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Digital Health Care Ecosystems. It’s A Real Thing In Madison

With solid health-care and technology organizations, Madison is fast becoming a digital health-care center.

By John Fuller on May 13, 2016

For Wes Garnett, the Madison Region had him at hello. Garnett moved his health care technology startup, Kurbi Health, from Delaware to Madison in 2015 because of the region’s burgeoning health care IT entrepreneur scene. Kurbi Health developed an application for patients with chronic diseases that connects them to local resources at a discounted rate to help them manage their condition and keep track of their symptoms.

The Madison Region’s growing reputation as a center of health care and health information technology (HIT) makes it a good match for startup or early-stage companies looking to develop and grow, Garnett says.

“We found a great startup ecosystem in Madison,” Garnett says.

The region, he says, offers the right combination of technology and health care expertise for a company like Kurbi, as well as a deep talent pool, ample networking opportunities and ready access to investors. Kurbi’s story is a familiar one in the Madison Region, whose reputation in HIT is attracting national attention.

From Startups to Big Companies

The giant in the field, Epic Systems Corp., is based in Verona, where it develops software and applications for medical groups, hospitals and integrated health care organizations. Epic employs more than 9,500 people in the region and has been a breeder reactor for entrepreneurs branching out with their own HIT startups.

Madison is also home to the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s nationally ranked School of Medicine and Public Health. Additionally, UW’s hospital is nationally ranked in a number of major specialty areas, accompanying a number of other hospitals in the region that provide excellent care.

This ecosystem is fostering startups and sparking new investment in a host of regional firms. Wellbe Inc., for example, works with health care providers to engage patients as partners in their care. Wellbe’s cloud-based technology helps patients take action to achieve better outcomes at a lower cost. Many hospitals use Wellbe’s solutions to improve efficiency and help patients successfully navigate through medical treatments.

“Our company helps connect real people to technology,” says James Dias, founder and chief executive officer of Wellbe. “The Madison Region provides us with a quality workforce of creative technology professionals.”

Where Health Care Meets Technology

Founded in 2010, Propeller Health is an FDA- cleared digital health platform that helps individuals with chronic respiratory disease, such as asthma or COPD, gain better control over their disease. David Van Sickle, Propeller’s CEO, is a former epidemiology service officer with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He began working on the technology that led to Propeller’s creation while a post-doctoral student at UW-Madison’s School of Medicine and Public Health. The region’s advantages for HIT and as a place to live are strong draws, he says.

“Madison is a great place to raise a family and become part of a vibrant community,” Van Sickle says. Another HIT success in the region is

RevolutionEHR, a provider of cloud-based practice management and electronic health record systems for the optometric community. The company provides services to optometrists in all 50 states and Canada. RevolutionEHR was co-founded by Dr. Scott Jens, a Madison optometrist who wanted to help other eye care professionals sustain their independence. Jens is impressed with the region’s collection of HIT talent and its collaborative environment.

“Madison is a tremendous community,” says Jens, “It has become respected for its delivery of digital health care technology. It has been really enjoyable to have so many digital health care companies in the region. I am impressed by so many brilliant people so willing to share their intellect with others.”

Investors Boosting HIT Startups

Not only are companies being formed and relocating to the region, there is also a network of investors and other organizations coming alongside these entrepreneurial firms and helping them grow into viable commercial enterprises. One notable example is HealthX Ventures, a venture capital firm in Madison that supports early-stage, high- growth companies in all areas of digital health.

“We are focused on companies which are making health care safer, more efficient and more affordable,” says Dan Blake, a partner with HealthX Ventures.

The firm is led by experienced entrepreneurs, investors and industry experts who have grown companies and led change across the health care landscape. Blake says that among the reasons the Madison Region is growing as an HIT hub is the presence of both health care and technology-related talent.

“We feel strongly about the talent here in the region and we believe we have some distinct cost advantages over other technology centers on the East Coast and West Coast,” says Blake. “Many companies want to stay here and grow, and now they have the resources to do that.”

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