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Business as Usual: AlphaLap Health

Business as Usual

Please join us today for what promises to be a dynamic and informative conversation detailing Pittsburgh's latest business accelerator -- AlphaLab Health! Dr. Jeff Cohen, Chief Physician Executive, Allegheny Health Network and Rich Lunak, President and CEO of Innovation Works, will overview this unique collaboration to help accelerate scientific, clinical and market validation for early-stage healthcare and life science technology companies. AlphaLab Health provides participating companies with investment, expertise on navigating the healthcare system, mentorship with industry leaders, connections to potential customers, office and dry & wet lab space (when possible due to COVID restrictions), access to clinicians and the opportunity to access clinical databases.



Good afternoon, everyone. This is Audrey Russo, President and CEO of the Pittsburgh Technology Council. And it is Wednesday, I always get confused what day to day is. But nonetheless, we have a great show very excited about the guests that are with us. And before I introduce them and bring them to the front, I just want to get some housekeeping out of the way. And I want to thank Huntington bank, they've been our partners right from the onset of almost all experiments that we've run. And Jonathan kersting is on the on the call, he's going to manage the questions. And he's also the Vice President of Marketing and media, and all things storytelling at the tech Council. So he's joined us here. And also he just had his 23rd year at the tech Council, I'd like to try to remember that because without him, the tech council would not be with who we are today. So if you don't know Huntington get to know them, they have been part of all the issues that have affected small businesses during the pandemic, and beyond. And they offer a wide array of services. But overall, they have been incredible civic servants to all the issues facing our region. So I guess today is our hundred and 45th session of business as usual, we actually thought that we would be doing this only for 14 days, so not 141 days. And we launched at the beginning of the pandemic and with the hope of keeping the community connected and informed. And as well as showcase some of the world changing innovation that's occurring here in Pittsburgh, as well as link the tech community, with the nonprofit community who's actually doing tremendous amount of work in supporting the issues that are plaguing each and every one of us today. So we have muted your microphones and Jonathan Christine will monitor the questions. And please, no advertising. And this is our chance to just do a little bit of a deep dive with rich Lou knack and Dr. Jeffrey Cohen. I'm very thrilled to have them both here. Dr. Jeffrey Cohen, is a gens chief physician executive for community health and innovation, and Rich lunak. If you don't know him, he's been on our show right at the beginning of COVID. We had him on because they were doing some really terrific things and helping companies. He's the president and CEO of innovation work. So I want to thank them both for joining us and give a huge shout out one last shout out. And that's the team in Allegheny Health Network for joining us actually earlier today. For our STEM summit we had today we had Dr. Steven Bailey. And we actually showed an open heart surgery and talked about careers and health. And it represents about 193 different school districts. And so the kids monitored the program. And we actually got a chance to support the educators for 45 minutes. We've been doing it each and every day. And we're wrapping up this Friday, I think it was like a nine day stint. And the groundswells been amazing. And I just want to give a Chen a shout out because Dr. Bailey was just awesome. So let me tell you something, we're gonna bring rich up and rich Lou nack, who's actually on the board of the tech Council, and he does a lot of different things in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Talk about innovation works really quickly and the history of the alpha lab program which as which actually along with gear has had some pretty amazing noteworthy recognition. So let's start Why don't you start with innovation works and talk about how gear got Alfa lamb got started.

Thanks Audrey. Innovation works is a nonprofit organization that helps entrepreneurs build high growth businesses in southwestern Pennsylvania. We've been doing so for over 30 years and a lot of the largest tech employers in our region trace a lot of their roots to early investment in support from innovation works. Back in the mid 2000s. We started our alpha lab accelerator program and it was one of the first accelerators in the United States. And since that time, has launched some really terrific local tech startups, companies like jazz HR, Maven machines, no way to build a life and many others. And these programs are nationally ranked and each year attract hundreds of applicants from around the world to build startups here in Pittsburgh. And so we've we've had a great run with with those programs and are excited to be launching alpha lab health

So yeah, so talk about the alpha lab, we'll talk about, you know, the focus the why the what, and you know, how you're, you know what the journey is.

Yeah. So we've for some time thought the program could work in the life sciences space, obviously, it needs to be tailored to the specific needs of those kinds of programs. But it's really designed to help a life science entrepreneur deal with and accelerate the development of the types of challenges they're going to face relative to regulatory process, reimbursement, scaling their products, access to subject matter experts, and all of those kinds of things. So what what I think makes this program unique, not only here in Pittsburgh, but nationally is the fact that you're really combining a nationally ranked accelerator in early stage investor with a very large diversified multibillion dollar healthcare services organization, in a Chan and with that comes a lot of power that I think's really going to add tremendous value to the companies that we take into the program.

So what about the application process, I know later on today, that you're going to do a little bit of a q&a at three o'clock. And if people want to know more about that, we'll put it out. But talk talk to us about the process. And you know, what people can expect?

Yeah, so the application processes intentionally designed to be easy for entrepreneurs. So you don't need to be intimidated that you need a 50 page business plan or something like that. It's a fairly simple online application that you can find at alpha lab health dot o RG. And, and, incidentally, there's an infinite information session at three o'clock today that you can register for, again, online at the alpha lab health dot o RG website. And what we're really interested in is, is is in companies that are solving important problems in healthcare, are they helping to improve outcomes? are they helping to reduce the cost of care? Are they improving the patient experience in these kinds of companies can span you know, run the gamut from therapeutics or diagnostics, companies all the way to medical devices or hcit. And, and we're really looking for the best ideas, it'll be a competitive process, but one, which will be leveraging a lot of the expertise that i w not only has in investing in life science companies, but really the tremendous expertise that Hm,

so is how is this last thing before I bring on Dr. Coming on? How is this different than other pieces and parts of the ecosystem in terms of life sciences and health? Actually, yeah. So

you know, I, I hope Jeff will get into this. But you know, as an entrepreneur, right, you're always trying to validate your idea with the market, to hone in on the right product market fit to successfully scale that business. And we at IW, have tried to use our networks for years to help entrepreneurs through that. But imagine, Andriy, if you're an entrepreneur, trying to develop a product for orthopedic surgeons or an HIV product for hospitals, you know, being able to leverage agents expertise, and immediately get in contact with the end users of your product, be able to bounce around your ideas, be able to access things like potentially a clinical data repository, or the great expertise they have in reimbursement is a huge value to accelerate those companies. In addition, companies will get things like up to $100,000 of investment, access to wet lab space at no cost offices, and so much more. So, it's really, in the curriculum, I will say will be designed specifically for life science companies. So again, I'll be unique challenges on IP reimbursement, regulatory processes, how the various players, payers, providers, physicians, pbms, and all those unique players within health care work and interact with each other. So we think it's fairly unique and can't wait to get the first cohort in later this year.

And what's the plan for the timing for the cohort.

So applications are open until October 25. And we, we hope to really be able to bring in the first cohort of companies right around the late this year, early next year. And we're ready to go, the space is ready. And the curriculum is designed and we're, we're raring to to put it in action.

Okay, great. Thanks, Rach, I'm gonna now I'm gonna pass the baton to Dr. Jeffrey Cohen. And I mentioned earlier that he's the chief physician executive for community health and innovation. He is that and a lot of other things. And what I really want to do is just welcome, Jeff, and thank you for joining us today. But let's just talk about Jeff, the man the journey, where you've been and what you're really up to now. So where do you want to start?

We'll start at the beginning.

I am a practicing urologist grew up in a small town in upstate New York came here because my wife said, we're moving to Pittsburgh. And I just like getting married. husband does. I said Yes, ma'am. I'm walking now in general in 1985. And the hospital that I'm in right now I was on staff on in when I first came here, it was a really nice community hospital. And it's been quite a journey for me. So in a your oncologist, I've always been involved with technology startups. I have this real problem where How do you do things better, faster? How do you help people and bring innovation into the political arena, which is both a blessing and a curse? When people start talking about innovation? They said, How do we make innovators is that you don't make innovators. It's a personality defect. And, you know, the journey has taken me to become the president of HGH from 2016 to 2020. In a very interesting time, and most of the people that have been here for a period of time know that HGH was part of a very large bankruptcy, which was really a great learning experience, a horrible experience. And you learn a lot of things that you never knew before. But preserving HGH and combining with first West Penn and then Highmark opened up, you know, my eyes to a lot of things that becoming president of HGH, showed me a lot of other things that I thought I knew about them. Honestly, I didn't know anything about. And as we got the hospital back to where it was, in 85, and I slept dead capitalise on this, a shout out to Deb, she was in the middle of all this as well. We, I started thinking about what I really wanted to do, which was trying to dress the situation for the startup community in western Pennsylvania. But I'm also the president of a company called Kim image. And, you know, as we did this, there was a fusion between suburban General, which closes healthcare facility. And this drive. So that's how we got here.

Well listen to you say about Kim image, right? I mean, it's very fascinating about you, Jeff, is that you have like this uncanny background, that that's mapped by your you could say, like your personality, in terms of entrepreneurship. I mean, I didn't, I didn't say quirks. I know, that's what you're thinking. But I didn't say that. The point is, is that as a practitioner, and then as a leader, as an operator, you also have this this passion. And I mean, Kim images is a great example of it. And there probably others that I think people need to just understand because the leadership that you'll be able to bring to this venture is is not like others. So and I think that's probably the piece that makes rich, excited, because the partnership is someone who has sort of this quirkiness of being a great doctor, being a practitioner being an operator and also being an entrepreneur. So how does that all work with with a guy like you, Jeff?

Well, thank you for the compliment. So I'll send a check to your house. I think half the time rich is fearful at half the time he's elated. I'm not sure which one is which. But that's it. I've had the opportunity to walk down a lot of different roads just because I'm curious, which is one of the fundamentals of being an entrepreneur. And when you sit in meetings with large corporations, they talk about, you know, large groups of people and how do we get innovation? Well, you know, real innovators don't like to be in meetings. They're usually a pain in the behind. They're opinionated, they're very confident to the point where most people view them as arrogant and are stubborn as hell. So your child in the back of a class is always raising his hand and blows everything up. That's me. So as a clinician, I certainly know the optics of what goes on, when somebody comes to us with a problem, and it tells us the most intimate details of their life, you know, running a startup, I know the stresses of not having enough cash to, to make a payroll, running a hospital, you learn to deal with multiple constituencies that you have. And you find constituents with constituencies that you didn't even know you had. And you spend a lot more time listening than talking. So you take all those optimists, you roll them up. And, you know, this whole project is geared towards How do we change the economics of poor communities in not just western Pennsylvania, but the rest of the country, by creating jobs providing innovation into the healthcare system, and giving people an opportunity to do what they can do to be productive. And if you do that, you know, that's a really great place to be in a lot of fun to participate in. And people gravitate to that. So the people that are on this call is that, you know, the problems of starting a business are very well known to me, I've done that a number of times, and there's times you get up at three in the morning go, what the hell did I just do. But the other side of that is that you can step back and look at, you know, what did you do, and a lot of it is also don't do the things that didn't work out. And one of the, my partner, Ralph Miller, and I have a toast every year who screwed up counting under practice for years in a row, finally about the fifth year and we got it right. I looked at him a New Year's I said, Ralph, I have a toast for the new year, maybe this year, we only make new mistakes. And that's the that's really the essence of being an entrepreneur is that, go try it, see what works, adapt, move on and keep growing.

What do you see? So talk about the space a little bit talk about an AI, I'm not want always to talk about the brick and mortar. But in this particular case, I think this is fascinating.

So suburban General, was a hospital in Bellevue, Pennsylvania, when I first came to town, this was a pretty good hospital. And it ceased being a medical facility august of about 18 months ago or so. And it's similar to a lot of hospitals United States, is that when I first came to town in the 80s, in the 90s, the center of distribution for medical care, and information was the hospital, you'd go there and get your information you would get your patients there, you would talk to your colleagues there. And as we've gone through the information age has been supplanted by the web. So you can do telemedicine visits, today, you get your digital information from the lab comes over your computer, you know, it's a lot more diffuse as to where things go. So the largest hot, largest employer in many small towns is the hospital and having lived through the steel downturn, then I reference everybody in the book, the most fun to the game, it talks about the the social disruption that occurs, you know, in the steel industry. And if you look at what we're going through right now, in this country, healthcare is up there also is that we have to change the delivery system, that healthcare is not a privilege, it's a right. And the health care community, the provider community, will take care of anybody that walks through the door. We're not geared towards like, you're from Marshall Township, we're gonna take better care of you than if you're from the north side. We take care of everything. So how do we come up with a system that changes the dynamics, so these hospitals, you have great space, but yet, it's no longer useful as a hospital anymore. And suburban has 230,000 square feet. It's got assets that are imputed in the building, that gives us the ability to change. So operating rooms have your human movements that are very similar. And when we approach ritual, the idea he actually gravitated to and says, you know, that could make sense. Which is a scary comment. I'm Richard frame of reference, we things I make sense. But that being said, is that, you know, we set out with this idea of creating wetland space, in a building that really has no value as a hospital or a healthcare facility anymore, with the idea of repurposing it so that we would change it to give people in the community an opportunity to start businesses. And our cost factors on this are significantly lower than what you would pay in the retail market. So typically, the retail market town, wet lab space goes for about 50 to $60 a foot in Boston goes for $140 a foot, there's no way it's going to cost us anywhere near that so that this facilitates the development of startup companies. Number two is that as rich alluded to, you've got expertise, and a chance. That's world class insights. Good as you'll find anywhere in the country in the world, but if you want the voice of the customer, I can introduce you to whichever customer you want. And whether it's somebody on infectious disease and cytokine storm, or it's an orthopedist, or a neurosurgeon or primary care doctor, or HIV, we have expertise across the board. And the final piece that makes us very attractive is the small insurance company that we're associated with hard work. If we can do what we need to do better, cheaper and faster, there's a very good chance that homework will pay for it.

It's really exciting. And plus people have the opportunity to hang out with you. And another more close,

let me just warn you also, one of the other assets in the building is a kitchen, which we have a lot of fun with. And part of our mission is also to deal with, how do we deliver care to the Medicaid population, the poorest population, and that deals with things like social determinants? So we have a gorgeous kitchen, and a lot of hungry people. And the entrepreneur in me says, All right, so how you going to do this, you're so damn smart, go figure it out. So downstairs as we speak, right now, there's another startup that's using it. It goes by the name of robot me, and they sell them the brand name of fifth season. So we met them, and they're actually packaging the individual salads at suburban. And they do about 1500 sounds a week right now, in our kitchen. We also will be bringing in food trucks, and other vendors. And this is really a lot of fun. So if anyone out there has ideas, food is part of the healthcare community. Bring your ideas to us. We're crazy enough to listen to me.

Yeah, you are crazy enough. And it's exciting. I think it is really exciting. Jonathan has a couple of questions. So we want to take take a couple of questions and say okay, yeah, we got a question

and a quick comment. A nice positive comment from Mike Steiner. He says 100% agree with our Brian Kennedy that in the past 20 years, I w has been the booster for not only alpha lab and athletic gear, but for many around startups in Pittsburgh in has witnessed the Pittsburgh region that you guys have just made a tremendous impact here. And it's been you rich and your team that has done some good work. So good to hear that. A question from Christine Ferguson, I think maybe both you guys might want to answer this question. How can experienced business professionals that are outside of healthcare, the healthcare space, and do not have clinical or education experience support this important effort that is now underway with alpha cloud health?

All right, who wants to take a stab at that

I can start Jeff and you can dovetail but you know, these kinds of programs really thrive with community partnerships. And those include corporate partners, mentors, advisors, and other people that help build and support this community. So if you'd like to get engaged, where we're looking to broaden those networks, and, and again, whether it's investor, healthcare professional, corporate partner, mentor advisor, you know, we we, you know, we won't have the subject matter experts or the resources at any one time that a that a company needs. So we try to build bridges to those other groups to help people manufacture their products, add customers, hire talent, and everything else that a dental startup needs to do. So we'd love to hear from you and figure out how you can get engaged.

Jeff, you want to add anything to that?

Uh, no, I think he summarized that. I'll just add one thing is that none of us have all the answers. And the more optics, we have to look at a problem, the more likely we will come up with the answer that will probably make sense. This whole project is foundational to the structure of a community prior to rebuild it. And these assets of healthcare, the innovation, community, government, education, our killer zones, a community and the people that are involved with this, if you have an idea how you want to play, come talk to us.

And so will there be any there's going to be investment tied to the ideas that you select in the in the cohort?

Yeah, so the companies will have the option to take up to $100,000 of investment, which is a lot of money for an accelerator program. And in addition to that, they can have access potentially to the following resources not only at innovation works Riverfront ventures, but also with h n and in Highmark, as well as our you know, broad investor networks, so So absolutely where we recognize that the companies this will be a first step in a process to building the companies and will help those companies secure later stage financings.

So what I just as we sort of wind down here, so what I'm hearing is when you talk, Jeff about, about all the different ideas, I hear anything, from food, to anything that's more sophisticated and needs to go through clinical trials, right. And so it's very broad. In terms, in terms of it being that broad, you're going to be able to provide wraparound support, based upon the sector or based upon the solutions.

The definition of healthcare is very loose. Part of our mission is a 501. c three is how do we promote the health of the community food as part of that shelter, is part of that these would fall on loosely under social determinants. It's not just, you know, what lab needs for farm development devices, HIV. But if it's somehow affects the human condition, and then you know, the intent is to improve it. That's my comment also about people that want to come. Be part of this. There's room for you.

That's really cool. So that's really broad. So how many? How many companies are going to be in this first cohort? What's your what's your target?

I'll probably around six to eight companies, Audrey, and then, you know, I think it'd be great if Jeff would talk about but we're trying to build a community there that's vibrant. And so there will be co working space. There. There's collaboration areas, much like you'd find it alpha lab in alpha gear and open programming to the community. So, Jeff, you might want to mention, you know, companies can use sign up for wet lab space right now even separate from health lab health.

Okay, that's great. Did you want to add something about that?

No, we already have

a number of companies that one specifically at CMU that came out of the lab programs that do all things being equal, they will be starting as of January one, we have a body downstairs, the goal is to make this a collection point for people who want to try an idea that loosely fits in improving healthcare. And more than anything, we want it to be fun. You know, you got a bunch of crazies running around here. We're good.

You're good. Yeah. That's great. That'll that's, that's good for us to know. Because really, you're building the community. And it's not just the cohort. So there'll be lots of opportunity for the entire community to be a part of this one way or another. There, Jonathan texted me said there's one more question and that like to ask before we wrap up,

this is a great one, actually, another one just came in as well, too. So from Stephen Winecoff says this to be effective does there need to be innovation in how healthcare is funded in this country?

If you can find a way to make that into a business, we've been approached by a number of groups that are looking at alternative payment mechanisms, and disrupting the delivery and payment for care. A lot of these are very fragmented, and you're looking at the very early phases of how the payer provider patient relationships are being restructured. I probably talked to half a dozen of them already. So once again, this deals with innovation, it deals with the healthcare system, and you know, put it together and bring it to us. And we'll take a look and see if we can help you, certainly on the basis of data analytics, and maybe even provide things you can't get anywhere else.

And one last question from Janine, Janine city, she wants to be reminded how early stage company can participate in this program.

So we're looking for great ideas, so that they can range from, you know, formation stage or, you know, companies that are just incorporating all the way to, you know, more advanced companies, we're, we're really looking for companies with great ideas, but also ones that can leverage the resources that we have. So I wouldn't be frightened off by thinking your idea might be too early to apply. Cool.

Well, listen, I'm I'm proud of this. I'm proud that we're doing this and really, with the leadership of Jeff and all the support that you've done over the years. With innovation works this, you're going to be cooking up some really great stuff. stuff over there. And I love the idea that it's not just for the cohorts. I actually like that. And I think that's a differentiating factor, that it's not just for the cohorts, because too often we do things. And it's just for the classes and the cohorts. And I like the fact that you have a vision of it spilling into some virtual physical community that can tie inside of the resources that Jeff has, both inside a tent and around the world. And I think those pieces will make it really, really fun. I love the span, I love the span, that there's no idea that might not touch, the issues that are facing a stall couldn't come at a better time. And my hope is that, you know, as the kickoff January that, you know, COVID season might be, you know, coming towards an end, and then we'll be able to have lots of opportunities to really collide in terms of the work that you're doing. So I want to thank you both Dr. Jeff Cohen, rich Lou knack, I am, you know, going to be a big cheerleader of the work that you're doing and help you stir up some good trouble. And I know that I know that you will, I know that you will. So I can't thank you enough. Thank you, everyone. If you want more information, we put their website out there. There will be a q&a session later on today, where you can dive more into the detail. So appreciate that. But we're going to be watching you rich and Jeff, and we're gonna be cheering for you and we're gonna be helping. So I can't thank you enough. Everyone watching you watching it.

So Mario is cyto agents we're keeping on this healthcare theme this week. So we had sight of Asians stopping by to talk about their COVID trial. Pretty exciting stuff.

Ah, that's way. Cool. All right. Thank you, everyone for joining us. Stay safe until tomorrow. Thank you.

Thanks, Audrey.

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