Connecting the Dots with Matter’s Steven Collens

Jenni Whalen–(Medtech Boston)–Steven Collens’ days are full of conversations with entrepreneurs who are dreaming big, hoping to take advantage of our healthcare system’s current state up upheaval by presenting innovative solutions. As CEO of Matter, Chicago’s new healthcare technology startup center and community hub, Collens is tasked with running everything from courses to recruitment to community building. He’ll also be speaking at HIMSS’s HX360 event on April 13-15, 2015 in Chicago.

This week, we caught up with Collens to talk about healthcare innovation success, the hottest trends in the medical world, and his plans for HX360.

Q: Before we get into the nitty gritty, I always like to ask about your life right now. What are you up to and how did you get here?

The biggest project I’m working on is Matter, because we opened officially less than a month ago. It’s been all-consuming. Before this I worked at an investment firm, the Pritzker Group, for four years, and while I was there I set up a digital incubator called 1871. That experience, combined with 10 years working at Abbott in the healthcare industry, pointed me to the role I have now.

Q: Tell me about Matter. How many companies are working in your space? How can interested companies join?

Matter has three purposes: it’s a work space for early stage companies, but it’s also a mentorship platform and a connection point for the healthcare community based in the Chicago area. We have 70 companies here so far, all early stage startups working in healthcare. I always say that Matter has a technology-agnostic view on healthcare entrepreneurship. It doesn’t matter if you’re looking to research orphan drugs or to develop new methods of care coordination – we’re interested in helping people across all healthcare spectrums.

In terms of joining us, everybody applies to our program online. We ask detailed questions about your team, market, technology and business plan. There’s a big section about why you want to be part of a community like this. This isn’t primarily an office space, it’s primarily a community – so if a company’s goal is just to find a place to sit and work, this isn’t a great fit.

Q: Why is community so important for healthcare innovation?

Our view is that in healthcare, the best innovations will come when entrepreneurs are working together within healthcare systems. Think about the archetype of a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, like Uber. They look at the world and say “There should be a different way of moving around.” Then they build a system outside of how our existing model works, convince people to use it, and the world adapts.

In healthcare, that model doesn’t really work. An entrepreneur can develop a great innovation that solves a meaningful medical problem – but if that solution doesn’t integrate into the existing healthcare system, no one will adopt the product and the business won’t go anywhere. Most new healthcare technologies need to be adapted and integrated by a healthcare culture that tends to be risk adverse, slow moving and complex.

Based on this, a lot of what we’re doing at Matter is connecting the dots between entrepreneurs, health systems and medical professionals. They’re all interested in fueling next generations of product, but they need each other.

Q: Speaking of changes to the American healthcare system, what big changes do you see in our future?

I’d frame my answer to this in terms of what we’re seeing at Matter as the most important drivers of change:

First, I’d say one trend is the shift from a fee-for-service to a fee-for-value model, largely being driven by Affordable Care Act. But even if the ACA were to go away, there’s so much structurally that has already happened that this shift is inevitable. This shift is also forcing providers and payers to literally reinvent their business models, to come up with new ways of delivering care, keeping track of patients and managing risk. It’s a playground for entrepreneurs – a big tectonic shift in our infrastructure.

Second, I see change coming with electronic medical records. They create a pool of data that everyone else wants to tap into. EHRs have also changed the workflow processes of clinicians, physicians and healthcare providers. It’s a mess right now – healthcare is still a very long way away from having intuitive interfaces for clinicians – so there is a huge opportunity for entrepreneurs to help streamline the EHR process.

Finally, the ability to collect, store and analyze data has become so much more efficient. With all these wearables, gadgets and tools, we’re not too far away from being able to collect meaningful health information.

Q: We hear that you’re speaking at HX360. What will you cover?

I’ll talk about those trends I just mentioned, as well as Matter’s model for delivering innovation. Bringing entrepreneurs and health systems together to help create the next generation of products is very important.

Q: Last question. You seem so excited about this work – did you see yourself doing this 10 years ago? What keeps you going?

Does anyone ever say yes to that question? And do you believe them if they do? I had no clue that I would be doing this 10 years ago, and I don’t know what I’ll be doing 10 years from now! But I love this work because this is a dynamic, interesting time to be in healthcare. At Matter, we’re in the middle of that. We have the opportunity to improve how the system operates and to improve the health and well-being of people. I also love working with entrepreneurs. Everyone here believes that they will change the world. They’re passionate, energetic, they work hard and they believe in what they’re doing. It’s a fun environment to be a part of.