A Community That Matters

A Community That Matters

Photo above: Matter offices. Photos by Garrett Rowland for Gensler

The shared supportive space, Matter, makes a big difference in healthcare

By Tom Mullaney

Even though Chicago is home to the nation’s leading medical associations as well as top research hospitals and pharmaceutical firms, it has had the reputation of being a laggard in medical technology. The problem has been an inability to harness all that healthcare expertise.

That situation changed in early 2015 with the introduction of Matter, a supportive space housed in the Merchandise Mart that connects healthcare entrepreneurs and industry leaders to create products and services that advance healthcare delivery.

Matter opened with more than 70 companies, each with an innovative early- or midstage idea that needed development. Initial funding came from $4.4 million in partnership support and $4 million in state funds.

The idea generator for this tech incubator was ChicagoNext, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s council of entrepreneurs and civic leaders promoting technology innovation. Matter now has 115 members alongside more than 55 industry partners in medicine, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, financial services and law that provide mentoring, development expertise and a powerful support network for bringing bright ideas to the healthcare market.

Steven Collens, Matter’s CEO, expresses some surprise at the robust initial turnout. “It’s more than I thought, but one thing that’s become clear as we got into this is that it’s an incredibly innovative time for healthcare innovation, and I think we’re just getting started.”

Two-thirds of the participating companies are software developers, while one-third are medical device and therapeutics companies. Within the software category, there are ventures focusing on data analytics as well as on medical provider efficiency tools.

Among the partners is NorthShore University HealthSystem. It has sponsored a monthly series of national authorities speaking on next-generation ideas in healthcare such as nanotechnology, regenerative medicine, bioinformatics and personalized medicine.

“Matter enables us to reach an audience we are not typically exposed to in healthcare innovation,” says Amy Ferguson, NorthShore’s assistant vice president for integrated marketing and communications.

Another partner is the American Medical Association (AMA), which recently opened an interactive studio at Matter. AMA CEO James Madara, MD, spoke highly of this new partnership and its potential. “We view it [the interactive studio] as a center of dialogue,” he says.

The studio is equipped with screens for online consultations between member innovators and physicians or hospitals and several state-of-the-art devices, like the ZVR virtual reality holographic projection machine.

On a recent visit, the space was buzzing with activity. Some member employees were huddled in teams around several tables sharing information; others were meeting in conference rooms; while another two dozen were at their desks and on their computers in a separate, glass-enclosed room for reserved-level members who pay $450 a month for a dedicated desk and file storage.

On the phone in that room was Scott Vold, CEO and co-founder of Fibroblast, a health technology company that automates the antiquated physician-referral process. “Despite billions of dollars having been spent on the digitization of health records, right now, the state of the art in physician referrals is a piece of paper,” Vold says. His platform closes the referral loop and ensures that patients don’t slip through a crack in the referral process.

Vold, a former lawyer, developed Fibroblast in partnership with Andrew Albert, MD, a gastroenterologist, who also serves as the company’s chief medical officer. Its selling proposition is that it improves topline revenues and delivers better patient outcomes. Presence Health, the second largest health network in the state, recently signed a three-year contract to implement Fibroblast within its system.

Vold moved to Matter from 1871, another shared space located downtown, as soon as it opened. He praises Matter’s ability to foster connections along with its mentoring opportunities. There are seven full-time mentors-in-residence.

Star Cunningham has been a member since day one. She was a seven-year veteran of IBM’s Global Business Services’ Tiger Team. She left in 2011 and has spent the past three and a half years working on chronic care management tool. Her company, 4D Healthware, was a semifinalist in Mayo Clinic’s Transform 2015 competition. It has 180 devices on its platform.

“We would not be here today without Matter,” she says. “I would not be funded or have the possibility of having a product be in the Mayo competition. My mentors have helped me focus my energies.”

Originally published in the Spring 2016 print edition.