The event started with a panel discussion with leaders from the residency program’s partners, Northern Light Health, MaineHealth, and Maine Venture Fund. During the discussion, led by the Roux Institute’s Head of Partnerships and Strategic Initiatives, Margaret Angell, panelists talked about why the connection between these burgeoning healthcare innovators and the two largest healthcare providers in Maine lays the groundwork for a game-changing future for Maine healthcare.
Northern Light Health CEO Dentry shared that his motivation to partner with the Future of Healthcare Founder Residency Program was born from the need for hopefulness post-pandemic.
“[Our workers] gave so much of themselves to care for all of us. We wanted to step up our game in terms of how we’re going to plan for a better future and create a better work environment for all our caregivers. Now we can improve through innovation, rather than throwing more resources at a system that needs to be better.”
MaineHealth has previously collaborated with the Roux Institute in the areas of research and talent development. MaineHealth CEO Andy Mueller, MD, spoke about the decision to add this support of entrepreneurs to the list of collaborations with Northeastern. He said the program tied back to a shared vision with the Roux Institute of working together so our communities are the healthiest in America.
“There are a lot of ways we believe supporting healthcare entrepreneurs can help us with that vision,” he said. “Whether it’s being really challenged to think differently about how we provide care, or whether it’s the economic benefit of these innovations, we felt like it made a lot of sense to be a partner of this program.”
We wanted to step up our game in terms of how we’re going to plan for a better future and create a better work environment for all our caregivers. Now we can improve through innovation, rather than throwing more resources at a system that needs to be better.””
Northern Light Health
Joe Powers, the managing director of Maine Venture Fund, emphasized how beneficial the partnerships between these entrepreneurs and healthcare giants like Northern Light Health and MaineHealth are from an investor standpoint.
“This was a unique opportunity to invest within healthcare in a really deep way, alongside partners that have a very, very deep expertise in the industry,” Powers said. “To pair these companies with healthcare institutions to essentially co-develop their products and their services — it de-risks each of the investments that we’re making.”
Northern Light Health and MaineHealth’s influence on the nine startups was evident during the pitch portion of the event, where many of the startups mentioned their collaborations with the healthcare partners as they sought to understand rural healthcare systems through shadowing, customer discovery, and more, in order to tailor their solutions to that need. One company has already signed a contract with the healthcare partners and others expect to start pilot and research projects with the partners in the future.
PragmaClin, one of the residency startups, has developed a combined hardware-software solution for capturing neurological disease data without the use of wearable sensors. CEO Bronwyn Bridges said she was able to greatly accelerate the company’s progress through a close collaboration with MaineHealth. She shared that the one-on-one conversations she was able to have with neurologists at MaineHealth and the help in developing a protocol with the MaineHealth Innovation and clinical trials teams was crucial.
“MaineHealth’s credibility and expertise helps us when we’re having conversations with investors or the FDA,” Bridges said. “It can be really hard to get those doors open. The Roux Institute gave us that easy pathway in by giving us the opportunity to work with MaineHealth.”
CEO Claire Beskin, whose startup Empallo has developed an AI platform for cardiovascular care, also found the residency’s partnerships with Northern Light Health and MaineHealth hugely beneficial. Her team was able to spend a day shadowing physicians at MaineHealth to witness patient/provider interactions first-hand and had the opportunity to present her platform to the cardiovascular department, which led to follow-up meetings. Beskin has received interest from cardiologists and clinical teams at Northern Light Health who see the impact their novel tools could have on patient care.
“The Roux Institute’s program helped us get our foot in the door. We’re starting to get traction, much faster than we would elsewhere,” Beskin said. “We’ve had hundreds of conversations with doctors in the past, but many of those conversations never led to collaborations. At Northern Light Health and MaineHealth, we’re able to have these really beneficial follow-up conversations that put on us a trajectory of a more meaningful relationship.”
Empallo and PragmaClin, along with a third residency startup, Radiolife, received grants from the Roux Institute to work with Northeastern University’s Institute of Experiential AI. The collaboration is another differentiator in how the Roux Institute’s partnerships can offer unique opportunities to founders that greatly accelerate their progress. For companies that use AI and machine learning technologies, working with IEAI is hugely beneficial.
“The team at the Institute of Experiential AI have already been able to develop a machine learning piece for one of our key tests,” Bridges said. “Having their expertise to coach my team has been great.”
Aside from the collaborations made possible by the program, both Bridges and Beskin emphasized how important their program mentors and Entrepreneurs in Residence have been to them. Bridges said that her Entrepreneur in Residence introduced her to an FDA consultant and other valuable connections in the FDA ecosystem. Beskin credited her Entrepreneur in Residence with providing guidance with things like developing an FDA plan, understanding relevant regulations and standards, putting together a quality manual and SOPs, and understanding the ins and outs of HIPAA compliance as it relates to cybersecurity.
“These are lessons that would have cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars to learn otherwise, “Beskin said.
While the Venture Showcase event is now behind them, the Future of Healthcare Founder Residency is far from over. The nine companies will have continued access to Roux Institute resources over the next several months, meeting with program EIRs and mentors, honing their technologies and business plans, solidifying connections and partnerships, and getting their products market-ready.
Both the participants and the audience members left the Venture Showcase feeling hopeful and inspired.
“We’ve got so much opportunity to see some real impact in how we take care of patients, reduce the administrative burden on our workforce and grow some great companies,” MaineHealth CEO Mueller said. “There’s been such a willingness to learn, to experiment and to iterate on our future.”
The Future of Healthcare Founder Residency is just one of the programs presented by the Roux Institute at Northeastern University that supports entrepreneurship in Maine. The Roux Institute’s original Founder Residency Program, which works with startups founded by women, people of color, LGBTQ+, and other historically marginalized people, just announced its fourth cohort. The Roux Institute also hosts Start Summits in communities around Maine, which invite anyone interested to spend a day developing a business idea that addresses a specific challenge and then pitching it to a panel of judges for a cash prize. There are two Start Summits coming up: one in Portland, Maine, on September 29th and 30th, which focuses on Healthcare Innovation, and another in Biddeford, Maine, on October 20th and 21st, focused on Workforce Innovation.
Technological innovation has the power to change lives and create opportunity here in Maine and beyond. We get to help entrepreneurs understand what that means for their business and help amplify their vision to solve real-world problems.”
Associate Vice President and Head of Entrepreneurship and Venture Creation
The Roux Institute
The Roux Institute’s Associate Vice President and Head of Entrepreneurship and Venture Creation, Chris Wolfel, believes that supporting entrepreneurs in Maine is one of the most impactful things we can do for the state.
“The most exciting part of our entrepreneurship efforts is witnessing that the programs we’re building are having tremendous impact – and not just for our participating founders, but also for our partners and the entire entrepreneurial ecosystem,” he said. “Technological innovation has the power to change lives and create opportunity here in Maine and beyond. We get to help entrepreneurs understand what that means for their business and help amplify their vision to solve real-world problems.”
Applications are now open for the April 2024 cohort of the Future of Healthcare Founder Residency. Those interested can learn more and apply here.