Anyone who has followed the Flint water crisis for the past few years probably thinks of the post-industrial Michigan city as a place that can’t seem to catch a break. Five years after a state-appointed city manager switched the municipal water source to the notoriously polluted Flint River and poisoned residents, the city’s people are still no closer to justice. Many continue to struggle—but that doesn’t mean that Flint is giving up. Instead, there has been an uptick in state and national groups on the ground partnering with city organizations on everything from nurturing startups and creating innovation hubs to community organizing and healthcare initiatives.
A new accelerator called XLerate Health (XLH) is one of these new programs in Flint. Based in Louisville, KY, XLH is a healthcare accelerator focused on early-stage companies. The first XLH Flint cohort will kick off its 12-week bootcamp program with a free launch party 5-7 p.m. July 9 at its space in the Ferris Wheel building; the event is open to the public.
Jackie Willmot, XLH CEO, says the Flint effort is funded by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and 100K Ideas, and she says the expansion was spurred by Phil Hagerman, CEO of Skypoint Ventures and co-founder of 100K Ideas. XLH Louisville began in 2013, and Willmot says it wasn’t long before startups in the program began traveling to Flint to conduct pilots because it was an area “ripe” for healthcare innovation, in part due to its robust hospital system.
Hagerman and his team were, in turn, impressed with the XLH curriculum and wanted to recruit the accelerator as a participant in their efforts to bolster Flint’s healthcare and life sciences ecosystem. After engaging in discussions and learning more about Flint, XLH opened its Michigan office on Jan. 1 and set about finding its first participants.
Willmot describes XLH as an SBA award-winning program that helps to commercialize healthcare companies, including those working in digital health, healthcare services, and life science and biotech. Through its bootcamp, XLH connects startups with clinical, academic, and industry representatives who help entrepreneurs think through all aspects of commercialization, from finding customers and determining strategies to obtain reimbursement from payers to conducting pilots and raising funding.
The accelerator’s national network of mentors from across healthcare play a big role in helping cohort companies succeed, according to Willmot. In exchange for XLH’s services, participating startups give up 2 percent equity. XLH has worked with over 60 startups since its inception, and Willmot says 88 percent of these companies are still operational. XLH companies have raised over $35 million so far, she says. (The Flint startups will be pitching investors at a Sept. 25 demo day.)
“Flint has a lot of health challenges, and our mission is to help early-stage startups but with a keen focus on understanding populations,” Willmot says. Some of the barriers to healthcare in the Appalachian region of Kentucky, for example, are also of concern in Flint. “We’re always looking for companies that serve these populations and keep an eye on diversity.”
Speaking of diversity, Willmot says Flint’s first cohort received an “overwhelming response” from female entrepreneurs, a first in XLH history. Half of the inaugural cohort is made up of startups led by women, she adds.
What makes the XLH program different from other, similar accelerators, Willmot says, is that it works with participating companies even after they graduate, facilitating connections and helping companies get non-dilutive funding, such as government grants, which often don’t require founders to give up any ownership in their companies. Last year, XLH received a grant from the National Institutes of Health to create startup accelerators in underserved areas in the Midwest and Southeast, which includes six states and Puerto Rico. The funding also enabled the program to build out its online curriculum.
Willmot says the Flint accelerator is looking for more mentors and coaches. To apply, email firstname.lastname@example.org.