#HIMSS18: AT&T Incubating Digital Health Startups

Posted on March 9, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

In recent times, some tech giants have started to think small. For example, companies like Microsoft and Google have been developing startup incubator programs capable of finding new niches, especially in AI. They’re also greedily eyeing healthcare; even Amazon has a hush-hush health IT working group in place.

This approach makes tremendous sense So much so that I’m surprised we haven’t heard more about it before. Even if it tries to foster an entrepreneurial culture, the sheer weight of a colossal bureaucracy is likely to crush most new ideas, and even if it doesn’t, very large companies are seldom agile enough to execute on these ideas quickly enough.

Given these experiments at Amazon, Microsoft, Google and other massive tech firms, I wasn’t surprised to learn that AT&T is taking a similar approach. At HIMSS18, I spoke with Judi Manis, regional vice president of business development and strategic relations at the company, about how it’s working with startups to commercialize new ideas in healthcare.

According to Manis, the telecom giant is focusing – unsurprisingly – on connected health solutions. In partnership with the sprawling Texas Medical Center, AT&T has created the Foundry for Connected Health. TMC also has a foot in the incubator business, its TMC Innovation Institute.

Working together, TMC and AT&T scour the world for startups generating innovative ideas in healthcare. They generally select 12 to 15 startups to participate in the program.

When they come on, TMC offers the founders a curriculum designed to help them thrive, including lessons on accounting, legal issues and how to pitch venture capitalists. AT&T, of course, offers startups all of the conductivity they could ever wish for, including mobile, terrestrial and land-based networks.

Once they find a viable idea, AT&T and TMC move at lightning speed. “The Foundry allows us to talk to companies of all sizes and bring the technology from discussion to pilot in weeks,” Manis says.

Though there may be some I don’t know about, I haven’t encountered any startup incubator partnerships between tech giants and hospitals.

However, it’s not surprising to see it happen. As readers may know, many sharp hospital organizations have already begun creating internal incubators and developing programs that seek out and reward employees that come up with innovative ideas. Maybe this is just the next phase in the process of digital health’s maturation process.