startup ecosystem that, despite growing quickly, is still fairly nascent. Vijay Chauhan, who leads the GlobalSTL initiative for BioSTL, an organization dedicated to nurturing the St. Louis biotech community, spoke at the MedHealth Summit in February. Riser was put in contact with Chauhan through the U.S. Small Business Administration, which wanted to connect people in healthcare to share mentorship and best practices.

Chauhan said he saw parallels between his community and Detroit-Windsor: a major city determined to shed its Rust Belt legacy, a motivated ecosystem open to collaboration, strong universities and healthcare systems, and service providers such as TechTown and WEtech willing to act as conveners.

“What I saw was a really nice community process playing out,” he said in a phone interview after the MedHealth Summit. “The desire to transform Detroit’s economy was very palpable in that room. It was very mission-oriented—it didn’t seem like people were just there because it’s their job.”

Chauhan said the University of Michigan’s participation in the summit was a good sign, as it’s “such a powerhouse of healthcare infrastructure and innovation.” He also sees transformative potential in dedicating resources to studying and improving public health, as Wayne State University’s medical school is increasingly doing.

A key factor in the success of St. Louis’s biotech community, he added, is Bill Danforth, chancellor emeritus of Washington University and founding chairman of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, which played a leadership role in building the city’s entrepreneurial infrastructure. Chauhan said Danforth established the center after he saw lots of new medical innovations coming out of the state’s universities, but nowhere locally to develop them.

Danforth ended up playing the role of a “massive convener” who took a selfless … Next Page »

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Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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