Striding toward a healthier state

But is the digital movement just what the doctor ordered?

Startups are boldly transforming industries and showing no signs of slowing down. That includes health care, a sector ripe for innovation, thanks to revolutions affecting how care is delivered, by whom and where financial burdens fall. The current cost of health care accounts for roughly 18 percent of the national GDP and a hefty share of household budgets for many Americans.

The good news is that nimble, tech-savvy businesses are crafting engaging, low cost, convenient digital health and health-care IT tools with the potential to dramatically redesign the health care system as we know it.

According to Mercom Capital, in 2014 alone, a $4.8 billion influx in venture capital spewed into the health care ring. The speed and strength of this boom is in part attributed to reforms and regulations that rolled out with the Affordable Care Act in 2010 and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which, among other priorities, incentivized electronic health record implementation. As such, health care is getting up to speed with sexy new technologies that modernize the practice and emphasize the consumer in consumer experience. And with a reputation as one of the nation’s healthiest cities, Denver is looking to get in on the action.

From coworking space creators Battery 621 and Industry, a new collaborative office concept is set to come online at 38th Avenue and Blake Street in the River North neighborhood of downtown Denver in early 2016. Stride, the health-tech-centric company space provider, will serve as the venue for the cross-pollination and innovation among the health, wellness and technology communities, from startups to Fortune 500 companies.

Englewood-based Prime Health Collaborative, a collection of providers, academics, administrators and entrepreneurs, is “the software to the hardware of Stride,” says Jake Rishavy, co-founder of Prime, an offshoot of the Denver South Economic Development Partnership. Stride’s health-tech ecosystem is expected to become a magnet for Prime, creating jobs, attracting investors, providing community amenities, and inspiring collaborative efforts around the state.

“While there is a blossoming industry here, no one was undertaking the effort to provide leadership or identify and wrangle the companies into a community,” Rishavy says. “We started with monthly meetups, then hosted a couple of digital health summits. We brought in investors, founders, executives, a tech presence and health-care constituents to simulate this emerging sector. It really just validated this pent up demand for the industry. As we’ve grown and gained higher quality networks, we realized we have a legitimate shot at competing with New York City and Boston.”

In August 2014, the City of Denver made a $1 million investment in the new health-centric innovation center in the hopes of branding Denver as a premiere health care destination.

Community engagement is a critical piece of the preliminary work going in to make Stride the success its founders hope it will become. Such resources include Don Elliman, chancellor of the University of Colorado-Denver Anschutz Medical Campus, and Steve VanNurden, president and CEO at the Fitzsimons Redevelopment Authority and executive director of biotechnology relationships for the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.

“My job at the university is linking the discovery of entrepreneurship and innovation,” VanNurden says. Prior to his westward migration, he spent the bulk of his career at the Mayo Clinic, with Mayo Ventures, the commercialization arm of the hospital that intended to diversify revenue streams. “The conversation around consumer-driven health – that’s been going on a long time,” VanNurden says. Fast-forward and he and Elliman are working with the digital health community, including Stride and Prime to match “doctors to geeks… to demonstrate clinical benefits and lower costs.” With Stride comes a physical space to contain that cohabitation, connected by the long-awaited light rail line.

The connectivity between clinical facilities, health care experts and technologists lends itself to VanNurden’s advice: “The most important question we ask, and especially important as digital health ramps up today: Is the technology clinically relevant?”

Further warnings arise when reviewing the daunting barriers to industry entry with security, privacy, payment and other regulatory requirements that dictate the practice of medicine. “It’s a regulatory mine field,” says Bruce Johnson, partner and shareholder at Polsinelli, specializing in health care. “I think digital health is like many things in health care: a great concept without necessarily clear definitions. On the one hand, it’s my personal information related to my health status. For example, with the Fitbit, I do my steps and life is grand. Migrating up on the [technology] spectrum, these tools use and analyze that information.”

As we undoubtedly advance toward a landscape where consumers take more responsibility for their health. It’s worth wondering: can consumers be trusted to make serious life changes on the same devices on which they play Angry Birds and tweet from the toilet?

Furthermore, can we assert with any authority that devices such as the Fitbit – though popularity suggests commercial potential – are the silver bullets for the health care industry? After all, health and fitness aren’t synonymous.

Still, six-year-old Denver-based Welltok, with its personalized health optimization platform, has gathered more than $89 million in funding, with the majority coming in the last year. Welltok is just one of a growing number of startups offering consumer health engagement platforms.

“We’ve got a shot to make Colorado the epicenter of digital health,” says Scott Rotermund, co-founder and chief growth officer of Welltok.

According to Mike Biselli, president of Stride, his team is presently working on letters of intent and settling on a master plan for the space.

“We’re looking to have a software coding academy dedicated to health IT, a wellness center, a hotel asset for digital health conference attendees, four to five restaurants,” Biselli says.

At present, the Stride team is in talks with some out-of-town Fortune 100 national health care organizations, growth companies and startups, hoping to lure them to Colorado. If the project continues to trend as is, Biselli anticipates Stride – the first building on the health tech campus – will be fully leased in 2015, with doors opening by early 2016.

If all goes according to plan, is it safe to say Colorado is fit for the job of premier health hub?

“There’s lots of momentum on both a state and nationwide playing field,” Biselli says.

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