Former AOL (s AOL) CEO Steve Case and former Time Warner (s TWX) CEO Jerry Levin, who together presided over one of the worst mergers in corporate history, are reuniting again to help spur innovation in health and wellness. Levin, a board director with health information start-up OrganizedWisdom is launching a new strategic initiative called StartUp Health designed to help health entrepreneurs access funding, resources and education. StartUp Health is also partnering with Startup America Partnership, a White House initiative chaired by Case to boost innovation and entrepreneurship in the U.S.
Accelerating health entrepreneurs
While the headline is attention-grabbing, the move is more about the larger goal of stimulating health entrepreneurship, something Levin has been learning first hand after joining OrganizedWisdom, a startup which gathers health information from medical professionals. Levin, who will chair StartUp Health, and OrganizedWisdom CEO Steve Krein came up with the idea of building a community of entrepreneurs dedicated to health care after realizing that there weren’t the same type of resources, investors and mentors focused in this field as there are in other sectors. The two got together with Startup America Partnership officials at South by Southwest earlier this year and began putting together a partnership.
StartUp Health — which is being unveiled on Thursday at the Department of Health and Human Services and the Institute of Medicine’s Health Data Initiative Forum — will build off the work of OrganizedWisdom and will offer start-ups access to its technology, the information it has learned and its board members and mentors, like Levin and entrepreneur Esther Dyson. The idea is to help supply entrepreneurs in this field with the tools, connections and funding necessary to help them scale from an early stage start-up to a polished company.
“As I got deeply involved in OrganizedWisdom, it looked like all the talent in the industry was going to e-commerce, location and games but relatively few were going into health and wellness and that struck me as something that needs to be corrected,” Levin said. “We’re trying to create a vehicle to inspire the creative talent of entrepreneurs and create a community not only to provide guidance and financing but a strategy for long-term company building.”
The initiative is just getting underway, and there are more details about funding sources and mentors and the structure of the program that will emerge in the coming months. One of the first steps will be to initiate a series of StartUp Health Roundtables, the first of which will be hosted in July in New York. StartUp Health will partner with StartUp America Partnership for the event and Case will moderate it. StartUp Health will partner with StartUp America by sharing resources, tools and deal flow analysis.
The Department of Health and Human Services has also helped the cause by releasing health care data to support innovations in information technology. HHS CTO Todd Park will host a second roundtable later this year. And the department is also joining the StartUp Health pledge to show its commitment to the initiative.
OrganizedWisdom CEO Krein said the time is ripe for innovation in health care. Krein said while it used to take millions of dollars to develop breakthroughs, the barriers to entry have been lowered and we’re now seeing websites and mobile apps that are tackling real health problems. Meanwhile, the government is making more data available for innovators to leverage. The key is to accelerate the growth of health startups, he said.
“We want to connect the dots around the ecosystem so there is finally a place entrepreneurs can find a roadmap and get resources to start a business,” said Krein.
That Levin and Case are reuniting over health care shouldn’t be too surprising, and it’s almost fitting. Both have migrated to health care issues after their companies’ merger. In 2002, Levin opened the Moonview Sanctuary, a health and wellness treatment center in Santa Monica with his wife. Case launched Revolution Health, aimed at improving the wellness of people. Both have also seen the need for health care first hand. Levin has been diagnosed with Parkinsons disease while Case’s brother died of cancer.
Levin said the two have kept in touch over the years, but this is the first time they’re working together again. He said it’s an important collaboration because healthcare is a critical area that need innovation.
“It’s kind of nice to meet each other again,” Levin said of Case. “He knew of my interest in health care and given his family history he has reason to be really active in it too. Everyone has some kind of back story that relates to health care. It’s a universal thing.”