Human Practice: MATTER – Uniting Chicago’s Healthcare Communities

If you’re hip in Chicago, you’ve probably heard of 1871, the entrepreneurial space for digital startups. What you might not be aware of yet is MATTER, an emerging incubator built solely for healthcare technology startups. Like 1871, it calls the Merchandise Mart its home, and it opens in early 2015. As a healthcare startup, we’re excited to have all of Chicago’s greatest minds in health innovation coming together. We spoke to Steve Collens, CEO of MATTER, to find out more about the space and what we can expect from it next year.

New Opportunities

Having also led the team that created 1871, Mr. Collens bases his leadership on a fundamental truth of entrepreneurship: that we are more inspired, better connected, and more likely to succeed when we work as a community rather than isolated units scattered across Chicago.

“Our opportunity is to bring together different parts of the community that are currently fragmented and disconnected,” Mr. Collens said. “1871 has become the town center for the digital community in Chicago because previously, there wasn’t a central place for entrepreneurs to go to build their companies and build relationships. There also wasn’t an obvious place for out of town investors or executives. Now, there’s a really dynamic, energetic community.”

MATTER aims to bring that same energy to healthcare innovation, and at the perfect time, Mr. Collens pointed out. While innovations in technology create opportunities to improve patient care and care delivery, policy and financial pressures are pushing healthcare providers and suppliers to be more efficient and outcome-driven than ever before. It’s an era of healthcare that necessitates growth and collaboration among entrepreneurs focused on medical devices, healthcare IT, pharmaceuticals, and public health, just to name a few.

Chicago Ecosystem

“I don’t think people have, historically, looked at Chicago as an innovation center for healthcare startups, but if you look at all the components we have here—leading companies, world class research institutions, leading health systems, and great entrepreneurial minds—you see that Chicago has a real opportunity to be one of the leading hubs of health technology innovation.”

MATTER is designed to make that opportunity a reality. From the physical design of the space to the intellectual and social resources provided to new companies, every aspect of MATTER is carefully planned to help build things that matter.

Companies working in MATTER will have access to a wide network of mentors, subject matter experts to teach classes and lead workshops, and established organizations to connect with. Additionally, the incubator is partnering with health systems and universities to spur innovation on a grand scale.

“Being able to readily tap into resources, connecting with peers who have had similar experiences, and understanding who to do business with across different parts of the healthcare system is extremely valuable,” Mr. Collens said.

Community Design

The design of the incubator will reflect this collaboration between different aspects of the healthcare system. It includes a shop for medical device entrepreneurs to prototype physical products, an interaction design studio where companies can simulate interactions between care providers and patients, and space for new products to be showcased.

“We want this to resemble a real world environment, not a conference room.”

The most important aspect of pulling the project together, Mr. Collens said, is the same thing that made 1871 so successful.

“We’ve worked very closely with the whole community. There were hundreds of entrepreneurs and stakeholders in the community who participated in the ideation of design from a physical and operational point of view. We’ve gotten input from leaders in universities and health systems, as well as entrepreneurs. Everyone in the ecosystem is contributing to the design of the space.”

As Mr. Collens puts it, MATTER must be a product of its community to be an effective home for it. We’re excited to see our community grow.

You can learn more about MATTER, or apply to be in the incubator, here.

Image via Gensler