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The San Francisco Bay Area is the place to be for entrepreneurs. The ecosystem, with its venture capitalists and founders, is unparalleled. The trick is for those emerging on the scene to take full advantage of it.
That's the idea behind Health Hub, a non-profit that is designed to help young founders, and early stage companies, connect to mentors, investors and others in the healthtech ecosystem, to help them grow their companies.
In June, it was announced that Health Hub had partnered with UC San Francisco (UCSF), which will allow its members to take advantage of the UCSF system, while also giving UCSF access to a broader array of emerging talent and companies.
I spoke to Mark Goldstein, Managing Partner at Advisors.fund and founding chairman of Health Hub UCSF, about the partnership, what he hopes to accomplish and his vision for the future of healthtech.
VatorNews: What is Health Hub? What's the goal?
Mark Goldstein: We’re focusing on sort of what we’re calling the sophomore class of companies. We’re not focusing on necessarily the freshmen. We’re focusing on the companies and ideas that have already sort of either gotten a grant or some form of funding. And we’re focusing on healthcare, most likely in the digital health arena, but that’s increasingly broad; it could be AI, big data, diagnostics, digital therapeutics now, mental health. Effectively it’s things that are getting touched by the Internet. And, as a result, basically new types of therapies or approaches that are, over time, going to dramatically reduce the cost of healthcare, which is really the goal.
It’s that a lot of these companies get stuck. There are a lot of great ideas, and in the past when companies got funded they would get formal boards of directors, they would proceed along, they would go through some form of a clinical trial, and they’d have years or so to get to market. What’s happening in sort of the new world is things are really speeding up a lot. There are a lot of people out there that can help these companies, a lot of these companies need help, but they don’t necessarily know who and where to reach to reach for this help. So the idea of UCSF Health Hub is really taking the biggest and the best and the brightest of at UCSF and in San Francisco and in the Bay Area and creating a network that’s going to be made available to these founders, young entrepreneurs or early stage companies, that they can tap into immediately when they get stuck.
That’s it in a nutshell. We call it a ‘growth studio,’ and, again, the focus is helping these companies basically evolve and grow so they can attract that next round of capital or that commercial relationship at UCSF or elsewhere so that they can basically be real faster.
VN: That sounds a little like an accelerator. Is that accurate?
MG: A little different. We struggle with that one. We’re not an accelerator in the sense that we don’t have a cohort, we don’t take any equity from any companies; we do the matching and all of the educational work that we’re doing, it’s all free. The companies don’t pay, they might have a nominal membership fee in year two or three but it’s not going to be much.
A lot of these companies have already graduated from an accelerator or two, and we think accelerators are great. We love SkyDeck and YC and IndieBio and the list goes on and on; there’s probably literally hundreds of heath related accelerators out there today. But what’s happening is a lot of these companies graduate from these accelerators and they could six week to six month programs, but it doesn’t mean they’re ready for prime time. Now they’ve left the accelerator and now it’s sort of ‘Now what?’ That’s where we want to focus, we want to focus on what happens after the accelerator. What happens after you’ve sort of gotten the grant, what happens after you’ve sort of gotten the initial friends and family money. Now what do you do?
VN: How do you work with entrepreneurs? What can they expect if they join Health Hub?
MG: We have this whole matching mechanism; we’re going to connect them with the best mentors, investors, researchers, and/or people at UCSF who can help them out. That’s the software that we built and how we’re thinking about things. The companies that apply for membership and meet these criteria are going to be teamed up with what we’re calling our ‘internal navigator.’ And our navigator is going to be basically a person who’s going to help them navigate the process, help them with the introductions, help them through the process, and, hopefully, if there’s an opportunity to be successful at UCSF and through the UC system, help them get there faster.
Having been now an early stage investor in healthcare for a number of years, so many of these great companies are failing at this stage of the cycle. They’re getting some initial capital, but they’re getting stuck. They’re not getting their commercial agreements, they’re not pivoting when they probably should, and we want to basically help them into those guardrails so that we can help guarantee their chance of being successful.
VN: Are there investments made in the companies? If so, how much and what are the economics?
MG: No, we will not invest. Health Hub, we want to be real church and state here, so we are a non-profit. We’re a 501c3 and we do not have a venture fund. We will never have a venture fund. That doesn’t mean we don’t want to work closely with great venture capitalists, but we want to be Switzerland and we really want to help those companies out. Also, it could very well be focusing on a lot of opportunities and ideas that might not be commercial grade right now. They might not be ready for that big venture round, but they’re close and it could very well be that it’s just that team needs basically a nudge and a push and sort of a cajoling to get to that next level. Those are a lot of the companies we really want to help.
VN: Why is it important for you to be neutral?
MG: If we were to not do this in San Francisco, if I were going to start a healthcare innovation center in Phoenix or in Cincinnati or Sacramento, even, yeah, maybe then we would also invest. Maybe we would also have a traditional accelerator system and have a cohort. But in San Francisco we’re living in a world where there is a lot of that around. We don’t need more venture capitalists, necessarily. And the number of mentors and advisers and people that can help companies in San Francisco dwarfs anywhere else in the world.
So what ends up happening is so many immigrants and entrepreneurs end up coming to San Francisco to start their companies, they get funded and scale them out, but they don’t necessarily have the relationships here, and that’s a big part of what we’re going to help them do. One thing for sure is they don’t have relationship with UCSF, and if you ask any healthcare entrepreneur if there was an organization or an institution they would want to work with in in the Bay Area, I think almost universally UCSF is going to be their choice. The big idea here is also that UCSF has got so much amazing stuff going on, and we’re going to help surface those people, those ideas, all those activities, and make them aware to the companies but also make them aware internally at UCSF to all these great things. Basically build filters and systems so that we can help UCSF digest all this amazing stuff.
VN: Is that the benefit for UCSF?
MG: Yeah, a two part, one of which is it’s to help UCSF better digest all this amazing stuff, better digest and prioritize it in a way where there’s greater likelihood of return and reduced cost of healthcare and increase efficacy. And the second of which is to help those researchers and those doctors and folks at UCSF do a better of actually going out to the greater community. So it can go both ways.
VN: How do Health Hub and UCSF fit together and benefit each other?
MG: First of all, innovation at UCSF is really, really important and they’ve got a whole ton of different initiatives, a lot of which are beginning to be wickedly successful. At the same time, the ecosystem isn’t nearly as mature as, for example, what you would see at Stanford. Innovation and entrepreneurship has always been core to Stanford, and you go down to Stanford and there’s no shortage of facilities, capital, access, ways that students or entrepreneurs around campus and Palo Alto can take advantage of Stanford.
One of the ideas at Health Hub was simply to tease out all this greatness at UCSF but to do it in a way that complimented things that were going on internally at UCSF. That’s why we ended up creating a separate non-profit sitting outside of it. We didn’t want to be yet another program within UCSF, we wanted to help all of the programs that already had started, and the way that we concluded to do that was to sit right outside of UCSF but to act as a non-profit. Lo and behold, at Stanford, StartX is the exact same thing. So StartX, which is basically a Stanford initiaive that’s been doing on for I think decades, at least, is a separate organization, a non-profit, that sits outside of Stanford University, but is closely affiliated.
VN: What are the macro trends that have led to this partnership? What other events/partnerships have occurred that validate this macro trend?
MG: Well, macro trend number one is patient data and getting patient data, we’ll call it ‘shared patient data.’ So that patient records are shared not only across the physician but shared with doctors, the patient has access to it, the medical lab have access to it, the clinics have access to it, the telehealth services have access to it. Once this data is available, given patient’s health, there’s so many incredible things that can be built and we’re beginning just to see some of that stuff today. To me, trend one is basically the democratization of patient, in a secure, HIPPA compliment way.
Number two is basically all these new diagnostics. It’s taking the form of telehealth, taking the form of little hardware devices that can basically append, attach to your phone, and just basically recognizing that hospitals historically had to buy all these really expensive mainframes do all this diagnostic work internally, but now everyone’s carrying a mainframe in their pocket and the idea is to really take advantage of that. So those these new forms of diagnostics and telehealth systems, to me that’s trend to.
Three is definitely AI and machine learning. Now that the data’s availbale, what can we do with it? How can we basically detect and predict and pattern match and more quickly find the cure?
I think of those three alone and it’s like, ‘Oh my god, that will keep us busy for quite a while’ because that third trend includes sensors and wearable and all that good stuff.
Like [Vator founder and CEO] Bambi Francisco's had her conferences are sort of perfect. The last one she did on mental health, wow, huge changes going on these and things that you can now do. The one before that on clinics, it’s amazing what clinics can now perform whereas, in the past, everyone had run into an ER to get diagnosed. And before that she had her conference on value based care, which is how do we encourage the patient to actually be healthier? Killer stuff. What’s going on in healthcare is just absolutely fascinating and that gets back to, at Health Hub, if we can basically just help UCSF better absorb all this innovation and vice versa, help those at UCSF do a better job at identify those that can help them innovate outside of UCSF, it will be amazing. So that’s why we did it.
VN: How have you seen healthtech evolve in the last few years?
MG: I’ll riff off Bambi’s last three themes, why not?
Mental health: who would ever figure out that you would have apps that millions of people have downloaded is allowing them to effectively change their personality, become more calm, and to, as a result, reduce their needs for traditional medication. The fact that you have these apps that have been downloaded by millions of people and that are effectively already $100 million businesses that are really transforming mental health. That would shock someone five years ago. No one would believe. I’ll start with that one.
Then I’ll go to the clinic thing. Look at the clinics. Five years ago, how many clinics were there in the U.S.? Clinics have blown up. It’s really working and in great part because private doctor offices are increasingly not working because they’re not profitable, they’re not as successful, and the bureaucracy was such that independent doctors, except in rural areas, the economics don’t play. So these clinics are just taking off.
Third is diagnostics, and just think of a diagnostic like 23andMe, an example of genomics. Or uBiome in microbiome. Basically beind able to detect things based on your biome or on your DNA, where you can, in advance, know what a problem you either have or you might have.
Goldstein is one of the Emcees at our SplashX Invent Health series, co-hosted with HP
VN: Where do you see it going next? What makes you excited?
MG: To me, it’s all about the data. Think of what’s happened in fintech and financial services, having your banking data and your investment data and your credit data, all of this. Having this stuff being available and accessible is allowing entrepreneurs to bring such amazing new product to market, effecitively lowering people’s interest rates, allowing them to get loans more quickly and allowing them to live better lives. Hypothetically to make money too. If you think of healthcare, basically just opening your patient record up, allowing entrepreneurs and researchers to look at your patient data, compare it with the other billions of patients around the world, and to basically be able to detect either what you have or what you might have. That’s going to change everything.
VN: Is there anything else that I should know?
MG: The key thing with Health Hub is we want people to sign up. We want people to become members, and these can be mentors, these can be investors, these can be entrepreneurs, these can researchers wanting to be entrepreneurs. We want people to sign up because our promise is that, by signing up, you’re going to see a whole slew of events announced in September. We’re going to have navigators that will act as your sherpa and help you navigate what’s going to be your future and help you connect better.
Right now we just want tons of people to sign up and the more people that sign up the more powerful the service is going to be. And we’re going to learn a lot more. We’ve a good initial board of directors, both internal at UCSF and external that are involved with Health Hub, and the big thing for us is the more people that sign up, and the more people that give us their ideas, the more ideas we can better prioritize and bring to market.
That’s what I would leave on is sign up now. We want to learn. These are early days, but we think is UCSF and the Mission Bay Campus is sort of really ground zero for all these. Everyone wants to be in San Francisco to do this and UCSF is the place brand to do it at.
(Image source: healthhubsf.org)
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Joined Vator onFounder and CEO of Vator, a media and research firm for entrepreneurs and investors; Managing Director of Vator Health Fund; Co-Founder of Invent Health; Author and award-winning journalist.