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At Healthbox Tampa, a mission to support 7 startups taking on silos of medical industry

Employees at several aspiring health care companies get some valuable instruction Tuesday from Healthbox Tampa at the Tampa Bay WaVE incubator.
Published Aug. 22, 2014

Who in their right mind would purchase expensive, personal services with minimal information about the provider and little if any idea of the price?

Well, we do that all the time as consumers (or patients) of the health care system.

Efforts to streamline health care and empower consumer decisions with better information are under way. But the task often feels like chipping away at an iceberg with a toothpick.

Time to unleash the entrepreneurs.

Enter Healthbox Tampa.

The newly arrived business accelerator focuses exclusively on nurturing promising health care startups. From 91 applicants across the state, seven promising startups were recently handpicked to join Healthbox. They are participating in a four-month program from space inside the Tampa Bay WaVE business incubator in downtown Tampa until graduation day in late November.

The seven startups will be introduced formally Tuesday at the Mahaffey Theater in downtown St. Petersburg, a salute in part to the regional interest in health care reform.

Like most other startups these days, these seven combine technology advances with their personal health care expertise to find more efficient ways to provide better treatment.

Among the seven are TAOConnect from Gainesville, which says it can make the task of counseling troubled university students more efficient and more successful.

From Tampa, Save On Medical aspires to become the "hotels.com" shopping site for medical procedures.

And from the Fort Myers area, Head Rehab hopes to ride the nation's growing concern over sports concussions with a fresh and mobile way to assess head trauma.

Unlike most other general business accelerators, Healthbox Tampa has strong financial backing from some industry giants, including Florida Blue (part of the BlueCross BlueShield health insurance empire), that are pressing for innovations in a calcified industry.

"This type of investment aligns with Florida Blue's commitment to health care innovation," says Dave Pizzo, West Florida market president for Florida Blue, which has been working with Healthbox since early 2013. "We see this program as an opportunity to bring together currently siloed health care hubs across the state to create one common ecosystem, and this project ties directly to our vision of being a leading innovator enabling healthy communities."

Typically in exchange for a 7 percent equity stake in each startup, Healthbox provides entrepreneurs with $50,000 of seed capital, office space, a 16-week training program, access to health care experts and the ability to beta test their products.

At one of the seven startups, whose software captures patient data via graphic icons, MediVu CEO Robert Baldwin says it's tough for a young business to reach senior decisionmakers at big hospital chains. Becoming part of the startups backed by Healthbox — an accelerator brand already making its mark in other major cities — has noticeably improved his access, he explains.

What makes Healthbox stand out is its partnerships with key health care providers and payers across the country, says George Gordon, a prominent leader in Tampa Bay's startup scene who chairs Healthbox Tampa.

"This combined with the Healthbox roster of over 350 industry experts can assist the companies in creating relationships with key customers and partners. These relationships are essential to establishing credibility for the companies and accelerating their growth," he says.

Founded by CEO Nina Nashif, Healthbox has grown quickly since launching its first accelerator in Chicago in 2012, expanding to Boston, London, Nashville, Salt Lake City and Florida, where it first landed last year in Jacksonville. Now it's Tampa's turn, where the Florida High Tech Corridor Council, USF, Lake Nona Institute and St. Vincent's Healthcare serve as community sponsors (but not equity investors) for the accelerator.

Combined, the Healthbox accelerators have backed 63 startups, with 61 still in business and growing. Of those, 83 percent are reportedly generating revenue or have successfully raised funding six months after graduation from the program.

That's an impressive track record for startups in an industry notoriously resistant to innovation.

Contact Robert Trigaux at rtrigaux@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8405. Follow @venturetampabay.

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