My first impression of healthcare startup incubator/accelerator Rock Health was not a favorable one. I wrote in MobiHealthNews last July that the San Francisco-based organization founded by some hotshot, young Harvard MBAs demonstrated “yet another example of Silicon Valley arrogance.” I said that Rock Health was mostly targeting the young end of the market with cool, fitness-oriented apps, not the elderly and chronically ill who account for the bulk of the nation’s $2.5 trillion annual healthcare spend. That group wants things that are easy to use rather than fun and hip.
Needless to say, I was not invited to Rock Health’s Christmas party. I did share a quick “hello” nod with Managing Director Halle Tecco when I saw her in a meeting room at the mHealth Summit last month, though.
Even then, I wondered if Rock Health had changed its attitude at all, seeing that even the executives were outfitted in company t-shirts in the buttoned-down world of (just outside) Washington, D.C. (I once had a Capitol Hill press pass early in my career. The rules require members of the media to conform to the same dress code as members of Congress. That means a coat and tie for men, while women have to have jackets if they choose to wear slacks. An unwritten rule of D.C. in general calls for women to wear stockings if they go with a skirt, even if it’s 95 degrees and humid, which it frequently is in the summer.)
Today, though, I saw a clear sign that Rock Health is starting to learn from its earlier mistakes. MobiHealthNews reported on the incubator’s class of 2012, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that the majority of the 15 companies are aimed at either healthcare providers—an important constituency largely missing from the first Rock Health class—and on treatment of truly sick patients. One startup, for example, helps people being treated for breast cancer prepare for doctor visits, while another produces an EHR for home-health agencies. Good stuff in my critical eyes, though really, enough with the social networking to get people to exercise. There are too many of these platforms and apps already.
I never thought I would say this, at least not before the end of 2011, but kudos to Rock Health for making a real effort to figure out the complex healthcare industry and to add some substance to what heretofore had been all style.