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Healthbox arrives in Cambridge, with 10 healthcare startups and a partnership with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts

Posted by Scott Kirsner  August 13, 2012 07:30 AM

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Can a 75-year old health insurer spark some radical innovation on the local startup scene?

That's the goal of a new partnership between Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts and Healthbox, which runs a three-month "accelerator" program for entrepreneurs working on new products and services for the healthcare industry. The new program starts today, with 10 teams taking up residence in Kendall Square — in the same office building where DogPatch Labs and TechStars Boston are based — and wraps up with an "Innovation Day" in November, when they'll show off their progress.

Healthbox, founded in Chicago, is the second healthcare-oriented accelerator program to set up shop in the Boston area this year; Rock Health, originally from San Francisco, is about to conclude its first local session, with an investor showcase next Friday. Healthbox offers the companies it accepts free office space, mentorship, and $50,000 in seed funding, in return for a seven percent equity stake. (About 130 startups applied this year, says Healthbox founder Nina Nashif. She's second from the right in the picture.) The entire inaugural group of Healthbox companies hail from Boston or Cambridge, though Nashif says she received applications from entrepreneurs in other cities.

"We're looking for things that can help improve the efficiency and affordability of health care," says Allen Maltz, chief financial officer at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts. "And of course, another important goal is stimulating innovation and helping to get the economy moving again." Maltz says that numerous Blue Cross employees will serve as mentors to the Healthbox startups. Nashif says that more than 50 people have committed to be mentors so far, and that the list continues to grow.

Along with Blue Cross, HLM Venture Partners, Long River Venture Partners, and Express Scripts are supporting the program — and will have an investment in the companies that participate. "We think we can learn from each other," Maltz says. "They may be able to make us more efficient, and it could be good for us from an investment perspective, if a few companies become home runs or doubles."

Nashif says that unlike other accelerator programs, the end goal of Healthbox isn't only raising money from investors. Equally important, she says, can be forging relationships with partners to help test a new product, or customers who may place big purchase orders.

The companies in the first Healthbox Cambridge class are:

- Bon'App: website and mobile app that allows users to learn about the nutritional value of the food they're eating "through simplistic language and graphical displays," according to the company, ideally leading to healthier choices.

- GeckoCap: a cap that fits over existing asthma inhalers to monitor usage and send data to the web, helping parents and healthcare professionals better manage a child's asthma. GeckoCap took the top prize in an MIT Media Lab hackathon earlier this year that focused on healthcare.

- Uprise Medical: software that runs on a tablet computer and uses text, video, and animation to help physicians better explain a specific medical condition to patients. Information can also be e-mailed directly to patients for later reference.

- Aavya Health: software that presents lab results to patients "in an intuitive and engaging format," according to the company. Patients can see how changes in their lifestyle and behaviors would alter their risk for future problems, like a heart attack. Aavya was a runner-up earlier this year in the Health 2.0 "Boston Big Data Code-A-Thon."

- iQuartic: collects and organizes real-time data from medical records across different systems. Allows hospitals and health systems to better analyze doctor performance and patient trends.

- Abiogenix: developing the uBox, a smart pill container that will prompt patients to take their meds. The box can alert pharmacies when the user needs a refill.

- Health Delivery: tackling unhealthy eating by delivering meal ingredients, recipes, and short instructional videos to consumers.

- Yosko: developing an iPad app to give doctors on-the-go access to patient info.

- Smart Scheduling: creating software to predict whether a patient will show up for his next appointment, with a goal of reducing no-show rates for primary care physicians (and decreasing wait times for patients).

- Gweepi Medical: a disposable patch that helps nursing homes monitor patients with incontinence problems.

(In the picture above are Allen Maltz, CFO at BCBSMA; Tuoyo Louis, Director of Strategic Investments at BCBSMA; Nina Nashif, founder of Healthbox; and Jenna Rose, director of Healthbox.)

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About Scott Kirsner

Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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