Symphony Corp. Plans Healthtech Startup Incubator in Madison HQ

Symphony Corp., the Wisconsin-based healthcare technology consultant with employees in the U.S. and India, is planning an incubator space in its Madison headquarters for healthtech startups, company leaders say.

Symphony, founded in 1997 by India native and University of Wisconsin-Madison engineering graduate Ravi Kalla, provides a variety of information technology services to the healthcare industry, including developing custom software, helping implement electronic health records systems, data hosting, and data analytics.

In recent years, Symphony has also quietly established a track record helping build healthtech startups that went on to be acquired. In some cases, Symphony has served as a contract developer of the startup’s software, while in others it developed a product on its own and spun it off.

Kalla, Symphony’s sole owner, launched an angel investment fund in 2014 with $5 million of his own money. SymphonyAlpha Ventures has put $2.2 million into six startups, mostly Midwest healthtech companies, he says.

Now, Kalla wants to go a step further by housing SymphonyAlpha-backed startups in his office. The incubator will primarily target healthtech companies based in Madison. It’s seeking startups in the earliest stages—ones that have a good idea, but haven’t started selling a product or raised venture capital, Kalla says.

“There’s so many bright people in Wisconsin because Epic is there,” he says, referring to Epic Systems, the electronic health records software giant. “Lots of them have healthcare knowledge. They’re entrepreneurial. They see the gaps” in healthcare.

There has been an explosion of startup incubators and accelerators worldwide over the past decade. In Wisconsin, they include for-profit accelerator Gener8tor, as well as a slew of nonprofit programs that cater to seed-stage companies and dole out grants instead of the traditional equity investment. Symphony will also be competing with healthcare-focused investors and startup programs located around the country, like Rock Health, StartUp Health, and Healthbox.

Symphony isn’t the first to try a healthtech startup incubator in Madison. Three former Epic employees launched 100health last year but scrapped it within six months, partly due to a lack of resources and challenges with their particular model. 100health’s co-founders instead decided to pour all their efforts into running one of the incubator’s portfolio companies, Redox.

Ravi Kalla

Ravi Kalla

Kalla thinks he’s got the recipe for a successful healthtech incubator. The key, he says, is Symphony’s combination of investment dollars, product development prowess, and industry connections. Incubator companies will be able to tap Symphony’s software development staff to build their products—the company currently has 140 employees and 100 contractors in the U.S., plus another 80 employees in India. Once the product is ready to hit the market, Symphony should be able to quickly secure pilot customers by leveraging relationships with its own customers, who include 65 healthcare providers nationwide, Kalla says.

“We can bring the clients to the table, we can build the products quicker,” he says. “We are not a passive investor.”

Kalla has seen some small Madison healthtech startups struggle to win customers, partly because they often are only selling a single software product that might be difficult to integrate with a hospital’s existing system. “Independently, they are good solutions,” Kalla says, but they “don’t fit into the current work flow.”

Symphony has experience developing successful healthcare software products. It spun off Symphony Data, whose software managed administrative tasks like billing for hospitals and insurance companies. Symphony Data, which had a large portion of its staff in India, was acquired in 2005 by Zavata for an undisclosed sum, and Zavata was purchased by Apollo Health Street two years later.

Another Symphony creation, SymphonyCare, was acquired by Medseek in 2013 for an undisclosed price. SymphonyCare’s software provided population health analytics and care management tools.

Symphony also developed the initial product for … Next Page »

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

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