In 2011, Senator Kirk Watson of Austin introduced the 10 Goals in 10 Years plan to transform the health and economy of the community. Essential components of this plan included fostering healthcare innovation and research. With the creation of the Dell Medical School at the University of Texas and a new modern teaching and safety-net hospital, Dell Seton Medical Center at the University of Texas, we wanted to dive into these developments and see how Austin’s other booming industry, tech, will play a part.
To learn more, we had some of our most pressing questions answered directly by Senator Kirk Watson himself. You will find quotes from our Q&A with Senator Watson throughout this piece.
While the obvious place for technology and innovation is in Silicon Valley, the past few years have seen a dramatic shift in where cost-conscious tech companies hire talent. This has been advantageous to cities like Austin, who itself adopted the name “Silicon Hills” back in the 1990s. According to the most recent statistics, there are 5,485 high tech companies in Austin and over 1 in every 5 tech jobs in Texas is created in Austin. This is significant when viewed holistically, as it illustrates a steady 73.9% growth in tech jobs over the past 10 years, which is more than any other metropolitan city in the U.S. New companies and entrepreneurs seeking funding are being attracted to Austin by investors, who in 2015 alone invested over $911.3 Million in the city. With steady investments in technology each year, Austin will most likely continue expanding within the technology sector. Techpreneurs are also flocking to Austin because of the significant local support from organizations such as WeWork, Capital Factory, and TechStars. These organizations provide resources and innovative workspaces catered toward entrepreneurs in Austin.
The tech boom in Austin can also be attributed to the large talent pool in the city. With a highly ranked public university in the center of the city, the University of Texas at Austin attracts some of the best talent in the country. Residents of other tech hubs are opting to call Austin home because it is more affordable when compared to areas like Silicon Valley. Large companies with outside headquarters such as Amazon, Apple, Google and Hewlett-Packard have even brought in a significant number of tech jobs to the area by opening satellite offices in Austin. This has inspired smaller tech labs and tech entrepreneurs to headquarter themselves within the innovative Austin tech hub.
With the creation of the Dell Medical School and Dell Seton Medical Center teaching hospital - all in the center of the city, Austin is rapidly becoming a leading healthcare hub. The University of Texas at Austin brought in over $60 Million dollars in grants from the National Institutes of Health this past year to support cutting edge medical research. A 14-acre Central Health property redevelopment is also in the works, which will be adjacent to the medical school. With this area of downtown rapidly becoming a hub for healthcare, an organization was put into place to encourage innovation and community outreach in the area. We asked Senator Watson to explain the purpose of the Innovation Zone:
“I took over leadership of the Innovation Zone Working Group in 2014 and worked with a host of community partners to study how best to stimulate innovation, creativity and economic activity…That discussion led to the creation of Capital City Innovation Inc., a nonprofit with a mission to facilitate the innovation zone and ensure broad community benefit. The University of Texas, Central Health and Seton Healthcare Family are the founding board members of Capital City Innovation.”
In addition to the medical school and health centers, there are also several health related startups heading to Austin. In fact, there are over 200 life science companies within a 25 mile radius of the State Capitol Building. With so many health-related businesses, startups, and entrepreneurs in the area - the existing tech community in Austin is looking to see where collaboration is possible. This is where we are beginning to see the tech and healthcare industries align. The medical school and innovation zone previously mentioned are expected to bring in 15,000 new jobs and $2 Billion per year in economic activity.
More established healthcare companies such as the Seton Healthcare Network, St. David’s Healthcare and Girling Health Care are all top employers in Austin. Athenahealth, a developer of cloud-based services for healthcare providers, just opened its doors within the old Seaholm Power Plant in Austin. Not only are these healthcare companies able to serve the Austin population (which is growing every day) with a wide array of unique healthcare options, but they are also bringing hundreds of new jobs and opportunities to the city.
Capital City Innovation, Inc. was created to help established businesses and enterprising startups to “become part of the health ecosystem that is developing around the Dell Medical School and the new modern teaching hospital” according to Senator Watson. With the existing lively tech industry present in Austin, and the burgeoning healthcare industry making its place, this is an excellent opportunity for the two industries to come together. When asked about this integration of tech and healthcare in Austin, Senator Watson explained:
“The creation of a digital health arena is all about where technology meets health. There are medical devices, healthcare apps, and consumer products that can help Austin build a more diverse data-driven healthcare model, one that addresses both services and health care delivery.”
The possibilities are endless when it comes to tech and healthcare merging. We are already seeing medical device and software startups coming to Austin, aiming to work directly with healthcare professionals to create devices and services that will better serve patients around the world. Mobile healthcare-centric applications are being developed in Austin to expand health care options for patients, making communication between doctor and patient more accessible.
Many of these startups are taking complex problems patients and physicians struggle with each day, and coming up with solutions that benefit everyone. For example, the company Insight Optics found that less than 50% of patients who should receive a retinal exam do so. With 90% of vision loss cases being preventable, they sought out to develop a smartphone-enabled ophthalmoscope and the OptoView app for utilization by primary care physicians. This enables physicians to send data directly to eye care specialists, without the patient needing to make multiple appointments to see a specialist.
Medici is another Austin based healthcare tech startup that is revolutionizing the way patients and doctors interact. Through a mobile application, patients can connect with their participating doctor to ask healthcare questions and send pictures and videos for additional healthcare documentation. Doctors will also be able to make a diagnosis, prescribe medication, or refer the patient to come into the office. This “mobile visit” will be significantly less expensive for patients than in-office visits, and will also save doctors on administrative costs. Medici currently has a team of 25 employees and is looking to expand globally next year.
ePatientFinder in Austin has secured an impressive 11.35 Million in funding, 8.2 Million of which they secured this year alone. This Austin-based startup created a mobile application that connects physicians with participating patients’ electronic health records, creating a more efficient clinical trial recruiting process.
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the healthcare tech startups budding within Austin and the exponential possibilities for health tech. The Dell Medical School is expected to provide significant value to these health tech startups and serve as a valuable resource, further encouraging growth in this sector.
Board members of Capital City Innovation believe that the organization will create several opportunities for Austin’s existing technology community and Austin as a whole. We asked Senator Watson for his thoughts on the future of healthcare technology in Austin, and how these two booming industries will impact our community:
“Dell Medical School is at the forefront of rethinking healthcare delivery, which will create boundless opportunities for tech companies to collaborate and innovate. And, Capital City Innovation will help the community take full advantage of the strengths of academia and industry — both in bringing together people who think differently about health and medicine, and in transforming healthcare in ways that benefit people in every part of the community, including those who have been historically underserved.”
Capital City Innovation’s primary purpose as a non profit organization is to connect local businesses and startups to the new Dell Medical School and Dell Seton Medical Center teaching hospital. By capitalizing off of this new health and tech hub, Capital City Innovation, Inc. can help ensure that the entire community of Austin benefits from the innovation.
Austin is positioning itself to become a major innovation zone for healthcare and technology. This is an exciting time for breakthroughs and new opportunities for the city, all of which are aiming to utilize technology to create a healthier community for all. Senator Watson, and other local leaders spearheading Capital City Innovation, believe that Austin is emerging as a leader in the health tech industry:
“Part of what’s neat about innovation is that you can’t always predict what will happen. But Austin, one of the most successful creative cities in the world, is building the first medical school on the campus of major Tier 1 Research University in half a century. Being able to build the medical school where it can rethink all aspects of innovation is unique in itself. Already, we’re seeing possibilities, such as Austin emerging as a leader in the digital health arena.”
The possibilities are endless for the future Capital City Innovation and its implications on the community of Austin as a whole.
Enola Labs, based in Austin, Texas provides a variety of software related services including technical advisory consulting and healthcare technology consulting to healthcare organizations and companies.