Massachusetts Aims to Raise Its Stature in Digital Health

Massachusetts is home to a sizable healthcare technology sector—some 250 companies, according to state estimates, including names like American Well, Athenahealth, Kyruus, PillPack, and Maxwell Health.

But a group of prominent stakeholders from the public and private sectors wants to take the state’s digital health cluster to new heights. An initiative announced Thursday aims to do just that, by providing more resources to local healthtech startups and building stronger connections between companies, healthcare providers, research institutions, and government.

The Massachusetts Competitive Partnership (MACP)—a nonprofit public policy group made up of prominent local CEOs—conceived the idea for the initiative and garnered support from Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration, a state agency spokesman said. The effort was announced at Boston Children’s Hospital by supporters including Baker, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, and other leaders in government, healthcare, and technology.

The support for Massachusetts’s digital health industry comes at a time when investors are pumping more money into healthtech companies, and no region has yet claimed the title of leading healthtech hub. Some contenders are obvious, such as Boston and the San Francisco Bay Area, while others, like Madison, WI, fly under the radar.

Advocates for Massachusetts’s digital health sector believe the state has the pieces to increase the size and competitiveness of its cluster: top-notch hospitals and research universities, plenty of venture capital, a strong pool of software companies and tech talent, and a huge life sciences sector.

The new initiative is still in its infancy, and details (such as financial terms) are scant. But here’s a basic overview of what stakeholders have done or are planning to do:

—A “digital health innovation hub” will be created in Boston: a physical space to host events and support programs for startups. It will be managed and operated by MassChallenge, the Boston-based nonprofit accelerator for early-stage companies, according to a press release.

A state agency spokesman said the hub will receive up to $250,000 from the Massachusetts eHealth Institute (MeHI), a division of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, a state economic development agency known as MassTech. There’s currently no timeline for when the space will open, the spokesman said.

—MACP helped develop a set of templates for licensing and sponsored research agreements aimed at making it easier for entrepreneurs and companies to form partnerships with local academic institutions. The idea is to streamline the commercialization of new technologies. Those agreements are posted on MeHI’s website.

—MACP will try to come up with “innovative approaches” to securing private funding for new or existing digital health companies that are based in Massachusetts or plan to move here, the press release said.

—MeHI will work to promote and nurture the local health IT sector, including by helping to connect entrepreneurs with healthcare providers and forming partnerships with state agencies on healthcare data initiatives.

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