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NYC shapes up with new health tech incubator

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Early stage startups already see New York as a hub for media, advertising and fashion. But the city is starting to build up its name in health tech as well.

At the start of this year, both Startup Health and Blueprint Health – two incubator-type programs that provide funding, mentorship and connections – announced their first classes of startups.  Then, in October, the New York Digital Health Accelerator, backed by the New York eHealth Collaborative nonprofit and the private New York City Fund, introduced its own batch of health tech startups.

Now Bio & Health Tech Entrepreneurship Lab, is joining the fun. Supported by the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), the new outfit began accepting applications a couple of weeks ago for its first class of health entrepreneurs.

In the past few years, health tech accelerators have popped up around the country – for example, Rock Health in San Francisco and Healthbox in Chicago. But given the concentration of top-tier hospitals, education and research institutions, not to mention drug companies like Pfizer and insurance providers like Aetna, located in New York and the surrounding areas, the city is well-positioned to be a hotbed for health innovation.

Mary Howard, program manager for the Bio & Health Tech Entrepreneurship Lab, said the new program intends to bring the growing health tech ecosystem to a new class of wannabe entrepreneurs who have strong backgrounds in the sciences and a big idea but don’t know the basics for starting a business.

“We’re targeting people who have that great idea and they’re asking themselves ‘now what?’” she said. In particular, the program is intended for graduate science students, post-docs and early-career researchers and engineers. But while most other health tech accelerators focus primarily on health software and IT, Howard said the new entrepreneurship lab plans to also focus on life science companies, including those working on drug discovery and development.

Unlike its peers, New York’s latest startup incubator for health tech companies doesn’t provide funding or space. But over the six-month program, accepted participants will receive coaching, pitch preparation, mentorship and other activities meant to connect founders with the local network of investors and entrepreneurs in healthcare.

Howard and Eric Vieiera, the program’s bio science practice leader, created the program after winning a bid from the NYCEDC. Howard said she previously launched several startups and has been active in the Boston startup community. And Vieira, who has a Ph.D. in developmental genetics, has directed several life sciences and technology projects.  The program is backed by $56,000 from the NYCEDC but Howard said they are looking for private support and sponsorships and hope that the lab can run for 10 years. It will close its application period at the end of the month and announce its first 20 participants next month.

Blueprint Health, Startup Health and Rock Health typically have acceptance rates in the low single digits, indicating demand for structured programs that support health tech startups. But, obviously, a big draw for those applying to incubators is the money (in addition to the space). Still, access to networks of investors and potential business partners, as well as guidance in navigating the complex world of healthcare are critical to a startup’s success. If the Entrepreneurship Lab can supply a strong network for its participants, it could prove to be an attractive option for emerging health startups. Vieira said the goal is to support New York’s growing health tech ecosystem and potentially become a feeder for the bigger, better-funded incubators, as well as a recipient of  startups from smaller, more academic-focused innovation labs.