DreamIt 'boot camp' boosts health-care info start-ups

Employees of Osomosis (left) and SpeSo Health (right) are among participants in "DreamIt Health."
Employees of Osomosis (left) and SpeSo Health (right) are among participants in "DreamIt Health." (CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 30, 2013

Penn Medicine chief executive Ralph Muller is convinced that information technology is central to improving health care.

That's why Penn joined with Independence Blue Cross to sponsor DreamIt Health Philadelphia 2013, a four-month boot camp for 10 start-up companies that wraps up Aug. 9.

"Having more powerful information available to patients, to doctors, to everyone makes it a better health-care system," Muller said last week after watching all 10 of the participant companies give seven-minute "Demo Day" talks designed to attract investors and customers.

The DreamIt Health companies each received a $50,000 stipend paid by Independence Blue Cross (IBC) and Penn to participate in the business-accelerator program, which is part of Philadelphia-based DreamIt Ventures.

Venturef0rth, a tech incubator on Eighth Street north of Callowhill Street, provided work space.

Among the participants were: Speso Health, an online service that connects people with rare diseases to specialists; stat, a program designed to speed access to emergency transport services; and AirCare, which aims to help hospitals cut readmissions.

Daniel J. Hilferty, IBC's president and chief executive, sees DreamIt Health as a step toward his own dream of making Philadelphia the "Silicon Valley of health-care innovation."

As the region embraces programs like DreamIt Health, "the word will get out there through the innovation community," Hilferty said in an interview at World Cafe Live, where the Demo Day talks took place.

The collaboration between Penn and IBC, the biggest health-care system and the region's biggest health insurer, was a boon to several of the start-ups. They were able to build out their computer programs using electronic health records and claims data - scrubbed of personal identification - that typically are difficult for a start-up to access.

"To be honest, I can't answer what we would have done if we didn't have [DreamIt Health]," said Jacob Halpert, 23, founder of Lucidity Health, which aims to help reduce health-care spending by giving doctors better access to prices for tests and other treatment they order.

Access to data from Penn and IBC is "one of the tremendous values that we get," Halpert said. "That's why we applied in the first place."

A New Yorker, Halpert said he plans to keep Lucidity Health in Philadelphia.

Eric King, founder of Grand Round Table, a system designed to help doctors diagnose patients by matching cases against a massive database of records, had been using publicly available data before being selected for DreamIt Health.

"The actual electronic health-records data and the claims data are much harder to come by, as you can imagine," King, 29, said. "The electronic health-record data is very fine-grained as compared to the publicly available data.

That enabled the company to fine-tune its algorithms, he said.

Mike Vennera, IBC's vice president of strategy and innovation, said the start-ups were bringing to health-care data analysis techniques pioneered at companies like Yahoo, Google, and Facebook.

Traditionally, data analysis started from a hunch, Vennera said: "I'm going to go in and test my hunch with the data and see if it pans out.

"This new approach: fewer hunches, and let the patterns emerge from the data."

Contact Harold Brubaker at 215-854-4651 or hbrubaker@phillynews.com.

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