The Incubator at the Heart of Colorado’s Digital Health Ecosystem

Alan Curtis (left), the director of Innosphere's digital health program, meets with Matt Morris, the CEO of Visible Hand, a digital health company focused on the senior care market.

FORT COLLINS, Colo. – In the almost two decades since its founding, Fort Collins-based business incubator Innosphere has eagerly embraced emerging market trends, helping more than a thousand entrepreneurs build successful bioscience, clean tech, and enterprise software companies. So in 2014, when JP Morgan offered to fund a digital health program at the incubator, Innosphere’s leadership jumped at the opportunity to enter the booming field of health-tech innovation.

“We accepted Telespine, RxAssurance, Incendant, and Kindara into our first class,” explained Alan Curtis, the director of Innosphere’s digital health program. “They did phenomenal. Since then, we’ve brought on 10 more digital health startups.”

A non-profit established by the City of Fort Collins to foster economic development throughout Colorado, Innosphere has a strong presence in several cities along the Front Range, including Fort Collins, Boulder, and Denver. Over the course of its two-year programs, the incubator provides its clients with the skills, advice, and connections they need to secure funding and continue to grow.

“We measure our success in job creation for the state,” said Curtis. “To date, we’ve created more than 1,400 jobs for Colorado. In digital health, that number is likely in the hundreds.”

Accessing Capital

The 42 companies currently in Innosphere raised a combined 31.8 million dollars in 2015.

The 42 companies that were clients of Innosphere in 2015 raised $31.8 million in funding that year.

According to Curtis, the early success of Innosphere’s digital health program can be attributed to its rigorous nature. When a startup applies for admission into the program, Curtis and his team begin a meticulous process of technology validation, in which clinicians, technologists, and other subject-matter experts perform a comprehensive assessment of the startup’s product or service.

“If a company passes this first hurdle, then we move onto something called on-boarding,” explained Curtis. “We’ll spend two months going through their customer discovery methods, their company’s financials, their hiring plan, their go-to-market strategy, and their access-to-capital strategy.”

Once on-boarding is complete, Curtis and his team will decide whether or not to accept the startup into Innosphere’s digital health program. As a general rule, the incubator prefers to accept Colorado-based companies with at least one full-time member, a finished prototype that has been shown to meet market needs, and a minimum of six-to-nine months of working capital.

“We’re really focused on the business-to-business side of healthcare,” said Curtis. “So if your startup has developed a consumer-focused health app, that’s probably not going to be a good fit for us.”

Upon admittance into the program, companies will be matched with advisors who have experience in the markets they are targeting. As part of Innosphere’s incubation support package, new clients will also be connected with local businesses that will provide them with legal, accounting, and HR services at a discounted rate.

“Next we spend quite a bit of time preparing for and running pilots. We cover all of the bases, identifying who a company needs to work with, what kind of data they will be extracting, who owns that data, and so on.”

According to Curtis, all of these steps are meant to make the startups in the digital health program investor-ready. Once they’ve reached this point, the incubator’s efforts shift to helping them gain access to capital, develop corporate relationships, and even, in the case of an acquisition, achieve a successful exit.

Working with the Ecosystem

Innosphere's headquarters is located in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Innosphere’s headquarters is located in Fort Collins, Colorado.

“We absolutely do not compete with anyone in the state,” said Curtis. “Instead, we work with the members of our ecosystem to accelerate innovation throughout Colorado. For example, we’re sharing Visible Hand, a digital health startup focused on the senior care market, with the Boomtown Health-Tech Accelerator.”

According to Curtis, Innosphere is also sharing companies with the Boulder-based business accelerator TechStars, as well as the Denver-based ecosystem integrator Prime Health. Given how time-consuming and resource-intensive it can be to launch a digital health startup, Curtis sees these collaborations as vital to the long-term success of the 28 companies in Innosphere’s health-tech portfolio.

More than anything else, this willingness to collaborate has allowed Innosphere to position itself at the center of Colorado’s health innovation ecosystem, where it offers support to the hundreds of entrepreneurs currently trying to reimagine healthcare through digital technology, while serving as a dependable partner for established healthcare organizations interested in digital health innovation.

The incubator’s growing reputation in healthcare innovation has already attracted the attention of the Colorado Health Foundation, which is funding its current class of digital health startups. And its central position in the ecosystem was recently strengthened by the announcement that Innosphere had launched a seed fund.

But for Curtis, the best is yet to come.

“We’re moving away from some of the crowded areas in digital health like telehealth and patient engagement, and going deeper into the nuances of healthcare processes. We’re seeing some really exciting trends emerge in revenue cycle management, practice management, and work force optimization. There are phenomenal startups out there doing great work in these areas, and we’re looking forward to working with them to make their companies successful.”


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