Can health-tech startups cultivate partnerships with the “establishment” and work collaboratively with providers, practices, payers, academia and other organizations, including established health IT companies? Can those entities unite to fix the broken U.S. healthcare system?
According to Mike Biselli, president of Catalyst Health Tech Innovation (HTI), the answer to both questions is a resounding and passionate, “Yes!”
Biselli’s brainchild, Catalyst HTI, is a healthcare ecosystem of 81 entrepreneurial and established organizations housed in one building dedicated exclusively to transforming healthcare. Branded as a “healthcare industry integrator” by Biselli, Catalyst opened its doors in summer 2018 following nearly five years of planning.
The seven-story, 180,000-square-foot facility covers an entire city block in Denver’s River North neighborhood. Tenants include a host of startups along with Kaiser Permanente, UCHealth, MGMA, Prime Health, the American Osteopathic Association, Delta Dental, CORHIO, the University of Denver, Velóce Corporation, Hitachi Consulting and Innova Emergency Medical Associates, to name a few.
“This campus speaks to the human DNA,” Biselli said. “We all want to be part of something bigger than ourselves. And guess what? We’ve lost that in healthcare. We all came to this industry with altruistic goals and mindsets of wanting to do good, and we all did the right things — and the system has beaten us down and is bankrupting our country.”
Biselli sees the opportunities at Catalyst as one way to combat a growing sense of burnout and disillusionment in healthcare.
“Catalyst HTI was founded to drive partnerships and collaboration to knock down the ivory tower. Importantly, we’ll all do it together,” he said. “When you allow people to plug into something bigger than themselves, that’s when the fire gets ignited.”
To that end, a mix of factors inspired Biselli’s vision for the building including The Third Wave: An Entrepreneur’s Vision of the Future, written by AOL cofounder Steve Case. Case contends that entrepreneurs in the “third wave” must focus on partnerships and collaboration, allowing them to “reimagine our healthcare system.”1
Meaningful collisions over coffee breaks
Whenever asked the inevitable “Why did you build a building?” question, Biselli cites a poignant quote from Tony Hsieh, chief executive officer for Zappos: “Create the opportunity for meaningful collisions … Then just watch as the best things unfold.”
“This campus allows wicked smart and passionate people to physically collide — that is the moment when innovation occurs,” Biselli explained, likening his building to an industry conference. “I don’t know what will happen every single day, but when I go to a conference, I know that I’ll meet leaders who will be peers and colleagues, and I will learn and educate myself,” he said. “Imagine all of that happening in this building every single day as opposed to a three-day event.”
That continuous exposure to others in the industry allows for deeper relationships to form, he added. “When you’re at the community coffee maker at Catalyst every day and bump into others who call Catalyst home, over and over, that’s when trust starts building. We’re becoming more than just friends. We’re now part of a larger movement. I trust you, you trust me. I see what you’re dreaming and working on. And, over time, we may partner or my large organizations may buy your company and change your entire life.”
That’s not to say Catalyst isn’t prepared to play temporary host to industry events. During the 2018 Denver Startup Week, Catalyst HTI hosted more than 20 events. “Over 2,000 people from across the country walked through our halls” despite Catalyst not being fully built out at the time, Biselli recalled proudly.
Neighbors one day, partners next
Though retaining its headquarters in Englewood, Colo., MGMA signed on as an early anchor tenant to Catalyst HTI in February 2016 before opening its second-floor space in Catalyst last summer.
Todd Evenson, MBA, MGMA chief operating officer, views the investment as an opportunity for the 93-year-old organization to bring an approachable and trusted resource to both startups and established companies.
“We don’t have to be the innovator to be innovative, right?” he said. “MGMA is a great listening post for the new folks and startups entering healthcare. We help determine whether an application actually solves a problem. We assist amplifying messaging in terms of quality, cost impact, provider and payer satisfaction, for example. For startups beginning to scale, we facilitate introductions with influencers.
“Yet, all the while we bring the history and credibility of an established engine,” Evenson added. “Our people, tools, research and resources assess technologies and complexities to bring a practical solution to marketplace adoption.”
Evenson noted that over the past two decades physicians and practice staff experienced a plethora of challenges in the push to adopt EHRs and health reform programs.
“It’s a lot harder now to introduce technology in the development environment, because there’s already a natural apprehension,” he said. “Folks are thinking, ‘Is this app going to complicate my work, or will it require 10 minutes more of my time?’ Catalyst HTI’s ecosystem of entrepreneurs intermixing with the established community is where MGMA fits in. We provide a balanced approach ensuring no overhead increases and only adoption simplicity.”
Evenson also recognizes that traditional associations including MGMA must be at the top of their game, fine-tuning adaptability and agility to maintain reach and influence — and embracing new engagement demands. Attracting younger generations and the increasing number of women in practice executive positions are among MGMA’s membership recruitment priorities.
Echoing Biselli, Evenson noted that MGMA employees working in the space can spark new relationships and ideas about their work in the association.
“The space re-energizes our staff who are encouraged to visit and collaborate with leaders from different healthcare fields, including universities,” said Evenson. “Having a presence opens up a whole new pathway to connect with new audiences, deliver higher value and progress to a more inclusive culture.”
Startups test the waters
Kaakpema “KP” Yelpaala founded access.mobile in 2011. The digital health startup, in expansion mode, is committed to improving personalized patient care access for underserved and multicultural people. Its mobile and cloud-based solutions strengthen the patient-provider relationship for sub-Saharan Africa and U.S. healthcare organizations and their patients.
Specifically, access.mobile serves regional hospitals in East Africa including The Nairobi Hospital. In the United States, access.mobile has adapted to a more mature health IT market preferring a unified platform, partnering with EHR vendors. Now with Catalyst as its first U.S. headquarters office, the company signed its first U.S. provider client, Adventist Health White Memorial Hospital in East Los Angeles, which largely serves the Latino population.
Yelpaala subscribes to Biselli’s vision of collaborating with established tenants at Catalyst HTI. “Our goal as a startup in expansion mode is to support more health systems in addition to partnering with other types of organizations on shared initiatives,” he explained.
Yelpaala also believes the art of building positive business relationships is easily overlooked in business today.
“For corporations, partnering is usually built upon a complementary synergy combined with building a relationship compelled by formality and years of work. There’s no shortcut,” he noted. “Since Catalyst HTI creates the foundation for new types of partnerships, mergers and innovations, we’re excited to interact with other innovators regularly without having to set up formal meetings.”
Like Yelpaala, Patrick Leonard, chief executive officer and co-founder of Sopris Health, supported the mission of bringing startups and legacy organizations together enough to move the headquarters to Catalyst last summer. Sopris Health developed an artificial intelligence (AI) solution for physicians’ smartphones to automate documentation, traveling from exam room to exam room to capture and summarize key data from a patient visit.
“I’ve been watching Mike’s journey for five years in rallying people around his forward-thinking ideas,” Leonard remarked. “I realized early on the Catalyst HTI concept was special and sorely needed to drive the state’s healthcare community to innovate.”
In its few short months as a tenant, Sopris Health’s sales pipeline has grown, according to Leonard. “Our ultimate goal is to help grow this community,” he said. “We’ve built a team centered around a vision aligning with the Catalyst HTI concept of working with the latest applications and spending time innovating as an entrepreneur.”
Innovation in Colorado is here to stay
Biselli and his team are in the planning stage for the second phase of Catalyst HTI, developing another 150,000 square feet by 2021.
“Colorado is one of the top healthcare innovation clusters in the country, and we’re not slowing down,” he said. “People are moving here in droves. Innovation is a mindset, and people take risks. Moreover, the notion of failure is readily accepted; for innovation, failure has to happen. It’s part of the innovation life cycle that is embraced, welcomed and celebrated in this state.”
1. Case S. The third wave: An entrepreneur’s vision of the future. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2016.
Who is Mike Biselli?
Mike Biselli began flexing his entrepreneurial mindset and collaborative leadership skills at a young age. His father worked with northern Nevada community members on the construction and installation of nine-foot-wide goal posts — standard width is 23 feet — so Mike could hone his craft of kicking footballs more accurately. The conditioning from the competitive world of football paid off.
Biselli earned a full athletic scholarship to Stanford University, earning first-team All Pac-10 honors as a kicker in 1999 and playing in the 2000 Rose Bowl game. He became the first college graduate in his family, earning bachelor and master’s degrees from Stanford. He also launched Biselli Development Group (BDG), providing consulting services that matched high school student-athletes to collegiate athletic programs.
These experiences — unachievable without family, school and community support — left a profound impression on him. Biselli says he became a believer in the power of teams — and what teams could accomplish by working together to achieve better business and personal performance.
Biselli spent his first 10 years in healthcare working at medical device companies, moving to Denver in 2008. The Affordable Care Act’s mandates specific to decreasing costs and increasing outcomes compelled he and his partner in 2011 to co-found MedPassage, a startup that digitally connected procurement managers of surgery centers to device companies to compete on price. The company was sold in 2014.
“We saw an opportunity to disrupt the buyer and seller of implants, and importantly, remove the sales rep when he or she was not offering any clinical value,” he commented. “I jumped off the entrepreneurial cliff at that point and never looked back.”
Setting the stage for Catalyst HTI
Following his successful company exit, coupled with the timing of the Great Recession’s nearing end, Biselli saw several forces at play:
- He became involved with local stakeholders dedicated to changing the U.S. healthcare system through innovative technology. With co-founder Jake Rishavy, he helped formalize Prime Health, a meetup group turned nonprofit powerhouse supporter of digital health technologies statewide.
- Rock Health’s 2013 Digital Health Funding Report ranked Colorado No. 6 in its list of states for digital health venture funding.
- Fresh off selling his startup, Biselli immediately sought to achieve two goals:
- “Shake the core of the healthcare industry,” figuratively. Explained Biselli, “The fundamental disconnect between entrepreneurs, startups and disruptors, and the established industry’s organizations… We’re coming from two different planets. If we could work together knocking down the silos and forging common nomenclature, understanding and trust, imagine the revolution that we can create in an industry bankrupting our country.”
- Recreate a community work culture mirroring his influential time at Galvanize in Denver, an urban workspace servicing startups and entrepreneurs. “It was absolutely game-changing and transformative for me being around other innovators, mentors, advisors and investors,” he recalled. “I wanted to create such an environment for Denver’s healthcare innovation boom.”
- After selling his startup at the end of 2013, and during a family vacation to Mexico in January 2014, Biselli experienced a seminal, life-changing moment. He envisioned Catalyst HTI as a brick-and-mortar enterprise in Denver to help further propel Colorado as a top healthcare innovative cluster in the nation.
Family legacies support entrepreneurial spirit
“Remember with my football background, I believe in teams,” declared Biselli. So, armed with his ideas to fix American healthcare, he searched for development partners who shared his vision of Catalyst HTI as a long-term asset for Denver, the Colorado community and, importantly, the healthcare and IT industries.
Biselli partnered with two Colorado family legacies to help realize his dream: Koelbel and Company, the state’s oldest family-owned real estate development company; and Larry and Mary Jane Burgess, who owned the city block where Catalyst is today. Larry, a Vietnam War veteran and retired Lockheed Martin engineer, and Mary Jane, a retired nurse, accepted a stake in the project and the chance to lend their family name to the Catalyst vision.
Choosing Denver’s River North area was based on insights that Biselli gleaned from The Rise of Innovation Districts: A New Geography of Innovation in America report in 2014.
The Brookings Institution authors wrote that instead of suburban corridors of isolated corporate campuses and old industrial districts, innovation districts combine innovative startups, businesses and research institutions with the benefits of urban living. These districts have the potential to commercialize ideas and spur job and local economic growth.
“Our perceptions of suburbia living are being blown up. The younger generations are figuring out they don’t need a 3,000-square-foot house,” Biselli said. “It’s a paradigm shift. The macro trends are explicit across the country that younger generations want to live, work and play downtown.”