Innovation Ecosystem

MedMates attempts to forge its own sustainable business model

Signature Rhode Island make-a-thon event proposed

PHOTO BY Scott Kingsley

Blaine Carroll, the vice president of the new Strategic Initiatives group at Delta Dental of Rhode Island, addressed MedMates on June 11, detailing plans to invest in early stage and mid-stage companies.

PHOTO BY Scott Kingsley

Blaine Carroll of Delta Dental of Rhode Island and Steve Lane of Ximedica at the recent MedMates gathering.

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By Richard Asinof
Posted 6/16/14
MedMates is going through normal growing pains, establishing a sustainable framework for its ongoing efforts to promote the med-tech industry sector in Rhode Island, much like any startup firm. One of its intriguing ideas is the launch of a distinctive, signature Rhode Island event – a make-a-thon, in the model of a hackathon.
What resources are needed to hire a full-time director of MedMates, in order to move the organization toward sustainability? And where will those resources come from? How will the organization navigate its way through the narrows of serving as a collaborative convener and not just a trade organization? Will the distinctive, signature Rhode Island event help give MedMates the recognition it needs in the marketplace? Is there an opportunity for MedMates to serve as a mentoring organization for entrepreneurs?
The ability to tell the story of the convergence of Rhode Island’s innovation ecosystem in health, science, technology, research and community remains fragmented. Despite the success of Convergence RI, the concept of sharing information across platforms and networks still encounters resistance. Following the MedMates meeting, ConvergenceRI attempted to engage in a conversation about the successful education model being advanced by the R.I. Nurses Institute Middle College charter high school of 10th, 11th, 12th and 12+ as a way to bridge the skills gap. Why not invite Pam McCue, the executive director of RINI-MC, to participate in one of the skills gap panel discussions?

PROVIDENCE – Much as many startup firms do, MedMates is now focused on translating its good ideas into a sustainable framework to support the growth of med-tech and bioscience industry sectors in Rhode Island.

In early 2013, as a project funded as an outgrowth of an idea generated at the Rhode Island Foundation’s “Make It Happen RI” gathering, MedMates rode the wave, attracting dozens of entrepreneurs to its initial meet-ups at Ximedica, BetaSpring and Brown University.

A parallel organization, R.I. BioScience Leaders, proved successful in lobbying the R.I. General Assembly to create a modest $500,000 matching grant program for Rhode Island firms that captured SBIR awards. [That program has been funded again in the FY 2015 budget.] The two groups created a working collaborative relationship.

In February 2014, MedMates held an event, “For The Love of Entrepreneurship,” at RISD, featuring about 20 entrepreneurs making a five-minute pitch for their new products. [See link to ConvergenceRI story below.]

Now, MedMates is attempting to transform the initial enthusiasm into a more structured approach going forward.

A Rhode Island make-a-thon
At the June 11 gathering at Ximedica, Laine Mashburn, the principal of VentureMedica, a health care venture development firm, introduced himself as the director of MedMate’s new Launch initiative.

Mashburn and Dan Bacher, founder and executive director of the Speak Your Mind Foundation, along with Maeve Donohue, one of MedMates’ organizers, led a discussion about how Rhode Island could create its own signature event, in the model of a hackathon – or a make-a-thon, moving beyond software and coding to create and design a product.

Steve Lane, CEO and co-founder of Ximedica, expressed his strong belief that Rhode Island was the perfect place for such an event, with its “ability to fabricate anything out of anything,” drawing on the engineering skills at Brown University and the design skills at RISD.

“The future of medicine,” Lane continued, “will be attached to you,” promoting the concept of wearable technology as a new frontier that Rhode Island can help to explore, a growth area for the region’s textile industry.

Delta Dental’s new investment strategy
Blaine Carroll, the vice president of the new Strategic Initiatives group at Delta Dental of Rhode Island, also addressed the group, detailing the insurance company’s new strategic direction of investing in early stage and mid-stage companies, such as QuitBit, a mobile app to help smokers track their smoking habits with an eye toward smoking cessation.

The product fit well within the firm’s oral health prevention market, according to Carroll.

Among the new product development ideas that Delta Dental is considering, Carroll said, is a move into the pet insurance market, an industry that has enormous growth potential here in the United States, where only 2 percent of pet owners have purchased insurance.

Beyond its investments in accelerator models such as MassChallenge, the Rhode Island Business Plan Competition and BetaSpring, Carroll said that Delta Dental was now looking to own and acquire its own stable of startup businesses.

Rhode Island BioScience Awards
Kathie Shields, the executive director of the Tech Collective, passed out nomination and application forms for the 2014 Rhode Island Bioscience Awards, which will be celebrated at an event on Aug. 28 at the Kirkbrae Country Club. The categories for recognition include: individual; product/innovation startup; product/innovation enterprise; and community leaders. Nominations must be received by July 14.

Shields also promoted the Rhode Island Skills Gap Series, including the Bioscience Government Session on June 25 at Save the Bay headquarters. The session will feature Rick Brooks, executive director, R.I. Governor’s Workforce Board; Rich Horan, senior managing director at the Slater Technology Fund, and Jennifer Wood, general counsel and chief of staff for R.I. Lt. Gov. Elizabeth H. Roberts. Steve Klamkin of WPRO will serve as moderator.

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