Opinion
Editor's Note

The Health of Tech

Now is the time for Minnesota to innovate on the business side of health care.

The Health of Tech
In Minnesota, two companies are leading the way in cardiovascular technology.

Our Tech 20 list for 2020 includes a local startup that can produce human neurons in a week, and another that has created a blood test to identify an individual’s specific causes of obesity—the sorts of breakthroughs that boggle the mind (of this non-techie, at least) and reaffirm Minnesota’s standing as a leader in med tech. But perhaps even more encouraging for our local market (often considered narrowly focused on medical device production) are developments related to the business of health care, such as Verata, a new platform that uses artificial intelligence to cut through the red tape of health insurance authorization. (Take a look at the complete Tech 20 list here.)

The health care business has been slower to innovate than other industries such as finance. Maybe that’s because the focus is on lifesaving treatments (a good thing, to be sure) or because of the complexities of insurance and data privacy. There’s a growing sense among entrepreneurs that the business side of health care is ripe for disruption. Minnesota’s role in that evolution could strengthen our broader influence in the startup world.

That drive to keep Minnesota an epicenter of medical innovation is at the heart of the Manova Global Health Summit. The second annual conference last fall emphasized trends in wellness, aging, and business. I had the privilege of moderating the conversation  “What’s the ‘Venmo’ of Health?” Revel Health CEO Jeff Fritz and U.S. Bank’s executive vice president and chief innovation officer Dominic Venturo discussed opportunities for innovation around medical forms and secure data, as well as new online tools that could be used for diagnosis, and how tech can promote healthy living.

This month, the University of St. Thomas will debut a new class on the digital transformation of health care. Don’t think “robot doctors,” says John McVea, an associate professor at the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship, who is co-teaching with Daniel McLaughlin, director of the Center for Innovation in the Business of Health Care at the Opus College of Business. “It’s about using technology to transform the way patients consume health services in the same way that Netflix and Amazon have transformed entertainment and retail.”

The special seminar is open to elite undergraduate Aquinas Scholars—most of whom aren’t premed. “These students are going to go on to be movers and shakers in all fields,” McVea says. “We want them to know that health care is an exciting, vital field where you can have a dramatic impact for the greater good.”

These students are going to go on to be movers and shakers in all fields. We want them to know that health care is an exciting, vital field where you can have a dramatic impact for the greater good.
—John McVea, associate professor, University of St. Thomas

The class will include entrepreneurial guest lecturers like Manova CEO Mark Addicks, and case studies of local companies such as Minneapolis-based Carrot Health, a software platform that uses data to improve health outcomes.

“We might feel like we’ve spent an inordinate amount of time working on health care. But the focus has been on health insurance,” McVea says. “People are hungry for real progress.”

Minnesota has all the necessary players, McLaughlin says, listing off Mayo Clinic, United Health Group (the largest U.S. health insurer), pioneering companies such as Medtronic, and initiatives like Destination Medical Center, which is pumping $5.6 billion into making Rochester a world-class city for health-related innovation. And, of course, there’s Medical Alley, the organizing force for health-related businesses in Minnesota.

“What health care employers are really challenged with is workforce,” McLaughlin says. “It’s not that we don’t have the talent or great companies, it’s that we need more skilled labor.” That’s a sentiment we heard repeatedly while reporting this issue’s features. “Minnesota is fighting with every other state for their workforce of the future (and of now),” says Chris Schad, director of business development for Destination Medical Center’s Discovery Square, a new business hub for health innovation. “The state can be an attractor to land those folks by emphasizing quality of life and cost of living, as well as the density of tech firms here that offer a ‘safety net’ of sorts.” In our Q&A feature, Steve Grove, director of the state’s Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), talks about creative solutions to the labor shortage.

We hope a list like the Tech 20 is one more way to highlight for the next generation of innovators, programmers, clinicians, and scientists how many exciting developments are taking shape in Minnesota. That’s especially true in the health sector.

McVea says it best: “We’ve got to make sure our brightest and best see health care as an exciting opportunity where you can have a fulfilling career as an innovator rather than a place to be in public administration. We need to make it an aspirational sector for future influencers.”