How an Indiana health system and MATTER worked together to help lower infant mortality amidst COVID-19

In 2018, the governor of Indiana challenged local healthcare providers and innovators to bring Indiana’s infant mortality rate — then the highest in the country — down to the lowest in the Midwest by 2024.

To tackle this challenge, Parkview Health, a not-for-profit healthcare system based in northeast Indiana (where the infant mortality rate is even higher than the state average) partnered with MATTER, Management Performance Hub and the Indiana Chapter of HIMSS to launch the Healthy Mom and Baby Competition in early 2020. The competition called on innovators to submit digital and device-enabled solutions that improve the health of women during pregnancy and their babies after birth.

Two months after the competition closed, we’re taking a look back into the seven month process and how the partners worked together to find three solutions that, with Parkview’s guidance, can help lower the infant mortality rate in Indiana and across the globe.

An innovation leader shares a personal connection to the competition

The journey began with a call for solutions in February. Parkview and MATTER sourced a pool of the most innovative solutions in the infant mortality space, relying heavily on MATTER’s network of global healthcare entrepreneurs.

“We wouldn’t have gotten the amount of submissions or the quality of submissions that we did without MATTER,” said Ethel Massing, innovation project specialist at Parkview. “MATTER has that connection to entrepreneurs and innovators that we just don’t have yet.”

During the submission stage of the competition, the innovation team at Parkview shared that answering the call to lower infant mortality and improve the health of newborns and their mothers was not just a state challenge, but a challenge one of their own had faced personally. Charlotte Gabet, innovation and simulation lab manager at Parkview, experienced complications during pregnancy due to stress, leading to an early and dangerous delivery. In a call to innovators to share their solutions, Charlotte told her story:

By the end of the three month application period, more than 59 startups submitted their solutions. Submissions came from the Midwest as well as across the globe, including Russia and Africa.

“We were very surprised at the amount of submissions and the quality of those submissions,” said Ethel. “We received so many different kinds of solutions from all over the world, spanning six different countries.”

Parkview and MATTER make the pivot to a virtual competition

When the Parkview competition was initially launched, two in-person events and two in-person accelerators were planned: an accelerator for semi-finalists, a semi-finalist pitch day, an accelerator for finalists and a finalist pitch day.

However, one month into the call for solutions, the COVID-19 pandemic took center stage. States across the country began implementing or planning stay-at-home orders and many companies were forced to pause or shift focus. Parkview and MATTER had a decision to make: whether to put a hold on the competition or keep moving forward — but with a different approach.

In the end, the decision was easy.

“With the onset of the pandemic, we realized that it would be even more difficult for pregnant women to get the care that they needed,” said Rachel Berliner, senior partnerships manager at MATTER. “We knew it was essential to continue, even if the competition looked different than we had originally planned.”

“With the onset of the pandemic, we realized that it would be even more difficult for pregnant women to get the care that they needed.”

Parkview and MATTER shifted all events and accelerators to be fully virtual. While virtual programs were not what the partners had originally envisioned, according to Rachel, they allowed for a more diverse, global pool of innovators to participate.

Startups and health system leaders work together to refine solutions

On April 22, Parkview announced that 10 semi-finalists were selected to participate in a three-month virtual accelerator to further develop and test their solutions with leaders from Parkview Health and MATTER. That group pitched their solutions to Parkview on June 1, where an overall winner and five finalists were selected to go through another three-month accelerator in preparation for the final pitch day.

The accelerators allowed participating startups the opportunity to refine their solutions with an experienced health system, which both prepared them for the pitch days and helped them to refine their business models so that, whether or not they moved forward with Parkview, they had the tools to build a stronger solution.

“The impact of a hospital system on a startup can make or break them,” said Charlotte, who helped lead the accelerators. “If we can help them with their product development, validating their product and moving forward, that’s a huge win — and something I love to be a part of.”

“The impact of a hospital system on a startup can make or break them.”

Parkview predicts a bright future for infant and maternal health

When the competition launched, Parkview hoped that they would find one strong team to partner with. However, after the finalist pitch day on September 17, they realized that they had not just one, but three teams they wanted to move forward with.

TheraB Medical won the overall competition, and the opportunity to pilot with Parkview, with their portable solution for infant jaundice. Parkview also decided to move forward with two other companies: Candlelit Therapy, who won $10,000 at the semi-finalists competition with their app-based therapy clinic that provides new and expectant parents of color with on-demand counseling, and Advanced Medical Simulation Lab, who created a program that provides education around safe sleep.

“I really think that we’ll have an impact [on the governor’s challenge] with these three startups,” said Charlotte. “It might start off small, but where I see all three startups going, I really think they could advance care not just in Indiana, but across the nation and even other countries.”

Interested in hosting a healthcare innovation challenge or competition with MATTER? Learn about corporate partnership at MATTER.