Blueprint Health, New Incubator in NYC, Looks to Nurture Health IT Startups

10/3/11Follow @arleneweintraub

When Brad Weinberg started up his first company, ShapeUp, in 2006, incubator programs like TechStars and Y Combinator were barely off the ground. So Weinberg and his colleagues were left pretty much on their own to develop their software platform, which combines social networking, gaming, and financial incentives to promote wellness. The company has done well, Weinberg says, but the more he observed what was happening at TechStars, the more he wanted to start up a similar incubator—but one that would only cater to entrepreneurs working on health-related technology.

Now Weinberg’s wish has come to life, in the form of Blueprint Health, a new startup accelerator based in New York City. Blueprint’s three-month program, which will start in January, is taking applications from companies developing technology products for patients, doctors, hospitals, pharmacies, health plans, or employers. “We’re very interested in hearing from people that are trying to solve clinical issues, workflow issues with nurses and residents, and other problems that come up in healthcare settings,” says Weinberg, one of Blueprint’s partners.

Blueprint, which has raised $400,000 for its program, expects to receive 300 applications for 10 spots in the first class of startups, Weinberg says. They will set up shop at an office in Union Square that Weinberg can’t talk about yet, except to say, “It’s a really cool space.” Blueprint is a member of the TechStars Network—a group of incubators around the country that share best practices from that program and other business accelerators, Weinberg says.

For example, a hallmark of the TechStars program is mentoring from entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and other business leaders. Blueprint will adopt that model, too. Weinberg says each Blueprint startup will be assigned at least five mentors, who will help the entrepreneurs work out sales strategies and establish the contacts they need to move forward.

Blueprint’s mentors represent a who’s-who of health-business leaders, such as Frederic Zussa, director of worldwide innovation and strategy for Pfizer, and Ben Haywood, co-founder of PatientsLikeMe. Another mentor, Oliver Kharrza, is the co-founder of one of NYC’s biggest health-tech success stories, ZocDoc, which has raised $95 million for its service that allows patients to book doctors’ appointments online.

Several VC firms are lending mentors to the Blueprint program, including Bessemer Venture Partners, Google Ventures, Highland Capital Partners, HLM Venture Partners, and Spark Capital. Each startup will receive $20,000 in seed funding, and Blueprint will take a 6 percent ownership stake in the new companies (similar to the TechStars model).

Blueprint is the latest participant in what might be called a Renaissance of business incubators in New York. Several incubators have popped up in the city in the last two years, including Dogpatch Labs, General Assembly, and BMW’s car-focused i Ventures.

And there are health IT incubators in other cities, including Rock Health in San Francisco, which started up over the summer. But Weinberg says Blueprint is different. “Rock Health is more focused on consumer-oriented, app-like startups,” he says. “We’re more focused on enterprise companies.”

Weinberg, a physician by training, adds that many of Blueprint’s mentors are physicians—people who use the health IT products that are on the market now and likely have a good perspective on the holes that need to be filled. “We have the largest network of mentors with healthcare experience,” he says.

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