Independence Blue Cross and Thomas Jefferson University and Hospitals will begin collaborating July 1 to fund innovations in health care and help identify and potentially give seed money to in-house entrepreneurs.
Called the Independence Blue Cross-Jefferson Health Innovation Collaboration, the $2 million partnership will be funded evenly by IBC's Blue Cross Center for Health Care Innovation and Jefferson's Innovation Pillar.
The partnership creates an entrepreneur-in-residence at Jefferson and funds a fall 2015 "hackathon," an entrepreneurship curriculum, and a business speaker series for medical students and faculty. The relationship could also help Jefferson monetize its research and inventions.
Last year, Jefferson built an innovation hub on 10th Street. Entrepreneurs are working there on a joint-implants coating to prevent infection and a neurosurgeon's software model that applies surgical techniques to treat epilepsy.
In April, Jefferson hosted its first JAZ Tank, a version of TV's Shark Tank competition. From 57 entries, three winning teams of inventors and medical students were chosen for start-up funding. In addition to cash, winners partner with the Vynamic incubator, which offers advisers and introductions to angel investors.
How will Jefferson make money from its entrepreneurs? It could arrange equity investments in some in-house health-care start-ups, chief executive Stephen Klasko said Monday.
"Let's say we have a Jefferson start-up technology that notifies parents of teenagers with diabetes when the kid's blood sugar drops. Because of the sheer volume of patients we see in different hospitals, the start-up company's device could be tested on 1,000 teenagers almost immediately, and that's worth millions of dollars to that company. So we could trade that for equity" in a start-up, he said.
Independence chief executive Dan Hilferty met Klasko not long after he became president of Jefferson University and CEO of the health system. IBC has invested in local start-up incubator DreamIt Health with the University of Pennsylvania and has other partnerships with Drexel and New York University.
"I'm modeling the Jefferson health care on Netflix rather than Blockbuster Video," Klasko said, meaning that patients can connect with health care virtually with face-to-face doctor rounds by computer. He wants to update bricks-and-mortar hospital services of the past.
"I met with Dan [Hilferty] for some advice. I told him what I wanted Jefferson to look like, and he said that's exactly what our city needs," Klasko said.
The collaboration with Jefferson is "not necessarily about making money," Hilferty said. "But there's a lot of folks in the system who are thinking about these ideas.
"There might be an occasion where we invest in a start-up firm, but it's more about using the concept of innovation, putting members at the center," he said.
To prepare for the fall, Jefferson faculty and executives visited Massachusetts Institute of Technology to watch its latest hackathon (problem-solvers work intensely to "hack" solutions) and learn how to set one up, said Donna Gentile O'Donnell, Jefferson's vice president for innovation partnerships and programs.