19 PandemicX Accelerator
For bringing government agencies and startups together to create an innovation incubator of healthcare inclusion
It’s all too easy for true disruption to become mired in bureaucratic layers. So as U.S. government leaders work to dismantle the stark racial health inequities laid bare by COVID-19, they’ve realized they must sometimes look outside their ranks. One prime partner? Healthtech startups.
To spark the kind of breakthrough collaboration they needed, two government agencies launched the PandemicX Accelerator: a six-month pilot aimed squarely at building a support system for startups focused on public health challenges. Using a combination of mentorship and curriculum, it was “a great way for us to create a model for how to improve the way the federal government can—and should—support innovation in the marketplace,” says Admiral Rachel Levine, MD, Assistant Secretary for Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The project was jointly sponsored by the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology and managed by MassChallenge, a nonprofit that supports innovation. And to ensure applicants were judged only on the merits of their ideas, rather than their connections or background, the selection committee participated in bias training.
In December 2021, the pilot officially launched with 15 participants. From the start, collaboration was a central tenet of the program’s design, with participants meeting regularly with sponsor staff, as well as federal agencies such as the Food & Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.
“The project exposed these young companies to a wide range of different organizations within the U.S. government,” says Mike Hatfield, co-founder and chairman of Carium, a virtual healthcare platform and PandemicX participant. Those connections gave startup teams an increased awareness of grant dollars that may be available, as well as fresh insights into the process for contributing to new government projects.
And seeding opportunities is a two-way street. “That awareness has the opportunity to influence policy and encourage the continued evolution of healthcare transformation in the government,” he says.
In the spirit of sharing insights to eliminate inequities, Carium and eight other companies from the PandemicX cohort met with representatives from the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy in April. One equity topic discussed in detail: the need for funding models to support access to quality virtual care.
The first cohort completed the pilot in June and Levine already reported an ROI: “These startups have helped us discover opportunities, identify innovative solutions and have exhibited how different communities can come together to solve problems to increase equitable access to essential needs and foster a more resilient society.”