Corporate Innovator: Jennifer Dauer, SVP for Strategy and Growth, Cincinnati Children's Hospital

Kymberlie Mcnicholas · March 21, 2018 · Short URL:

CCH's Center for Technology Commercialization (CTC), is the largest pediatric research facility.

Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center was named by US News & World Report as one of the best in America. It has a powerful innovation cycle driven by researchers and clinicians.

The Hospital’s Center for Technology Commercialization (CTC), which is the largest pediatric research facility in the country with more than one million square feet of dedicated research area, takes their discoveries from the lab to the bedside, focusing on improving clinical care for children.

At the forefront of this process is Jennifer Dauer, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital’s Senior Vice President for Strategy and Growth. Her role is to stimulate ideas within the organization and to help move them along. She also looks across the enterprise to identify what they call “gnarly problems” that need to be solved. In those instances where internal innovation is not appropriate, she facilitates external partnerships.

Interview Highlights:

  • CCH is interested in opportunities that transform children’s health
  • CCH seeks innovation that’s better, faster, is more efficient, safer, and with the most significant impact
  • Get CCH’s attention by demonstrating that you have value to add and a common purpose
  • CCH/CTC innovates extensively within so it’s important to find out the discoveries they’re working on internally before approaching
  • Jennifer Dauer seeks to answer this question: What is the ultimate intersection between AI, machine learning, and human interaction with patients?

KM: You spent 26 years at Procter & Gamble. How is the innovation model different there versus CCH?

JD: When I was there, Procter would assess the marketplace by looking at where they think consumer goods or other industries are going as well as what’s needed, then create the innovation from there and see what’s possible. There’s some of that which goes on at the hospital, but an awful lot of our innovations are inspired from individual clinicians, individual researchers hands-on in the clinic providing care, or they are a research scientist in their labs finding discoveries. So, our innovation process is mainly from the bottom-up. However, there are times as well in which it’s from the top-down.

KM: When do you innovate within versus partner and buy product?

JD: We’re always partnering. Whether it’s industry partners, university partners, even startup partners.  Some are interested in helping to build on discoveries we have within and so we create a marriage between the innovator and the industry partner or a foundation or something like that. Others have innovations that may be further along than what we’re able to create ourselves, and with those, there’s no formulaic approach. We strive to look at every single one to determine whether it helps us in our ability to ultimately deliver our mission and vision of CCH, to be the leader in improving child health. What’s consistent is that we look at innovations and think about how we would move the innovations from the bench to the bedside. It is through that lens that we go through that calculation. It’s unique every single time.

KM: Expand on that lens of innovation that you're really looking through when deciding on what you will move from bench to bedside.
JD: We look at impact. So, in terms of child health or healthcare overall, we look at the degree of transformation or disruption in a positive way that the discoveries would have, whether they were created within our organization or externally. We look at the size of the opportunity in terms of the number of children or lives that could be affected. When we look at it our discoveries in particular, we measure them all the way to the marketplace, and ask how big is this opportunity in terms of value back to the institution? Whether internal or external, we also look at whether there are others working on the same discoveries and who’s further along in the space. So, those are some of the larger vectors that we look at. But keep in mind, as a not-for-profit organization focused on transforming child health, our mission is really critical to us. And we think about that as we evaluate our innovations and the possibility of moving them forward.
KM: I agree that mission dictates. But I’m sure you have specific priorities that support that mission as you evaluate innovations. So, please describe Cincinnati Children’s Hospital’s priorities in your own words, what you want entrepreneurs to keep in mind as they innovate for you?
JD: I think that better is very important because, ultimately, it is about improving the outcome. Ideally, it is better, it is faster, it is more efficient, it is safer, and with the most significant impact. Also, the value proposition in the marketplace for the clinician, the value proposition for the family, the value proposition for payers, the value proposition for the system, for healthcare in general includes all of those vectors, right? And so we balance them all the time, we keep them in mind, and we toggle through them as we consider different innovation.
KM: What are you interested in these days?
JD: We're interested in opportunities that help us to achieve our vision and things that are going to really transform child health. Those can be in a diverse set of fundamental biologic discoveries, small molecules, devices, diagnostics, decision support, operational improvement, rare diseases but large conditions. We really are looking at what's going to make a difference, have meaningful value, and impact in the health of children we serve.

KM: So, as you expand your product pipeline at CCH and with the Hospital’s Center for Technology Commercialization (CTC), are you keying off of some of the biggest trends such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, augmented reality, 3D printing, or all of the above?
JD: All of the above. You have to realize when you look at all of those trends, many overlay and intersect, whether it’s AI or 3D printing, or health IT transformation and digital health. For example, think about devices or diagnostics as a space, and AI, 3D printing, AR/VR are tools in that space. For us we don’t think of those things as two-dimensional. Someone I heard describe the innovation space as much more like a dodecahedron. So, entrepreneurs should keep that in mind as they approach us. We have multiple lenses through which we look at innovations as we evaluate which ones will be prioritized, which ones we are going to double-down on, and which ones maybe we might say, "You know what? There's application but it's in a relatively limited environment or venue."

KM: Is there anything that you're most excited about going forward in which you either hope that someone within your organization, a clinician comes up with something, or you hope someone will come knock on your door with an answer or something in that space that really blows your mind?
JD: I'm sure that there are many things that I hope someone will come with and blow my mind. As things like AI and machine learning, or big data and technology continue to evolve, I wonder about where the intersection is and where the intersection will be between those trends and the role of human beings in that. I don't think the future world is going to be just machines doing work. So, the interesting question is how do you maximally leverage those trends along with human interaction. Healthcare is still an industry or a space where high catch, high engagement, high care is critically important. So, where will that intersection get optimized for the benefit of outcomes for children and their families as well as for the benefit of ultimate health?
KM: What innovations and/or partnerships stand out to you during your tenure at CCH?
JD: One is a company called Assurex that was recently acquired by Myriad Genetics. That was a startup that grew out of the Cincinnati Children's Hospital. It was founded in I think 2006. It’s a decision support company that allows people to get on the right medication for mental health. There's a tremendous amount of evidence that often aren't necessarily properly diagnosed, and when they are, they may or may not end up on the right medicine. So, looking at how people metabolize different medicines, Assurex really has transformed that and helped people who desperately need that help to hopefully get on the right kind of medications and improve their outcomes. I was not involved on that at the start. But I have been involved with that for the last several years. Another is Xact, as you mentioned earlier, in partnership with Ben-Gurion University which developed a system that makes it simpler for doctors and clinicians to insert needles into veins for things like blood taking or intra-venous feeding.  And there's another company that we're very far along with called Airway Therapeutics, which hopefully will be able to cure kids that are suffering from BPD and help neonatal children who are born prematurely with lung development.

KM: In terms of what you look for in a partner, does it matter where a company is at in its lifecycle?
JD: Yes and No. There isn’t really an optimal stage. We do engage with companies large and small all the time. In the last week, I've had several conversations with clinicians about startup companies that might have come to us to say they've got a device, or they've got a method that does X, Y or Z, but they're very early on in their life. And so, the relationship that we might have with them, is somewhat dependent upon where in the lifecycle of that company they really are. It's quite varied throughout the lifecycle of the companies and the opportunities. I think at the very least, there needs to be a decent hypothesis and ideally, some evidence, and in certain instances, there must be a strong business model. But, in the context of discoveries, if ours are further along than the startup company, that might not be a great fit. If they're exploring something that our investigators, faculty, clinicians, and overall institution are quite interested in, there might be a good fit. It really depends upon the specific situation.

KM: What characteristics define the most successful entrepreneurs or vendors knocking on your door? How do they get your attention?
JD: We work with very small excellent people knocking on our door and we actually work with very large companies knocking on our door. How do they get our attention? They work hard to help us understand what values they believe they can bring such as that we share a common space such as with work on treating a rare disease, and they have funding, as well as they can help us to move ideas through the system. It could also be that they have a solution to a problem that they know we have been working on, or they offer the possibility of being a sustained strategic partner. We have several of those with industry and several of those with universities both domestically and around the world. For example, you cited Ben-Gurion, I think BG is a great example of an excellent strategic partner that has capabilities we may not have, such as linkages to startup capital or in terms of important research that we are interested in as an institution. So, I think a lot of the answer to your question is they get our attention by demonstrating that they have value to add and that we have a common purpose, a common sense of success, and a common vision for what we're trying to achieve. And when we've got mutual success criteria, mutual, common objectives, I think the relationships go further, farther and faster. But, relationships ultimately are about people and I can’t say enough about the power of individuals connecting with each other and having conviction that we could be stronger together. There are some critical mutual benefits there.
KM: What do you wish that entrepreneurs knew before approaching you?

JD: I hope that they’ve done their homework and looked at our website as it’s fairly extensive. They should also know who and what am I, right? Who or what is my company, and have put themselves in our shoes, if you will, to truly be able to tell us how they can add value to us and what we’re trying to do at CCH. How can they help us, keeping in mind our vision and how they can be a good fit for us. I think the last thing, and I have seen this over the last handful of weeks, is it’s important to know where an organization sets the bar. Many don’t and it’s evident. We are a very data-driven organization with high standards. And I’m sure that’s true of other health organizations. But all have different bars based on the type of facility. So, I'd encourage startups to think about that. For example, we are an academic medical center, and with that, we might be different than the pure venture world or the marketplace. So, when you present to us, make sure you are clear on what you are and who you are, be clear on your value add, and to the extent you're looking to ask us to do something with you, what is it you’re going to give and what do you think you’re going to get and vice versa, what would that be for Cincinnati Children's?
KM: When you assess potential partnerships with entrepreneurs, do you also look at whether the startup has stocked up on venture capital monies, whether they’re bootstrapping, or whether they’re using private funds through Angels or Private Placement (PPM)? Does it make any difference in your confidence in them? The reason I’m asking is in the case of bootstrapping, an entrepreneur may not be able to deliver as promised, but in the case of venture capital monies, an entrepreneur become more ‘Wall Street-driven” and lose sight of their core mission, that could’ve been aligned with your own.
JD: I think it's a good observation and, we have gone through that with a handful of the companies that we're involved with. And I think it's really critical to watch out. When a company loses its mission orientation and forgets why they're in the business, that can become problematic. And that’s something we definitely assess when we partner externally. It’s also something we watch closely with our own internal innovation process. I think it's part of what makes the venture, the creation of startups out of an organization like this and entering into the venture world, challenging. It's also part of what makes it very exiting though. And I feel fortunate for the environment in Southwest Ohio between CincyTech and Cintrifuse, as well as private investors that are here that have helped to get many of our ideas started and have helped them flourish and stay on track to deliver the intended outcome. You know, I think great ideas that merit funding hopefully end up being great ideas for the right reasons, not just for the benefit of making money. But I think it is absolutely something that is always on my mind and certainly on the mind of our senior leadership and frankly our board here as well.

KM: You have such a strong ecosystem at CCH along with CTC. What has enabled that?
JD: What has enabled us to do what we do is not just what's inside of the hospital, but the relationships, the partnerships that exist within our ecosystem, right? You know, there are some very unique things about what's happened in Southwest Ohio, supported by the State. We’re fortunate that we're in a city with large companies, with a history in healthcare, the funding from CincyTech in terms of CTC, plus the work that Cintrifuse has done. Cintrifuse is a true ally for us and really has the pulse of what’s happening around innovation at all levels being an accelerator, investor in startups with great ideas, and partner to healthcare organizations like us.  They’ve even helped us to stay thoughtful and focused with many of our own ideas in the lab, as well as to get funding, and to help those ideas mature. So, we are thankful for that relationship. I feel very fortunate.

(The Meet the Corporate Innovator series is brought to you by Advsr, a startup advisory firm in the business of starting conversations and sparking big ideas.) 

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