The Cleveland Clinic Wants to Lure Tech Startups to NEO

Oct 24, 2017

The city's largest health care employer is making moves to attract health-tech startups to the city.

At the Cleveland Clinic's Medical Innovation Summit on Monday, executives from the clinic and the nonprofit business incubator JumpStart, Inc., announced a three-year partnership with Plug and Play, a Silicon Valley company that specializes in running accelerator programs. Those are basicallybusiness boot camps for early-stage tech startups. 

Peter O'Neil, executive director of Cleveland Clinic Innovations, which helps develop and market medical inventions, said the partnership will give the clinic access to some of the most innovative startups in the field of health tech.

"Plug and Play has tech scouts around the world looking for early-stage health-tech companies," he said, "and they're going to filter those and bring the best of those to Cleveland."

Dubbed the Cleveland HealthTech Accelerator, the program will be based at the county-owned Global Center for Health Innovation, which has struggled to find tenants to fill the $465 million facility. Starting in 2018, the accelerator will host about 10 startups. Every six months after that, a new crop of startups will rotate in.

Early funding and venture capital
Initially, the accelerator will be supported with funds from the Cleveland Clinic, JumpStart, and Ohio's Third Frontier initiative. The hope, however, is that having a concentration of health-tech companies in one venue will make it easier to attract financing from venture capitalists.

In addition, representatives from JumpStart and the Clinic say they will work to encourage companies to stay in Cleveland when the six-month program ends. O'Neil said the economic impact of the accelerator would be "huge," although he did not provide any estimates. 

"We need to keep our eye on what companies Plug and Play is going to bring here," said Michael Goldberg, who teaches business innovation at Case Western Reserve University and has studied the city's efforts to create a more entrepreneur-friendly environment.

Although he's excited the program will lure more startups to Cleveland, he said the number of companies it attracts may be less important than the quality. He said the true measure of the program's success will be whether they thrive and continue their business in Northeast Ohio.

"To some degree, there may be competition for some of the best health-care companies," he said, pointing out that Plug and Play already has a startup partnership with St. Louis's Ascension Health System. "Companies may choose to go elsewhere."

On that score, JumpStart in a statement said that it will only invest in companies from the program that commit to staying in Ohio.