The rise in Digital Health has leveled the playing field for regions trying to build innovative new industries.
Boston, a global health care hub, may have had a leg up on other cities. But the city and state aren’t resting on past reputations to help get companies started.
MassChallenge is a Boston-based accelerator program that has expanded aggressively in recent years.
Vertex Pharmaceuticals, the Massachusetts eHealth Institute at MassTech (MeHI), the City of Boston, the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership (MACP) and Suffolk Construction are founding sponsors.
Launched in 2010, it takes no equity from the start-ups that participate in its four-month program and instead compete in various presentation contests for several million dollars in equity-free cash awards.
One of the pillars of MassChallenge’s mission is focused on impact and it has assisted in the early success of many medical technology companies like 3Derm, SQZ Biotech, Alkeus Pharmaceuticals, MOM Incubator, and earlybird.io.
Recently, the accelerator announced an agreement with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to manage a digital health hub just a short walk from the Longwood Medical Area.
As we’ve heard many times on our Breaking Health Podcast, technology entrepreneurs need some time to navigate the intricacies of the health care industry.
“Because health care is such a highly regulated industry, start-ups encounter a unique set of challenges when launching and growing their businesses,” says Scott Bailey, managing director of MassChallenge Boston. “Given the amazing ecosystem within Massachusetts, a public-private partnership was formed to help remove some of this friction by creating a hub in Boston to support high-impact digital health start-ups and connect them to the resources and network they need in order to be successful.”
Bailey adds, “Our alumni are creating a truly global impact across a range of sectors, including health care. To further strengthen and accelerate this innovation, we expanded beyond our Boston headquarters to the UK, Israel, Switzerland, and Mexico, to make it easier for early-stage entrepreneurs to solve some of society’s biggest issues without signing away valuable equity.”
Some examples of MassChallenge alumni health companies are:
- 3Derm, which graduated from the accelerator in 2014, and developed a patent-pending dermatology imaging system that captures images and facilitates remote visits that provide urgent intervention for millions who may have benign conditions.
- Earlybird.io, which graduated in 2015, developed software that exploits finger interactions with personal electronics to generate a novel biometric signal to identify subtle motor decline. This can provide early intervention in Parkinson’s disease and slow progression for the tens of thousands diagnosed each year, but recognizing early symptoms can still be problematic. The company is a product of the Madrid-MIT M+Visión Fellowship in Translational Biomedical Imaging.
- SQZ Biotech has had enormous success after graduating from MassChallenge in 2014. MIT professors Klavs Jensen and Robert Langer and their graduate student, Armon Sharei, supported by the NIH and Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, led development of the CellSqueeze platform, a more effective system for delivering materials directly into the cell cytosol – a significant challenge in many research and therapeutic applications. The company’s platform has the potential to address our most challenging diseases.
- Alkeus Pharmaceuticals graduated from MassChallenge in 2011 and is committed to searching and developing cures or treatments for serious ophthalmic conditions, despite their rareness. The company is developing a drug that could impact the number-one cause of unpreventable blindness in the world, Dry Age-Related Macular Degeneration (Dry-AMD). In the US, more patients turn blind due to dry-AMD than due to glaucoma and cataract combined and incidence is expected to dramatically increase over the next few years. Alkeus is also targeting Stargardt disease, which is a rare yet life-devastating condition, causing sudden, severe, and irreversible central vision loss, currently with no cure or treatment.
- MOM Incubator, which graduated from the UK program in 2015, developed an inexpensive, electronically controlled, inflatable incubator constructed to decrease the number of premature child deaths within refugee camps.