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Hartford HealthCare, Trinity College and the UConn School of Business on Wednesday are expected to announce the launch a medical technology and digital health accelerator, which would join insurance and manufacturing startup programs that have launched in the Capital City in the past few years.
The partners have chosen London-based Startupbootcamp to operate the new accelerator, which is designed to attract promising startups to the city, where experts will help them develop and implement their strategy, hoping they might find a customer base here and stick around for future growth.
The Hartford Business Journal learned details of the new accelerator, which will be unveiled publicly at city hall on Wednesday morning, in an exclusive interview with Hartford HealthCare CEO Elliot Joseph and Trinity College President Joanne Berger-Sweeney.
Startupbootcamp is the same entity that has been operating the Hartford InsurTech Hub accelerator in downtown Hartford’s Stilts Building for the past two years. It responded to a request for proposals issued last year seeking an operator for the new health accelerator, which for now is going by the name MedTech Accelerator. A contract was signed last month.
Thus far, the state-funded entrepreneurial ecosystem, CTNext, has allocated approximately $942,000 to develop the accelerator. The funding comes from the Innovation Places program, which was created by the legislature in 2016, with winning regional teams selected the following year. The MedTech Accelerator’s overseers are set to ask CTNext for a third year of Innovation Places funding in June.
The 12-week accelerator program aims to attract to Hartford 10 digital health and medtech startups annually, similar to its insurance and manufacturing counterparts.
The accelerator will be housed in Trinity College’s space on the third floor of One Constitution Plaza, just above the Stanley+Techstars Additive Manufacturing Accelerator, which launched last year.
Trinity is donating the approximately 4,000-square-foot space to the MedTech Accelerator for the first two years and is also pitching in $75,000, Berger-Sweeney said. Meanwhile, Hartford HealthCare is contributing $500,000, Joseph said.
“Perhaps the biggest challenge the state of Connecticut faces going forward is the need for a thriving economy and an accelerated economic development engine, particularly in the Capital City and Hartford region,” Joseph said. “I certainly believe that the strength in health care, across Connecticut and here in Hartford, is a tremendous opportunity for us.”
He said Hartford HealthCare might end up investing in accelerator startups it finds promising.
Berger-Sweeney (who sits on Hartford HealthCare’s board of directors), said she hopes the accelerator will be a way for students at the traditionally liberal-arts college she leads to link up with “jobs of the future.”
Trinity has already been probing new roles for its students in the technology space, through a recent partnership with Infosys — a training program that is also housed, perhaps through no coincidence, at Constitution Plaza.
“We all understand in higher education that the stronger the cities and towns we operate in, the stronger we are,” she said.
There is renovation work to be done at Constitution Plaza, but the partners are hoping the work will be completed later this year, in time to get the inaugural accelerator class into the space this fall.
A scaled-down plan
The MedTech Accelerator has been envisioned for years, but the latest plan does represent a scaled back version of what was previously planned (see the original 2016 proposal at the bottom of this story).
In addition to the accelerator, that plan had called for a major redevelopment of President’s Corner, a portion of Washington and Jefferson streets owned by Hartford Hospital.
A former Trinity College trustee named David Wagner had pledged to build a 70,000-square-foot office building on those properties to house three of his medical technology startups. The Department of Economic and Community Development granted Wagner $400,000 in connection with the effort, and was set to give him an additional $3.6 million approved by the Bond Commission, but pulled back on that larger funding piece after Wagner failed to hit project milestones. The $400,000 has not been recovered, as Wagner is bogged down in civil lawsuits filed by lenders and former employees, who accused him of running a ponzi scheme, as well as a personal bankruptcy.
Late last year, a federal judge approved a lender’s takeover of some of the assets Wagner hoped to move to Hartford, which had been held by a company called 3si Systems.
Asked this week about the prior partnership with Wagner and its impact on the Innovation Places plan, Berger-Sweeney addressed it this way:
“The success of this medtech accelerator was never dependent on any single company,” she said. “In the early days of the project, multiple avenues were explored and some did not come to fruition. We’re excited about the future of the accelerator and working with our partners to develop the ecosystem.”
Hartford Hospital, which cut ties with Wagner in 2017, said this week that there are no immediate plans to redevelop President’s Corner, which includes a cluster of blighted properties the hospital has been trying to breath new life into since around 2011.
Another piece of the original proposal that is also no longer on the docket for the immediate future is a “biomedical innovation institute” that the partners had proposed to be established within Hartford Hospital’s Center for Education, Simulation and Innovation (CESI).
However, Hartford HealthCare said CESI will be testing some of the products that startups will bring into the accelerator program. It said the biomedical institute is still a future possibility, if things go well.