By Erik Halvorsen, Director, TMC Innovation Institute
Erik Halvorsen, Director, TMC Innovation Institute
Some say love is a true international language that we all understand. Music and art have been around as long as humans have roamed the Earth and can stir feelings and emotions without words. The epicureans among us, myself included, certainly believe that food is something that brings us all together, and that through its sharing with others, can communicate friendship, vitality, love and comfort.
On a recent trip to Norway and the UK another international language spoke to me—innovation.
Whenever possible, I visit innovation ecosystems across the United States and around the world. Each one unique in its own way: Their missions vary from local economic development, to maximizing return on investment for a fund, to purely philanthropic. Their focus may be software, consumer, energy, fin-tech or healthcare or may be some blend thereof. How they execute on those missions—their playbook, resources and partners vary widely, but I learn something from all of them.
As the Director of the Texas Medical Center’s TMCx accelerator program, one of the biggest healthcare accelerator programs in the country, we are often asked to set up shop in other states and in other countries, but what makes us successful is not something easily replicated—it is the unique combination of a robust curriculum, an amazing team, cadre of experienced advisors and mentors and venture fund, all located within the biggest medical center in the country, with thousands of clinical, business and technical subject matter experts for startups to tap into.
“Innovators and entrepreneurs are in every country and you see the same traits that all the successful ones have regardless of where they are from”
We have no intention of becoming the “Starbucks of innovation,” with a shop on every corner, but we are eager to build bridges to these innovation ecosystems around the world: Learning from them, supporting and supplementing their local efforts and being a resource to—and destination for—their most promising healthcare innovations.
At the end of the day, my team and I are in this business to save lives and improve the quality of lives through bringing better treatments, diagnostics, software and medical devices to healthcare.
My trips have taken me to places like Taiwan, Ireland, Denmark, Germany, China, UK, Norway, Italy, Mexico, Greece and the Bahamas to name just a few. In many of those locations I visited universities, hospitals and innovation hubs that have various resources and expertise geared towards identifying good ideas for unmet needs and driving them towards clinical adoption and commercialization.
Innovation truly seems to be an international language. Every culture has it, values it, nurtures it and recognizes its potential to improve the lives of its people.
While recently in Stavanger, the oil capital of Norway, I was able to see first-hand their burgeoning life sciences ecosystem anchored by their university, largest hospital in Norway and several incubators and accelerators. It was an amazing experience to be asked to give the keynote speech at their digital health conference and consult with their industry leaders as they build an innovation center and a new hospital with plans to incorporate the latest technology to help the doctors and nurses to deliver the best care for their patients.
Then it was on to London where we visited with innovation groups such as Innovate UK, HS.Live, Digital Health London. I even held impromptu office hours with several healthcare startup entrepreneurs who pitched their company and product to me.
Since a lot of innovation emerges from academic research from universities and medical centers, we visited hubs in Manchester, Oxford and Cambridge. Talking with key leaders from the National Health Service (the UK public health service) and learning about how they approach the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of their citizens and the role innovation and new technologies play was enlightening.
Touring Manchester University and several of their hospitals, exploring their innovation district and meeting key researchers, innovators and learning about the programs and resources they had in place was energizing as we launched into enthusiastic discussions about potential collaborations. Likewise, with leaders from United College of London and Cambridge University, we also quickly found the area in the Venn diagram where our interests and goals overlapped, and our collective and collaborative efforts could increase the likelihood that products could get to patients faster.
Innovation really is another one of those international languages. It has the ability to make our lives better and more enjoyable—as music, art and food (and drink!) can as well. Innovators and entrepreneurs are in every country and you see the same traits that all the successful ones have regardless of where they are from.
I left on a plane, but we will most definitely be building bridges back to these hubs (and always looking for others), linking our ecosystems to collaborate to identify, incubate, develop, accelerate and implement the best innovations to improve human health and wellbeing.