Matter News


Innovation Diffusion: Q&A With MATTER CEO Steven Collens on Chicago’s Health Tech Scene


Published October 11, 2015

Tomorrow the third annual Oliver Wyman Health Innovation Summit kicks off with immersion tours exploring how some of host city Chicago’s most innovative organizations are transforming the health market. One stop will be MATTER and 1871, both leading hubs for tech innovators. MATTER and 1871 executives will be joined by a team from provider-led accelerator AVIA to introduce their operations and explain the role that design can play in fostering effective collaboration and innovation. MATTER CEO Steven Collens, who also led the team that created 1871, gave Oliver Wyman’s Terrance Wallace a preview of his center for digital startups that now houses more than 300 early-stage companies:

  • What is the mission of MATTER?
  • Our mission is to accelerate the development of healthcare technology and create an ecosystem to support healthcare companies that will change the world. This is an incredibly dynamic time for innovation in healthcare. Several factors have combined to heighten the need for innovation within the industry and to create big opportunities for entrepreneurs, including advances in technology that allow for more innovative collection, storage, and analysis of data; the digitization of the healthcare industry that has been driven by the proliferation of electronic medical health records; and policy mandates that are forcing a change in the business model of healthcare from volume to value. The challenge in healthcare now is that the system is very complicated and esoteric. It’s a challenging environment through which to build a new business. The theory behind MATTER is that we can equip and embolden leaders within institutions to collaborate and design new solutions together. That’s why we have such an emphasis not only on startups, but also on industry partners. We have a robust learning curriculum and a variety of mentoring programs for our companies, but we also work really hard to create an ecosystem of business partners, investors, and others that aspire to bring change to healthcare.
  • Where are you based? How has the area supported your development?
  • We’re based in Chicago’s Merchandise Mart. Chicago has an amazing collection of healthcare assets and expertise. Just being in Chicago is a huge advantage. We have world-leading companies across every sector within the industry: pharmaceuticals, diagnostics, devices, hospital supply providers, payers, and more. There isn’t another region in the entire country that has such a breadth and diversity of healthcare companies. We also have most of the major industry associations based here. We have phenomenal research institutions, medical schools, business schools, and engineering programs. The challenge for Chicago innovation is that we haven’t much of a functioning community. There isn’t a town square for the healthcare community; there isn’t a nexus for healthcare innovation. We’re changing that. We picked the location in the Merchandise Mart for two reasons: 1) It’s centrally located and iconic: You can say Merchandise Mart and everyone knows what you’re talking about. It’s on top of public transportation, it’s right across from the financial center, and it anchors the River North neighborhood; 2) In the last three years, Merchandise Mart has really emerged as the tech hub of the city. You have 1871 leading digital innovation, Motorola Mobility moved into the building, GoHealth, Braintree, Yelp—all of these companies have significant presence in the Merchandise Mart and create opportunities for collisions with people who are thinking outside the box and driving innovation.
  • What has been your most recent milestone achievement?
  • We currently have 110 companies at MATTER. That’s a big accomplishment. We opened in mid-February 2015 with about 30 companies. We’ve grown at a very fast clip even with a rigorous application process. We also continue to develop relationships with industry partners and sign up new companies that really have an interest in accelerating innovation. Business partners view MATTER as a channel for ideas, technology, and inspiration for solutions that will help their business and drive meaningful change in healthcare. We’re creating a community for healthcare technology and innovation that didn’t exist before in Chicago.
  • What projects and partnerships are you working on now?
  • I was recently meeting with some of the leadership from Chicago-based Health Care Service Corporation (HCSC), one of our newest partners. That got me thinking about areas where there is an enormous opportunity to drive meaningful change and outcomes. There are places where care is delivered, places where reimbursement occurs, and places where data is stored. Payers like HCSC are central to the reimbursement equation, but they can also be highly influential in understanding what works and understanding how to influence behaviors that drive better health and wellness. They sit on an enormous amount of data around how care unfolds. They are looking for innovation. They are an established company that’s been around for a long time, and they excel at operationalizing ideas. Their core competency is not disruptive innovation. That’s where the potential to create meaningful change comes in. At MATTER we harness the ability of entrepreneurs to be very nimble in responding to the market and facilitate collaborations with larger companies to drive innovation.
  • This is a really broad question, but what does the future of healthcare look like to you?
  • The future looks great. The healthcare system as a business and as an industry is full of opportunities for innovation to improve. The best kind of industry for an entrepreneur to focus on is one where: 1) The industry is growing; 2) there are lots of inefficiencies baked in; and 3) you’re in an industry where there is an opportunity to make a meaningful difference in the world. The healthcare industry exceeds others on all three of those points. The challenge is that it’s a very complex environment and slow to change, but the opportunities are huge. The opportunity for all of us to live healthier and better is right in front of us.
  • What advice do you have for startup leaders?
  • Entrepreneurs should spend a lot of time with their ultimate customers and stakeholders. Depending of what they are doing it could be doctors, nurses, hospital administrators, payers, pharmaceutical companies, or others. Really approach development of the thesis and the technology from the outside in and solve a really meaningful problem, but solve it in the right way. The solution has to be ingestible by the companies themselves to create lasting change. That’s a pitfall that we try to help companies avoid. You don’t want to solve a point solution that can’t integrate into a workflow or something that missed the mark by 10%.