Russ: Hi, I’m Russ Capper and this is HXTV, the show that champions Houston’s innovators and entrepreneurs. Coming to you today from the TMC Innovation Institute where we previously visited with Dr. Erik Halvorsen, the Managing Director here, and Lance Black, the Head of Medical Device Innovation. My guest today, Gwyn Ballentine, Head of Digital Health Innovation. Gwyn, welcome to the show.
Gwyn: Thank you, Russ.
Russ: Tell us about what you do as the Digital Health Innovation Leader.
Gwyn: Sure. Much like Lance, I work with the startups one-on-one when they come through our programs. I get to really spend time with them, the entrepreneurs, their companies, and then in turn connect them with the medical center. I also lead a lot of our investment activity, so I help connect the entrepreneurs and their companies with early stage capital as well.
Russ: I noticed in checking your background that you also have an MBA that probably goes quite well with your Ph.D., which is in—
Gwyn: Molecular Pathology.
Russ: Wow. So, when you did that I guess you had this kind of job in mind, is that right?
Gwyn: The hope was always to go into commercialization, but actually, before I came to TMC I sat on the other side of the table, I was with startups. I wore multiple hats in different organizations, but with the hope of obviously coming to this side of the table and getting to work with entrepreneurs. I’m definitely not the person with the ideas. I’m more wanting to execute on those ideas and get those companies to the next stage in their life cycle.
Russ: Which is a critical component, for sure, as you well know, and almost anybody that’s tried to do it knows too. So, how long have you been here now?
Gwyn: I have been at TMC for two years, but I’ve been in Houston for four. Prior to coming to the Innovation Institute, I worked for a startup out of the Baylor College of Medicine. I have been ingrained in the TMC and its institutes for about four years now.
Russ: Say we have somebody watching that kind of knows what’s going on but doesn’t know the real definition of digital health.
Gwyn: I think digital health was initially defined by the onset of the electronic health record. When I think of digital innovation I think of any digitization of anything to do with healthcare. We see a lot of movement toward software-based services. Erik had mentioned a company, Trusted Health, we see staffing even being digitized. I think of it in a lot of different buckets, but I also connect it back to devices as well. A lot of devices have a connected component, and I consider that as well a portion of digital health.
Russ: It sounds like you cover the whole landscape here.
Russ: When you talk about digital medical records, to me it’s taken a long time for it to get there. Do you think we’re there now?
Gwyn: We’re there in the sense that we’ve implemented them, and people are using them, but not across the board. In fact, there’s still institutions in the TMC, not under our umbrella, but within Houston that still work by paper-based products. They haven’t fully transitioned. I think there’s still a lot of issues with electronic health records and hence the reason we have so many digital health companies. They’re trying to solve the problems that EHRs are still posing to our systems, as well.
Russ: In our prior interviews out here with Erik Halvorsen and then Lance Black, we talked about the cohorts, and there’s actually a digital health cohort that happens twice per year, right?
Gwyn: Yes, that’s correct.
Russ: When was the last one?
Gwyn: The last one was earlier this year. We started it in February. We brought in 24 digital health companies, graduated 21, so inevitably we have some that don’t finish. We graduated them in June with a big demo day. We had companies that ranged all the way from consumerization of health care. One of them, called b.well, a personal favorite of mine actually which is run by a lady who used to be a former executive at UnitedHealthcare. So really, that’s giving the patient empowerment to control their healthcare. We had another company called WELL Health which actually speaks to simplicity of some of the digital technologies we see, which is just a two-way texting platform for front end office. When you’re actually getting a reminder for an appointment or if you’re lost in the medical center or anything like that, you can actually text two ways. They had significant traction with some of the member institutions here.
Russ: It seems like there’s also this, you’ve already alluded to it, major overlap with the device initiatives that’s going on. So, when there’s a cohort here involving medical devices are you totally immersed in that one as well or are you gone to the beach?
Gwyn: I wish, but no, absolutely we are—Lance and I actually split the cohort when they come in, and so for the incoming class in August we have 23 coming in. Lance will actually get 11 of those companies and I will get 12 of them. We work with either side on the cohort side so that allows me to be able to gain expertise in the digital health and medical device side, and same for Lance. With our different backgrounds we bring different things to the table for these companies. Lance has a clinical background, has extensive experience in med device development and regulatory. I’ve definitely been more on the business side; fundraising, writing business plans, helping get products to market. Our complementary skills allow us to be effective on both sides of the table.
Russ: I feel this with everybody out here who works here that you’re kind of passionate. Do you like your job?
Gwyn: Absolutely. I love getting up every day and coming and meeting these new entrepreneurs. The passion is infectious. They love what they do and so it makes us love what we do.
Russ: You’ve been in Houston even before this job but you’re still relatively new, right?
Gwyn: I am relatively new to Houston. I actually came here from North Carolina, so funny enough, I think I’m the only person, I love the weather here.
Russ: You love it, ok. Well, I love it in January through about May, and then it gets a little bit tough. What about Houston helps you feel like you can fulfill your objectives even in your job and your career?
Gwyn: I think it’s the breadth and depth of the medical center. I didn’t have an appreciation for it coming from a different coast. You sort of get immersed in your siloed ecosystem and I did not have an appreciation for it until I came down here and I was fully immersed in it. We have 21 hospitals in our backyard, and we have advisors, mentors, clinicians, nurses who are banging down our doors wanting to be involved. That’s something that you can’t find anywhere else.
Russ: Well, Gwyn, I really appreciate you sharing your perspective and your enthusiasm with us.
Gwyn: Of course, thank you.
Russ: You bet. And that wraps up my discussion with Gwyn Ballentine, Digital Health Innovation Lead at TMC Innovation Institute. And this is HXTV.
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