Earlier this summer Innov8 for Health, the new Cincinnati-based digital health accelerator, announced its first class of eight startups.

Innov8 for Health joins Rock Health, Blueprint Health, Healthbox, NYDHA, and StartX Med among other new digital accelerators attempting to attract talented entrepreneurs and developers into the high-risk, high-reward health care sector.

Innov8 for Health received its initial funding from the State of Ohio and operates under a mandate to find follow-on funding for a minimum of 80 percent of the companies they accelerate.

Sunnie Southern (@SunnieSouthern), Managing Director of Innov8 for Health, is a Cincinnati-based entrepreneur herself with a management of technology consulting firm called Viable Synergy focused on stimulating regional economic development, a goal shared by Innov8 for Health. The following is the transcript of my interview where she explains the distinct value of the greater Cincinnati area and her vision for the “beautiful tipping point” health care is experiencing

The upstart accelerator also has an array of well-funded and complementary local initiatives for their resident startups to take advantage of as they develop their products and services during the three month accelerator program.
These include the HealthBridge Regional Extension Center ($10 million funding) and the Beacon Collaborative ($13.8 million funding) which brings together some of the regions leading healthcare providers.



BTE: I am curious to know more about the goals of Innov8 for Health, your role there and the plan for the future with your first class of startups on the horizon?

Sunnie Southern: This is an amazing space and an exciting time to be working in health care innovation. There are currently a lot of resources being put toward this space and policies being implemented that should lead to great innovation and help us make a difference, a beautiful tipping point. Innov8 for Health started as a small piece of a much larger picture.

The goals of Innov8 for Health are:

  1. improve health care in the greater Cincinnati area
  2. attract and retain top talent
  3. create jobs

Our position is if we can improve the quality of care and reduce the cost through innovation we can create a competitive economic advantage for our community. So that is our position, we are really focused on economic development, though we are narrowly focused on stimulating economic development by advancing health IT.

BTE: What do you think the Cincinnati area offers health IT startups that may not be available to them in other regions?

Sunnie Southern: Cincinnati is very much ahead of the national average in terms of health care quality, health IT, and generally has an innate culture of collaboration. We are home to one of the most mature Health Information Exchanges (HealthBridge) in the country and we have been actively exchanging data between regional providers since 1997, which is very unique. We feel that many of the challenges and issues faced by organizations just going live with information exchange are issues we have been dealing with in the trenches since the late-90’s.

So we have the HealthBridge information exchange; the Health Collaborative which is an Aligning Forces for Care and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation sponsored organization; as well as the regional Health Council, which is our collaboration with the various hospitals in the area. To this point all of these organizations have been focused squarely on the area for which they were created to specialize.

For example, HealthBridge has managed the health IT component while the Health Council has managed the hospital component and the Health Collaborative took the lead on bringing together the multi-stakeholder organizations necessary to continue making progress.

BTE: What do you believe distinguishes your accelerator program from the other digital health accelerators across the country?

Sunnie Southern: The piece we believe is missing both here in Cincinnati and throughout the country at large is the lack of engagement with the patient/consumer, so we hope to use this as one point of differentiation from other digital health accelerator programs.

We have a unique partner here in Cincinnati with CE Aviation, which was kind enough to lend our group one of their health care executives named Craig Osterheuse.  Craig is very much involved in this key stakeholder organization and he recognized the need to engage consumers.

In his role he manages the health plans for the 6,000 employees at GE Aviation, but in reality Craig is managing the health and wellness programs for 20,000 people through the employee benefits program. Craig is a forward thinking guy and he is trying hard to improve the overall cost structure of the extended employee benefit program to be improved, so he is focused squarely on bringing together large coalitions of stakeholders and serves in some capacity on all of the various boards we have setup to run our programs.

BTE: Where does the funding for Innov8 for Health come from and how much equity do you take in each company?

Sunnie Southern: The initial funding of $20K for our first class of startups is coming from the State of Ohio, but on the backend of the accelerator will be venture funds and angels who will provide additional funding to those startups that successfully complete the 12 week program.

We have actually made a commitment to the State of Ohio that we will get at least half of our teams follow-on funding within 12 months. The accelerator itself takes a 6-percent stake in each company in exchange for the $20K.