Who Says There Are No Shark Tanks for Health?

In Friday’s edition of Fortune‘s Brainstorm Health Daily newsletter, I asked, “Why don’t we have a Shark Tank for healthcare startups?”

A few in-the-know readers pointed out that the question was based on a faulty assumption: It turns out there are Shark Tank–like contests for healthcare startups. Plenty of them.

For three years, for instance, Prime Health—a “digital health innovation ecosystem” based in Colorado—has sponsored a “Digital Health Challenge,” says Prime Health CEO Steve Adams. The contest is open to any early-stage health-tech startup with a product at least in beta stage. Finalists get to pitch their offerings in front of a live audience and potential investors (this year’s event is being held at a big Denver convention center on Oct. 19). Winners get a share of a $150,000 prize—and more importantly, are offered the opportunity to work with a large Colorado healthcare system, payer, or provider network on building a pilot project. Since it was launched in 2014, the Prime Health Challenge has connected 46 companies to investors and major healthcare organizations.

“I have been founder and CEO of several digital health companies,” says Adams, “and can tell you from experience that there is huge value for early-stage companies to have access to customers with a desire to pilot these solutions.”

Dan Wasserman, founder and CEO of Mammoth Health Innovation in Ontario, Canada, calls attention to several other health-related Shark Tanks which, unfortunately, “are not nearly as visible as the TV show.” Two worthy talent showcases, he says, are the Cedars-Sinai Accelerator, in partnership with TechStars; and HealthKick, sponsored by the well-regarded MaRS innovation hub in Toronto.

Wasserman, who helped create Ontario’s Healthcare Ecosphere, which focuses on bringing innovative, problem-solving ideas to hospitals, says several other cities (including Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Washington, DC, and San Francisco) have their own health-tech bake-offs, too. Throw in entrepreneur-nurturing programs like Johnson & Johnson’s celebrated JLABS and the Illumina Accelerator and there are yet more places for med startups to show off their ingenuity and find avenues for commercialization. “Bottom line,” says Wasserman, “they are all ‘health Shark Tanks.’”


Thank you Dan and Steve—and to all of you faithful Brainstorm Health Daily readers—for your great contributions to this newsletter community. Keep those emails coming, please!


This essay appears in today’s edition of the Fortune Brainstorm Health Daily. Get it delivered straight to your inbox.

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