It’s been a big week for Rock Health, the San Francisco-based startup accelerator and seed fund for digital health companies.
On Sunday, just as the annual JP Morgan Healthcare Conference was about to get underway, Rock Health co-hosted the health IT sector’s largest annual awards ceremony, the “Top 50 in Digital Health.” (The awards are a co-production between Rock Health, Fenwick & West, Silicon Valley Bank, and Goldman Sachs.)
And Monday night, a big crowd of investors, executives, and other life science industry insiders took time away from JP Morgan to attend the grand opening of Rock Health’s stylish new headquarters in the Mission Bay neighborhood of San Francisco. It’s a stone’s throw from the University of California San Francisco’s Mission Bay campus, as well as dozens of pharmaceutical and biotech companies and non-profits, such as the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (QB3) and the Gladstone Institutes.
Also in attendance at the grand opening: San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, who joined an Xconomy-moderated panel discussion with Rock Health founder and CEO Halle Tecco and Alexandria Real Estate Equities CEO Joel Marcus (see the slide show above). Alexandria—a longtime Xconomy underwriter—is the nation’s largest owner and developer of real estate for the life science industries, and the new Rock Health offices are on the ground floor of an Alexandria-owned building at 455 Mission Bay Boulevard.
The building is part of an array of sparkling new research, industrial, academic, government, and residential structures spreading swiftly across the waterfront neighborhood. Lee, a longtime civil servant, noted that he was in charge of the city’s Department of Public Works in the mid-1990s when then-Mayor Willie Brown asked him to oversee efforts to re-map the district—a former wetland turned Southern Pacific railroad yard—in preparation for a huge life-sciences-focused redevelopment effort.
“We said, ‘If you build it, they will come,’ and we believed that if you took this desolate railroad land and built the infrastructure, a new sector would emerge, and it has,” Lee said. “You see all the pharmaceutical companies, anchored by UCSF, and the new hospital that will open in 2015. … And you also see innovation reflected here. That is why I’m so glad to see Rock Health here.”
Tecco said it became clear in 2013 that the accelerator, which funds roughly 10 digital-health startups per year with support from large corporate, medical, and venture-capital organizations, was outgrowing its original office on Grant Street in Chinatown.
“It was time for us to expand and be in a place that really represented the long-term vision we had for the organization and the companies we supported,” Tecco said. “It was really great when we met Alexandria and started talking about expanding and getting a better infrastructure. And it really made sense to be in Mission Bay, not only for the proximity to the great medical research happening here, but also the technology—we’re steps away from SoMa, which has long been a capital for startups.”
The new headquarters, designed by San Francisco-based Studios Architecture, features extensive desk space for startups, private offices and conference rooms, and a kitchen and community area separated from the workspace by a garage door.
“We have been working on this for six months, and it was definitely a thoughtful move,” Tecco said. “Being on the first floor is really exciting for us, because we have exposure to the world—it’s great advertising and really lends to the feeling of activity” in the neighborhood.
In a statement about the opening, Rock Health declared Mission Bay to be the “United States’ New Digital Health Hub.” And Marcus said he expects to see information technology playing a larger role, not just in Mission Bay but at all of the companies that occupy Alexandria buildings around the country.
“We are also in New York City, Boston, Seattle, San Diego, et cetera, and every one of these cities is having a revitalization that’s heavily driven by technology and life sciences,” Marcus said. “So we expect our tenants to be much broader, much more collaborative and innovative, where you have engineering and biology and IT and healthcare.”
“We said [to Rock Health], ‘We’ve got to have you down in Mission Bay and we’ve got to work and invest together,’” Marcus said. “It was a very good fit.”
Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish.