There was a bit of a schizophrenic feel to the Health 2.0 conference last week in Boston.

Half the companies in attendance are obscure names at best in the IT market. Take Mingle Analytics for example. The other half? Well, even consumers who have no clue what an EHR is surely know about Angie’s List, Aetna and AT&T.

And this dichotomy between the famous and the not-so-famous gave the event a type of creative tension often lacking in the mega-events like HIMSS, where the stage is dominated by big names, if not big budgets--and any deals are cut in secret. You see, the Health 2.0 event seeks to give exposure to the innovator companies seeking inroads in the vast health care industry. And at the Boston event, start-ups like Mingle Analytics were introduced to firms seeking to make investments in potential partners. And rather than endless Power Point presentations, the conference was structured around a series of short, rotating conversations on a talk-show stage. And the firms often talked candidly about how their own relationships evolved out of the conference.

Turns out some of the big guys like Aetna realize their own limitations, and rather than trying to build apps from scratch to fill a business need, they’re on the look-out for start-ups who could fill the void. To speed up the growth and development cycle of new products, other organizations, known as “incubators,” have popped up with cash on hand to spur on the innovation. Executives from these incubator companies – such as Healthbox, Blueprint Health, and Startup Health--went to great lengths to distinguish themselves from traditional venture capital firms.
Rather than just showing up with money to invest, and then looking to turn a profit, the incubators hope to foster and nurture the start-ups they partner with (many of them still get a small equity stake however).  Start-up Health, for example, runs an academy for entrepreneurs, offering classes and a networking group for aspiring IT start-ups. “The real work for the companies begins after they get their funding and their first customer,” noted Steve Krein, co-founder of StartUp. “No one knows what will work.”
Now that’s the kind of candor you probably won’t get from the conventional financier in health IT start-ups, where wishful thinking sometimes substitutes for common sense.

The large companies present did give some pretty sobering advice to the newcomers in the crowd. “Many people who come to us are infatuated with their own innovation,” cautioned Michael Golinkoff, head of clinical specialty operations at Aetna. To have any chance of success, software start-ups need to focus on concrete business problems faced by prospective partners and customers, he said. Some of the start-ups seemed to understand that. “We’re not in the technology business,” said Michael Laskoff, CEO of AbilTo, a new company providing video chat services for patients with behavioral issues. “We’re in business to help payers run more efficiently.” Aetna and AbilTo first connected at the Health 2.0 event in 2010.

I encountered a fair number of physician entrepreneurs at the event. Some like Dan Mingle, M.D., of the aforementioned Mingle Analytics, no longer practice medicine--which Mingle says “is in chaos right now.”  Others, like Corey Booker, M.D., are just starting their careers. Corey was motivated to launch OnPulse after hearing from one of his own patients who was beset with woe as a result of the industry’s fragmented communications.
To hear Corey tell his own story, click here.

This story originally appeared at Health Data Management.

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