MaineHealth and Unum are betting that technology startups will drive significant innovation and growth within the healthcare industry, and are investing money and resources to attract some of those startups to Portland.
The two companies—which are two of the largest employers in Maine—plan to announce on Friday a partnership with Venture Hall, an innovation hub in Portland, to support the latter’s three-month summer startup accelerator program.
Venture Hall, which launched last summer, had already announced plans to host a summer accelerator program. As a result of this partnership, the accelerator will focus solely on startups working to solve problems faced by healthcare workers. That criteria could include a wide range of startups, from a software company working on electronic health records to a team looking at the medical applications of virtual or augmented reality technology to a startup trying to disrupt how hospitals manage their HR departments, according to Jess Knox, co-founder of Venture Hall.
Startup accelerators are programs designed to support early-stage companies with high-growth potential by providing education, mentorship, and sometimes financing. There are currently at least 700 startup accelerators in the United States, according to a Brookings Institution report published last year.
Unum and MaineHealth each committed $100,000 to fund Venture Hall’s accelerator, Knox told Maine Startups Insider. In addition, the two organizations will provide mentors, business resources, and subject matter expertise to the cohort of startups accepted into the accelerator.
“We expect this to be a powerful collaboration,” Knox said. “The deep industry insight and global reach that corporate partners like MaineHealth and Unum provide are of critical value to startups—not just for the teams who participate in the accelerator program, but for our innovation ecosystem at large.”
MaineHealth, based in Portland, is the parent company of Maine Medical Center and several other smaller hospitals in the state. Bill Caron, its CEO, said in a statement that supporting “Maine’s startup and innovation ecosystem is not only critical to MaineHealth, it’s critical to all of Maine.”
Unum, an insurance provider, has a history in Maine going back to the mid 1800s when it was incorporated in the state as Union Mutual. Today, Unum Group is headquartered in Chattanooga, Tenn., but still employs roughly 3,000 people at its Portland office complex. It posted $10.7 billion in revenue in 2015.
The benefit of such corporate partners to the startups accepted into the accelerator could be much greater than just access to mentors and expertise; startup founders will also be in a position to develop business relationships and channel partnerships with the organizations and their affiliates.
“We are very excited about this partnership,” Mike Simonds, president and CEO of Unum US, said in a statement. “We hear from so many of our healthcare clients that they need innovative solutions to support their employees. We see this partnership with Venture Hall and MaineHealth as an opportunity to explore and support ways to solve those challenges, while also fostering economic growth in Maine.”
Accelerator applications opening soon
Venture Hall plans to open applications for the accelerator program in a few weeks, Knox said. The goal will be to attract eight to 10 startups from anywhere in the country that want to come to Portland for three months, beginning in late June 2017, to work on their startup idea. The company founders will receive lodging in Portland and a small stipend to live on. Unlike many high-profile startup accelerator programs, Venture Hall will not receive equity in the startups that go through the program, Knox said.
Venture Hall has developed its accelerator program in partnership with Village Capital, a Washington D.C.-based venture capital firm that supports startup accelerator programs around the world.
“When it comes to developing and launching new products and services, Village Capital’s programs are state-of-the-art,” said Knox. “We are looking forward to applying their evidence-based curriculum and investing methodology, while tapping into their global network of entrepreneurs, innovators and investors.”
The accelerator will be capped with a “demo day” when all the startups present their businesses. Knox said the plan is to bring two dozen high quality early-stage investors to the event. Village Capital could also be providing grants to two of the cohort’s startups, Knox said.