The formation of an idea for healthcare innovation, its fulfillment, prototyping, funding and first customer can all be found within Regional One Health.
The walls of Scott Vogel’s office at Regional One Health are painted an institutional white, which is fitting for an administrative office in Memphis’ largest city hospital.
When inspiration hits, the whiteboard walls come to life with diagrams detailing how Regional One Health can make the next big discovery in healthcare technology.
“It’s like this,” Vogel said, drawing an arrow on the wall with a red erasable marker. “It’s the same as any other VC (venture capital fund). We’re standing up companies for commercialization and bettering our facility in the process.”
Vogel is head of the hospital’s newly-established Innovation Center. As such, he encourages nurses and doctors within the facility to create new products and programs that could improve their day-to-day operations.
He also recruits startup founders from Memphis’ existing biomedical sciences and medical devices ecosystem. Regional One provides these founders with access to the region’s top surgeons and doctors. A little bit of face time can go a long way when people are inventing products that could disrupt the healthcare industry.
“Funding doesn’t mean you’re going to be successful. We want to help them to the point of making it and then be their first customer,” Vogel said.
The walls of Vogel’s office explode with colorful ideas. The surrounding facility is slower to catch on.
“A hospital environment is risk-adverse,” said Vogel. “And the only way to do innovation is to fail many times.”
Besides the millions poured into research and development, how healthcare is accessed and delivered is a very archaic system, said Tammy Ritchey, executive director of the Regional One Health Foundation.
Innovations in healthcare can improve patient outcomes, root out inefficiencies in the system and elevate healthcare in Memphis. The mountains of paperwork new patients have to fill out in the waiting room? It doesn’t have to be that way, Ritchey said.
Those solutions could be as simple as a streamlined printing procedure for patients’ ID wristbands or a high-tech device, like the one that innovation center partner Lineus Medical creates. Both of those products are floating around Vogel’s orbit.
Somavac co-founders Esra Roan and Josh Herwig with their prototype.
The innovation center is helping Spencer Jones, founder and CEO, with Lineus Medical organize his I.V. dislodgement prevention device’s first clinical trial.
“One thing that's really hard to do is get that hospital facility and institutional healthcare backing,” Jones explained. “They move so slow. They're very bureaucratic and they don't have a lot of time or funds to contribute to startups or economic development. To get this kind of support is massive.”
In the spring of 2016, Regional One Health hosted an inaugural “idea contest.” Staff members of the hospital submitted over 50 ideas for how their jobs could be better improved. Six ideas rose to the top.
“They had the ability to pitch to managers and execs,” Vogel said. “We want to empower employees to care about patient care. They’re in the midst of possible solutions.”
The formation of an idea, its fulfillment, prototyping, funding and first customer can all be found within Regional One Health.
“We have our own ecosystem through the hospital and through the community,” Vogel said.
That all-in-one system is crucial to keeping startups, and potential job growth, within Memphis. The innovation center is a natural partner to startup accelerators like the nationally-renowned ZeroTo510k program housed at Memphis Bioworks. ZeroTo510 attracts startup founders to Memphis for an intense period. After the accelerator wraps, those founders can choose to launch their business elsewhere.
“At this point we’ve lost four great healthcare startups, and we need to fix that. I hate it for our patients,” Vogel said.
Dr. Esra Roan, co-founder of Somavac Medical Solutions, has been working with the innovation center in developing her compact postop drain.
Archimania's rendering of proposed Innovation Center.
Roan has been able to speak with surgeons and executives about her product and also gain access to valuable patient data that would be otherwise unattainable for a two-person startup working outside of a hospital.
A graduate of the ZeroTo510 accelerator, she said that launching her business in Memphis’ medical district is a natural fit especially with a valuable partnership found with Regional One Health.
“It goes hand in hand is to catch companies early enough where our ideas are still malleable or transformable into ideas that are really relevant to hospitals,” she said. “Our product we came up with have certain aspects that are attractive to clinics, but through interacting with an infection control team we can provide a device that fits their needs more specifically.”
Vogel hopes to grow the innovation center in the next couple months with a newly-hired data analyst and patient anthropologist. In the long term, Regional One Health has big plans to the tune of 20,000 square feet.
The hospital is currently raising $10 million to build a standalone facility for the innovation center. The addition will replace a mothballed property at the corner of Madison and Dunlap. Most recently, part of the building functioned as an in-house McDonald’s restaurant for the hospital.
“Can you imagine? Fast food at a hospital? We’re trying to create the opposite of that,” Vogel said, explaining that the future of healthcare technology will germinate within the building.
Vogel’s vision is that entrepreneurs and startup founders will walk the halls of Regional One Health alongside new doctors. The newly-built innovation center will capitalize on the unprecedented collaboration among service providers in Memphis’ startup community and the multimillion investment led by the Memphis Medical District Collaborative which aims to make the district more attractive to residents.
“I want this innovation center to be a shared, neutral space for the district,” he said. “We’re at a time when collaboration in the medical center is at an all-time high.”