A Post-Demo Day Look at Three Rock Health Startups-WeSprout, Pipette, and BrainBot

11/15/11Follow @wroush

A confession: When I first heard that a recent Harvard Business School MBA named Halle Tecco intended to start an incubator for healthcare startups in San Francisco, I was more than a little skeptical. It seemed to me that all of the successful incubators, such as Y Combinator, succeed by picking Internet and mobile startups. Those are areas where the capital requirements and other barriers to entry are at a historic low, so budding entrepreneurs can get a lot done quickly. Healthcare is a completely different game: it’s an ossified industry plagued by huge inefficiencies, where doctors, insurers, hospitals, and patients are all resistant to change.

But I resolved to follow Rock Health closely, to see how the incubator model—typically built around a several-month period of intense product and customer development, entrepreneurship training, and mentorship with local executives and investors—would work for healthcare startups. I kept track of several of the startups during their five-month training period. And after attending the first Rock Health Demo Day last Thursday, when 13 graduating companies presented to investors last Thursday, I have to say that while not all of these companies are ready for prime time, I’m pretty impressed.

The amount of progress these 13 companies have made during their five-month residency at Rock Heath is nothing short of amazing. They’ve all got users testing (and in some cases paying for) their services, and one of them, Skimble, can already boast that more than a million people have downloaded its fitness apps from the iTunes App Store.

The Rock Health Class of 2011 at Demo Day

Of course, it probably helps that almost all of these companies are building products or services at the boundary between healthcare and Web or mobile services. When the main material for your product is code, and the main skill sets you need on your team are software engineering and business development, you can speed forward a lot faster than if you were trying to develop a new drug or medical device. Innovation in traditional therapeutics, in other words, is still just as slow and hazardous as it ever was (perhaps even more so, as venture investors flee the sector). But it’s a marvelous thing that the incubator spirit has caught hold around the edges of healthcare, where innovations in the way we monitor health data, communicate health messages, and administer healthcare organizations can make a real difference in the cost and quality of medicine.

I summed up all 13 Demo Day presentations in a series of live tweets from the event, which you can review on page 3 of this story, or over at Storify. Below, I want to give you a taste of the activity around Rock Health during its inaugural term by introducing you to three of the companies that presented last week: WeSprout, Pipette, and BrainBot. I first met with the founders of these three companies in late August, when they were at the halfway point in their Rock Health experience. It was fun to see how things had evolved in the final 12 weeks leading up to Demo Day.

WeSprout: A Crowdsourced Q&A Site for Parents of Young Children

WeSprout founder Jackson Wilkinson, a software engineer who’s done past gigs at Posterous and LinkedIn, says his team applied to Rock Health with nothing but a vague idea about connecting communities with medical data online. He says getting into the incubator program was what gave him and co-founder Keith Muth the courage to quit their previous jobs and “go whole hog” with the idea, which quickly gained specificity with help from Wilkinson’s fiancé Carol Peebles, a pediatrician at UCSF, who is the startup’s medical advisor.

Today WeSprout is a community question-and-answer site where parents can get advice about their kids’ health problems from other parents; it’s also got … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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  • http://www.feldmansr.com Bonnie Feldman

    I also found that the spirit of open collaboration and sharing, between and among new and established innovators, was refreshing

  • Pingback: Rock Health – Class of 2011 Demo Day | mdoeff.com

  • ron dixon

    BrainBot and WeSprout both have a very compelling model. Bot’s data bank is obviously their key strength in product development. They can simply lease it to other app developers and make good money. Awesome presentation(and write up).