Hacking Health: What Does It Take to Build a Med Tech Ecosystem?

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approach to building the med tech ecosystem, spending about 10 years behind the scenes coordinating efforts between entrepreneurs, private industry, government, and academia.

Chauhan said he’s not sure if a Danforthian coordinator is the key in every region, but he feels it definitely helped to prevent “little fiefdoms” from taking root and resulted in a more egalitarian process. He also credits Danforth’s support staff for their work “quietly, systematically” building the community. For nine years, he said, there was no website or any other online presence alerting the public to the work being done behind the curtain.

“To fully leverage that bet is the other half of the story,” Chauhan said. “It would be interesting to see if there are other surrogates that could create a similar outcome, but the challenge with the Detroit region is its scale—that’s a big footprint. I couldn’t get a sense [at the MedHealth Summit] of how one breaks through the noise to build critical mass. It’s easy for things to take off, but how do you grow and sustain over time? I felt like there was a lot of good mid-level engagement at the summit, but you probably need more high-level leadership involved.”

He suggested Bill Ford, executive chairman of the Ford Motor Company, as someone who might be able to serve as a “massive convener” in the Detroit-Windsor region. (The Henry Ford Health System is also connected to the Ford family.) Another source of leadership could be local entrepreneurs who have experienced a lot of economic success, or maybe a sizable exit. He wondered what would have happened, for instance, if Michigan’s governor, Rick Snyder, had chosen entrepreneurial service work instead of politics after the tech company he worked for, Gateway, was acquired by Acer in 2007.

“You want to look for a ‘what to do next’ kind of person,” he added. “Governor Snyder might have been more effective in a [convener] role like this than he has been as governor, but it’s ego-gratifying to run a whole state.” Chauhan said that one can only go so far to change a system or build a community from inside, and sees talent retention and attracting expatriates back into the fold as major components of growth. (A returning resident from a well-established med tech ecosystem might be the ideal person to lead ecosystem-building, he added.)

Riser describes the injection of energy and capital provided to St. Louis by Danforth as “awesome,” and feels the New Economy Initiative’s decision to sponsor Hacking Health and the MedHealth Summit is a similarly catalyzing action that will lead to “leveraging synergies” in the future. The Detroit-Windsor region already does a good job at building and investing in startups, getting academia involved in startups, and collaborating, he says. One challenge still remaining? Getting the word out about regional success stories, he says.

“How do we tell the collective story so we’re a destination and not just flyover country?” Riser asks. “As we start to scale, it won’t be one or two big things that make a difference, but a lot of little things. There’s a lot of neat stuff happening in 2017.”

Riser is looking forward to seeing the apps come to fruition at Hacking Health. Registration is free, and participants can bring a pre-selected team with them or form teams at the event. Attendees are encouraged to post their ideas ahead of time to get participants thinking of potential solutions. Riser says people can also come to the hackathon without an app idea or team and get matched up with other participants on Friday night.

“I think this year’s Hacking Health event will be the best yet because we’re building off the momentum of the summit and previous hackathons,” Riser predicts. “We’ll be even more informed and united. It’s a low risk, low barrier-to-entry event where anyone from student to CEO can find value.”


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