Chicago Sun Times: Why health care innovation is about to blow up in Chicago

By Sandra Guy 8/12/14

Adam Piotrowski got stuck when he tried to start a medical device company here three years ago.

“I knew Chicago was a great place to start a business, but it was hard to find a place to be based where I could develop and set up prototypes, work with a variety of resources nearby and get in touch with all of the people I needed to,” the Oak Park native said. “I had to find my own office space, start everything from scratch, and it was hard to find and hire talent. It was hard to have conversations and network because no life science hub existed.”

Piotrowski is trying again, and this time he is excited to apply for membership in Chicago’s newest innovation incubator, Matter, expected to open in early 2015 next to digital tech hub 1871 at the Merchandise Mart.

On Tuesday, officials with Matter — an incubator for biopharma, health IT and medical device companies — announced at a news conference that they are taking membership applications at

Rates for the 200 or so companies accepted will start at $150 a month, and include access to Matter’s classes, events and mentor network as well as to research universities, health care providers, local health tech companies and venture capital firms.

Piotrowski, who earned his undergraduate and master’s degrees in engineering at Stanford University and was an “innovation fellow” at Northwestern University’s Center for Device Development, wants to hire local talent and create new medical devices at Matter.

Piotrowski has started developing devices to help patients get faster, more intelligent treatment after lung and breast-cancer surgery, and to reduce infections common to obese women who have babies by C-section.

He also wants to mentor entrepreneurs at Matter, since he has worked at five startups.

With Chicago’s wealth of research institutions, health care companies, and national medical and health care societies, Piotrowski said, “This is dry tinder for explosive health care innovation.”

Two other entrepreneurs who will apply for membership have started businesses to help doctors and caregivers communicate faster and more efficiently with patients, and save costs in the long run.

Scott Vold, CEO and co-founder of Fibroblast, has sold 91 health care providers in the Midwest on his company’s solution to set up a patient’s referral appointment right at the doctor’s office and email or text the patient an appointment reminder, including directions how to get to the appointment.

With the solution, a doctor’s front-desk workers can find online and in real time the best in-network doctor to whom to refer the patient based on any number of criteria, such as quality, cost, distance from the patient’s home and patient-satisfaction ratings. They send the necessary information about insurance and clinical data to the next doctor.

“The patient has nothing left to do but show up [for the referral appointment],” Vold said.

“We’re making sure that no patient falls through the cracks,” he said, noting that the company’s name, Fibroblast, reflects a cell in the body that forms connective tissue and that is critical to the healing process.

Asif Khan, founder and CEO of caremerge, is working with more than 100 senior living sites, ranging from nursing homes to independent living centers, to help families, staff and clinicians make better and faster health care decisions for the residents.
Families can use a free app and get alerts on their mobile device with real-time information about their loved one.

“Is mom eating well? Are her tests being done on time? Are there any medications I should pick up at the pharmacy? That’s the kind of information families find out by being synced up to the care providers,” Khan said.

For authorized clinicians and other caregivers, they get to see what each other is doing for a specific patient. They sync up on clinical care through secure messaging and shared schedules, task lists, care plans and other information.

“Our solution is about everyone coming together and learning from each other,” Khan said, noting that it can save money for Medicaid and Medicare-dependent living centers by treating patients “proactively” rather than after a bigger problem develops.

Matter will be headed by Steven Collens, formerly chief of staff to J.B. Pritzker at Pritzker Group and a veteran of Abbott Laboratories.

Patrick Flavin, managing partner at Flavin Ventures and co-founder with brothers John and Mike Flavin of five biopharma companies, was named executive director of partnerships.

Matter gets most of its funding from corporate sponsors. It has received a state grant of $2.5 million and a state loan of $1.5 million to help it boost the private funding.

In his remarks Tuesday, Pritzker said the Chicago region — with the nation’s third-largest health care economy — is geographically dispersed and needs the kind of collaborative space that Matter will provide.