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Rethinking Health Innovation From Invention to Commercialization

Feb. 25, 2019

Earlier this month, the AUTM conference brought together several thousand professionals supporting academic research and commercialization at universities, research centers, hospitals, businesses and government organizations. Held in Austin, Texas, the conference drew individuals from around the world.

A team from the Texas Health CoLab at Dell Medical School hosted a panel discussion on “Rethinking Health Innovation from Invention to Commercialization”. Our goal was to discuss the benefits and challenges of translating Dell Med’s mission into action by building and supporting a robust and comprehensive pipeline for applied innovation in health care.

The panel included:

  • Nishi Viswanathan, Director of Texas Health Catalyst
  • Les Nichols, Interim Director of the Office of Technology Commercialization, UT Austin
  • John Uecker, Associate Professor in the Department of Surgery and Perioperative Care, General Surgeon and Program Director of the General Surgery Residency program; CoFounder and CEO of ClearCam
  • Doug Stoakley, CoFounder and COO of ClearCam
  • Verena Kallhoff, Manager of WorkSpaces @ Texas Health CoLab (Moderator)

We addressed some big questions: How can you engage researchers, students, entrepreneurs, clinicians and mentors along the entire path from invention to commercialization? What are the important ingredients that make a broad innovation initiative work?

The panel repeatedly underscored that collaboration is key to engagement, as are outreach and programming. One example of a successful, collaborative initiative is the Texas Health Catalyst, a program funded in partnership with several schools and departments across UT Austin that supports innovators and health entrepreneurs. The participating units raise awareness of the opportunity with their faculty and students, host info sessions and offer funding to finalists. The university’s Office of Technology Commercialization is also deeply involved in the program, providing guidance, insight, patent applications while taking a collaborative approach on licensing.

Tailored Support for Startups

Uecker and Stoakley, cofounders of ClearCam, emphasized a number of times that the support they received through the Texas Health CoLab at all stages was crucial to their success. Most importantly, the catalyst was the only startup program they participated in that specifically asked: What do YOU need? and then tailored the program to ClearCam’s needs and next steps.

Expert volunteers from around the Central Texas community have donated more than 5,000 hours of time on due diligence, serving on review panels, providing mentorship to the entrepreneurs and other support tailored to projects. In some cases, Texas Health Catalyst advisors have stayed on as advisors with the company after graduating from the catalyst. In fact, what sets the program apart is that the engagement and personalized assistance doesn’t end. The Texas Health Catalyst team stays in touch with the program participants and continues to provide personalized assistance and connections. Some companies, like ClearCam, raise funding and ‘move’ into the WorkSpaces @ Texas Health CoLab, a co-working program, to continue their work embedded within one of Dell Med’s buildings.

What further sets the program apart is the crucial and insightful feedback given to all applicants. All applications are reviewed by experts and the feedback is provided to all companies, including those who do not proceed into the mentoring phase. For some applicants, mentoring is provided outside the catalyst program to help them get started; sometimes via connections or business consulting provided by members of the Texas Health CoLab to get the faculty started on the next step.

Open to all health entrepreneurs in the ecosystem, the Texas Health CoLab also hosts events including a monthly health Learning Series that offers learning opportunities and information to nascent and experienced health entrepreneurs as well as networking, providing the opportunity to learn from each other. Events also provide the opportunity to get support and be connected to resources in the ecosystem thus building the crucial ecosystem that connects entrepreneurs outside the official channels.

The main point that was reiterated several time was the dedication of everyone to collaboration and a focus on shared goals. Support of commercialization starts at the inception of the idea and doesn’t end with successful licensing. Startups NEED continued support and a strong vibrant ecosystem to be successful.


Left to right: Les Nichols, Verena Kallhoff, Doug Stoakley, Nishi Viswanathan