First-Ever Pediatric Health Pitch Day at SXSW to Be Hosted by Mark Cuban

Mark Cuban might be bringing a little “Shark Tank” to South By Southwest this spring.

Cuban, the IT entrepreneur and billionaire who owns the Dallas Mavericks basketball franchise and stars in the entrepreneurial reality TV show, will leave the judging to others. But in his role as emcee, he will likely provide entrepreneurs with his own advice at the “Impact Pediatric Health” event, a pitch competition for digital health startups to be held at the juggernaut tech conference held each year in Austin, TX.

Innovation has often overlooked children’s health, in part because it’s a smaller subset of the overall market, says Brian Lang, a Houston health IT entrepreneur who is organizing the pediatric pitch event.

“As a result, pediatric innovations have to come from the hospitals themselves,” he says. “Our event especially focuses on digital health as innovators can have a very loyal customer base if they put just a little bit of extra thought so they can meet the pain points felt by children’s hospitals.”

The children’s health market represents a significant part of healthcare spending, with about $87.9 billion spent in 2010, according to the Health Care Cost Institute in Washington, DC. Americans spend more than 31 percent of healthcare dollars on infants and toddlers.

But healthcare entrepreneurs have largely overlooked the specific needs of children. One obvious difference in, say, a minimally invasive device, is that children are just physically smaller and require devices that correspond to that. A different approach to drugs must be used because children’s increased metabolism affects absorption in unexpected ways, and that requires different dosages, says James Hury, director of business development and planning at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston.

“The major difference, besides that our patients are cuter, is in communication,” Hury says. “Pediatric patients can’t articulate their pain scale or when discomfort is happening at multiple sites.  A clinician has to be a detective to uncover the varied problems.”

The pediatric health event is targeted toward startups that specialize in kids’ health, specifically patient safety, mental health, remote monitoring, gamification for medication and treatment compliance, real-time decision-making, and improving care of premature babies. Startups have until January 30 to apply. Lang says preference will be given to those that have not raised more than $5 million and are 3-years-old and younger.

Hury and Lang say innovation in children’s healthcare lags because the smaller number of available patients—and the smaller time period in which they can be patients—represents a less lucrative market, compared to adults who typically need care for 40 years.

Texas Children’s along with its counterparts in Cincinnati and Boston and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia are sponsoring the March 16 pitch day, which is part of the new SX Health and MedTech Expo—the first time that healthcare innovation will be specifically featured at the Austin conference. Previously, SXSW has hosted speakers such as Craig Venter, the human genome pioneer, and Anne Wojcicki, co-founder and CEO of the personal genomics company 23andMe, says Hugh Forrest, director of the SXSW Interactive festival.

“The amount of interest from the SXSW community with regards to innovative healthcare approaches continues to grow,” he added. “The healthcare industry has attracted so much innovative thinking.”

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