Starting in 2015, a pair of life science accelerators came onto the L.A. County scene seeking to serve the burgeoning health tech sector: Cedars-Sinai Accelerator in West Hollywood and MedTech Innovator in Westwood. They were soon joined by KidsX in East Hollywood — affiliated with Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and USC — and a program from the South Park-based Larta Institute known as Heal.LA, along with one incubator for health tech startups, ScaleHealth in Palms.
“These accelerators are an outgrowth of the local digital health market,” said Paul Grand, chief executive of MedTech Innovator.
“Increasingly, health tech is software driven, even if hardware devices are involved,” Grand continued. “Los Angeles is a great place for software talent with both the availability of and lifestyle for such talent. Plus, our local academic medical centers and research institutions bring in more National Institutes of Health funding than almost any other metro area in the country.”
Unlike their brethren incubators serving bioscience companies developing the next generations of pharmaceuticals, these digital health accelerators do not have dedicated lab space. And most of them have an online instruction component.
Part of why they take this approach is due to the nature of accelerators: They are not about demonstrating proof of concept but rather about taking a company that has a proven product or service and bringing that company to the marketing and product or service sales stage. But it’s also due to the nature of today’s digital health companies: Almost all of them have software programs at their core, whether it’s artificial intelligence, self-learning algorithms or apps that tack on to hospital emergency medical record systems.
This lab-free setup enabled some of the accelerators to go completely virtual — even before the Covid-19 pandemic hit.
“We have been completely virtual since 2018,” said Juan Espinoza, director and principal investigator of the West Coast Consortium for Technology & Innovation in Pediatrics, which has its central operation at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
The pandemic has amplified these trends and increased investor and government interest in health tech companies. It even prompted one local accelerator to form: Heal.LA, the latest initiative from Larta Institute, which has since 2004 focused on commercialization for tech firms nationwide.
“The pandemic brought with it a changing business climate for (the) federal government,” said Rohit Shukla, Larta’s chief executive. “That’s when we decided to bring our focus back to L.A.”
Looking ahead, these trends are expected to continue to fuel growth within local accelerators and possibly spur the formation of additional accelerators or digital health incubators.
YEAR OPENED: 2016
TOP EXECUTIVE: Anne Wellington, managing director
OPERATING BUDGET: TK
TOTAL NUMBER OF COMPANIES SERVED: 64
This accelerator program is affiliated exclusively with Beverly Grove-based Cedars-Sinai Medical Center as part of its mission to help grow and develop health technology companies. Around 10 companies are enrolled in each cohort, for a total of 64 to date. Companies enrolled in the program are embedded at Cedars, receiving guidance from up to 200 medical practitioners and staff who provide real-world experience in how the medical devices or software programs the companies are developing will be used. Total outside funding raised by the companies that have enrolled in the accelerator program is $498 million. One of the most recent funding announcements came Nov. 11 when Van Nuys-based AppliedVR Inc., which uses virtual reality technology to better assess patient pain, obtained $36 million in Series B funding.
KIDSXLOCATION: East Hollywood (at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles campus)
YEAR OPENED: 2020
TOP EXECUTIVE: Omkar Kulkarni, managing director
OPERATING BUDGET: Would not disclose
TOTAL NUMBER OF COMPANIES SERVED: 23
The more recent of the two pediatrics-focused accelerators at Children’s Hospital, KidsX was founded in partnership with the city of Glendale, which provided a three-year $500,000 grant that is the main financial support for the accelerator. Roughly two dozen other children’s hospitals have joined in this accelerator program venture. This program is focused on growing companies that have digital health/software-based applications. The goal is to help startups evaluate the efficacy of their products in a children’s hospital setting. About a dozen companies each year are selected for the accelerator program; the only requirement is that the medical product or software program be pediatric-focused. Once Glendale’s grant expires, KidsX executives aim to transition to a financial base of corporate membership fees and sponsors.
LARTA/HEAL.LALOCATION: South Park
YEAR OPENED: 2020
TOP EXECUTIVES: Rohit Shukla, chief executive at Larta; Judy Hsieh, director of operations for HEAL.LA initiative/accelerator
EMPLOYEES: 21 at LARTA; 3 employees at HEAL.LA accelerator program
OPERATING BUDGET: About $500,000
TOTAL NUMBER OF COMPANIES SERVED: 8
Since 2004, the Larta Institute (formerly the Los Angeles Regional Technology Alliance), has been providing commercialization consulting services for companies nationwide receiving grants from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. Last year, Larta decided to focus more on life sciences in Los Angeles County. With financial support from Biolabs L.A. at the Lundquist Institute and partnerships with the city of Los Angeles, Gilead Sciences Inc. of Foster City and others, the Heal.LA initiative was launched last year. Its primary component is an accelerator focused on disease prevention, diagnostics, treatment and health equity. Each of the first two cohorts has had four companies enrolled.
YEAR OPENED: 2018
TOP EXECUTIVE: Taylor McPartland, chief executive
OPERATING BUDGET: About $1 million
TOTAL FUNDS RAISED: $1.5 million
TOTAL NUMBER OF COMPANIES SERVED: 39
ScaleHealth was started in 2016 by former tech entrepreneur Taylor McPartland as a resource center to give disadvantaged Angelenos a boost in starting new businesses. In 2018, McPartland turned ScaleHealth into a formal incubator, signing up 30 companies willing to pay at least $50 a month for a virtual address and at least one monthly visit to ScaleHealth’s office suite in a Palms high-rise. Its roster has since grown to 39 companies, according to McPartland. The incubator still focuses on providing industry resources. Companies don’t graduate; instead, they exit when they obtain outside funding or get acquired.
MEDTECH INNOVATORLOCATION: Westwood
YEAR OPENED: 2015-16
TOP EXECUTIVE: Paul Grand, chief executive
OPERATING BUDGET: $3 million
TOTAL NUMBER OF COMPANIES SERVED: 420
Paul Grand started the MedTech Innovator program, the accelerator with the largest health tech company roster in L.A. County, in 2011 as an adjunct at Tucson, Ariz.-based venture firm Research Corporation Technologies, where he was managing director. The program was spun off in 2015-16 as a separate entity with its headquarters in Westwood. Companies are only admitted into the accelerator program if one of MedTech Innovator’s corporate sponsors agrees to take them on and mentor them. Roughly 85 companies are accepted for each annual accelerator program. Four program tracks are offered: the traditional accelerator program, the BioTools Innovator program focused on early stage biotech firms, a pediatric-focused program and an Asia-Pacific program based in Singapore. Among notable companies that received funding: Rancho Park-based NovaSignal Corp., which in September announced $37 million in funding.
WEST COAST CONSORTIUM FOR TECHNOLOGY & INNOVATION IN PEDIATRICSLOCATION: East Hollywood (at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles campus)
YEAR OPENED: 2011
TOP EXECUTIVE: Juan Espinoza, director and principal investigator
OPERATING BUDGET: $1.45 million
TOTAL NUMBER OF COMPANIES IN PORTFOLIO: 110
The West Coast Consortium for Technology & Innovation in Pediatrics was established in 2011 as a Food and Drug Administration-funded pediatric medical device accelerator centered at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles in partnership with USC. The aim is to promote the commercialization and clinical use of pediatric medical device technology, making it the most narrowly focused life sciences accelerator in L.A. County. CTIP offers enrollees direct funding grants of up to $50,000 and access to researchers and regulatory experts through its West Coast network of children’s hospitals. The program also offers traditional accelerator functions as developing marketing and capital deployment strategies and billing experts. CTIP doesn’t have accelerator cohorts; once companies are admitted to the program, they receive support over the long term.
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