Startup Chicago incubator targets healthcare delivery

By And is Robeznieks, Modern Healthcare  | February 18, 2015

Cardiac resuscitation specialist Dr. Dana Edelson says she’d like to help data analytics do for healthcare what it’s done for baseball.

“We task clinicians to interpret vast amounts of data in less amounts of time,” Edelson said at last week’s kickoff event opening the Matter health information technology startup company incubator in Chicago’s Merchandise Mart.

Edelson, an assistant professor of medicine and hospitalist at the University of Chicago, is the founder and chief medical officer of Quant HC, a Matter-based company whose eCART system is designed to keep patients out of the intensive-care unit. It detects patient deterioration and alerts staff about the potential for cardiac arrest.

 She noted that her training in medicine and biostatistics did not prepare her for turning an idea into a product, but the support she is receiving through the experts at Matter is making it happen.

“I couldn’t do this alone and frankly I’d be too terrified to even try,” Edelson said.

Edelson and some 70 other health IT entrepreneurs are getting guidance from in-house mentors like Jordan Dolin, a University of Chicago adjunct business professor and co-founder of Emmi Solutions, a developer of patient-engagement tools.

“We have to stop talking about ‘technology’ itself and, instead, talk about what it does,” Dolin said. “Technology is but a tool to drive a business action or a clinical outcome.”

Dolin said he liked the focus at Matter, which is aimed at improving healthcare delivery. The companies it supports are expected to create jobs and economic development, but he said it differs from most incubators, which are designed to teach entrepreneurs how to attract venture capital for high-risk, high-reward startups.

“The current incubator model doesn’t foster innovation,” he said, adding that “way too much” innovation occurs in a vacuum that leads to developing products that may solve one problem but create three others.

The plan is to have entrepreneurs get feedback from clinicians, both in person and online. Mentors will also help the budding businesses avoid regulatory pitfalls and red flags.

Matter CEO Steven Collens, a former senior vice president for the Pritzker Group investment firm, noted at the opening that Chicago is home to several medical schools, teaching hospitals and national healthcare organizations such as the American Hospital Association and the American Medical Association. The AMA plans to run an “interaction studio” with Matter that the association said will help physicians and entrepreneurs “test new models for healthcare delivery.” The AMA’s executive vice president, Dr. James Madara, was one of the speakers at the opening.

Collens said the city has “more healthcare expertise than anywhere else in the world” because of these institutions, and told of how Matter had its beginnings with a discussion in Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office two years ago.

Emanuel was among the entrepreneurs and politicians who spoke at the opening, as were the new Illinois governor, Republican Bruce Rauner, and its senior U.S. senator, Democrat Richard Durbin.

“I’m from the federal government and I’m here to help,” Durbin said, paraphrasing an old joke made famous by President Ronald Reagan.

Durbin then adopted a more serious tone as he recalled hearing of National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins’ concern over the decline of biomedical research funding and the investment needed to fight Alzheimer’s disease and health problems.

“The object is to keep people healthier at lower cost,” Durbin said. “Washington can help, but it will take the private sector.”

Follow Andis Robeznieks on Twitter: @MHARobeznieks