Digital / Health / Startups / Universities

Chesapeake Digital Health Exchange aims to spur regional startup growth

The initiative, which is being spearheaded by Johns Hopkins and funded by a federal grant, is looking to connect entrepreneurs, technologists, healthcare systems and investors.

Modern healthcare. (Photo by everything possible via Shutterstock)

A new initiative spearheaded by Johns Hopkins is setting out to organize and grow the digital health community in the region, with an aim of fueling successful startups.

The Chesapeake Digital Health Exchange (Chesapeake DHX) wants to create more connectivity between the stakeholders in digital health, such as companies, investors and healthcare providers. The regional effort aims to include Maryland, D.C. and Northern Virginia.

Johns Hopkins Tech Ventures and the Johns Hopkins Technology Innovation Center partnered on the effort, which in 2019 won a three-year, $1.3 million grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration.

Digital health focuses around how tools such as data, AI, sensors, VR and other emerging technology is playing a big role as entrepreneurs and healthcare systems explore precision medicine, new ways of interacting with patients and privacy. This is a distinct technology category from biotech, which is also strongly associated with healthcare through pharmaceuticals and medical devices.

With a website up and initial stakeholder meeting under its belt, Chesapeake DHX is looking to get rolling more publicly as 2020 begins.

Mark Komisky, an entrepreneur and technology executive who advises companies and mentors university-based startups, is the point person for the initiative and is meeting with folks looking to get involved. Working across institutions as a site miner with TEDCO’s Maryland Innovation Initiative at University of Maryland and a mentor to the Johns Hopkins TIC’s HEXCITE accelerator, he’s met and connected plenty of technologists.

“Whenever I meet a promising entrepreneur, technologist, operator or startup company, I typically introduce them to Mark,” said Nick Culbertson, CEO of Protenus and an early supporter of Chesapeake DHX. “He’s one of the most connected people I know and he’s always willing to help smart people get plugged into our rich ecosystem.”

Some questions to explore include: How do we figure out what the priorities are for the major health systems employers and payers?

The region is home to leading healthcare systems, universities that are educating engineering talent and startups looking to grow. Chesapeake DHX is being founded on the idea that getting those entities working more closely together can turn the region into a hub for digital health.

“This is all about creating jobs, creating companies and increasing investment in startups,” Komisky said.

A key for the initiative, Komisky said, is to get folks working together on creating a community that fuels new companies and brings innovation to healthcare.

“It is a chance to get all the parties to collaborate,” he said.

Komisky said a big goal is to build “connective tissue” among the community, and Chesapeake DHX plans to host events and workshops to provide a space to come together and learn.  This can offer a chance to create shared knowledge about not only what startups are building, but how they can best sync with investors and health systems.

Some questions to explore, per Komisky, include: “How do we figure out what the priorities are for the major health systems employers and payers? What kinds of problems are they trying to solve? What are the types of things that digital investors — both in and out of the state — are looking to invest in?”

There’s some recent activity to suggest digital activity is bubbling up. LifeBridge Health and CareFirst BlueCross Blue Shield made digital health a focus as they began working together to support startups. And Baltimore city is home to a collection of digital health companies that were founded over the last several years. Protenus, the Fells Point healthcare analytics company which last year raised a Series C, is among them.

With the focus on digital health, Protenus’ Culbertson sees a chance to leverage a pair of strengths in the region: cybersecurity and healthcare.

“Protenus could have only been successful in an environment like Baltimore. Having direct access to innovative leaders in healthcare and incredible data science, AI, and big data engineering talent at arm’s length afforded us a clear shot at building something meaningful,” he said. “My cofounder and I were fortunate to be guided by great community mentors who helped us learn and navigate the complex purchasing process and politics of the several prestigious health systems in our area.

“My goal in supporting CDHX is to help other entrepreneurs find these same paths, connecting our great hospitals with new, emerging technologies.”

Companies: Chesapeake Digital Health Exchange / Johns Hopkins

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