Solving Massive Digital Health Challenges

Written by Nick Dougherty, Program Director for PULSE @MassChallenge


It was July 7th, 2016. We needed to figure out what PULSE@MassChallenge, a digital health lab launched as part of the Massachusetts Digital Health Initiative, was going to be and what it should accomplish. We had to both design and launch applications for the program by September 14th. The clock was ticking. We immediately contacted as many entrepreneurs and industry experts we could get our hands on.

One thing was immediately clear — everyone wanted to solve healthcare’s massive challenges. With myriad challenges comes commensurate solutions (at least in quantity).

Ripe with opportunity, problems persist for startups:

  • It doesn’t matter how good your solution is, if the customer/partner has no budget and if there’s no priority for them, you don’t have a paid adoption in year-one.

  • Even if your startup and product are a match, can you cut through the noise? How do you stack up against the incumbent that has your solution “on their [infinite] roadmap?”

  • You get funded for 12–18 months. But you won’t see meaningful revenue until month 24. What do you do?

We discovered in our research that a consistent way to turn an average 24-month partnership cycle into a 6-month cycle for startups was to align a solution to strategic initiative. Even then, it’s not a guaranteed path to success,just a lot better than the alternative.

Too bad in the real-world partners don’t broadcast what their top priorities are…
…and when they do, they’re so inundated with interest, it’s near impossible for them to cut through the noise and hear what you have to say.

This was the ideal problem for the PULSE program to target. We would play matchmaker. To put it bluntly and to use the tired “[company] for [industry]” cliché, we needed to design and build a “Match.com for digital health.”

If PULSE’s goal is to help startups win (so that patients win — i.e. massive challenges solved), we asked “what can we do to manufacture winners?” Rather than focus on funding, we would focus on partnerships. If we turned 24-month processes into 6-month processes consistently, we would get our victories. Funding or revenues (even better!) would follow.

V1 PULSE Program Design 
If you look to the image of our “greenboard,” you’ll see the original design of the PULSE program. SP❤️SU is shorthand for the output of our accelerator-matchmaker machine: the core of our program.

Applications go in and Strategic Partners (SP)+ StartUps (SU) come out. The main difference between this original design and how our program runs today is that we now call Strategic Partners our “Champions.”

This design produces real results. In 2017, PULSE’s matchmaking machine yielded over 80 partnerships and its 31 startups raised over $21M and earned over $4.5M during the program.

While the scientist/engineer in me says the PULSE-influenced relationship between partnerships, funding, and revenue is not purely causal, the results support an assertion that the program attracted, selected, and supported great startups.

For a good machine to function, it needs good inputs. We have some of the best.
PULSE Champions broadcasting their top priorities at the 2018 Application Launch. It is a requirement for PULSE Champions to submit their 3–5 strategic initiatives. We share them with you. We share them with the world. They are our north-star, aligning startups with our 20+ Champions so real work gets done in (shorter than) year-one. Here are the 2018 PULSE challenges:

  • Administrative Burden

  • Aging

  • Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality (AR / VR)

  • Best in Digital Health

  • Biosensors

  • Brain Health

  • Capacity Management / ED Throughput

  • Cardiovascular Disease

  • Care Coordination

  • Care Team Support

  • Caregiving

  • Chronic Disease Management

  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

  • Clinical Decision Support

  • Clinical Studies & Clinical Trial Recruitment

  • Cloud Services

  • Connected Devices

  • Cybersecurity

  • Cybersecurity

  • Data Analytics / Big Data

  • Diabetes

  • Digital Health Based in Massachusetts

  • Food Insecurity

  • General Neurology

  • Genomics

  • Health Disparities

  • Holistic Health

  • Home Health Care

  • Image-guided Therapies

  • Interoperability

  • Intrapartum Support

  • IoT

  • Machine Learning / AI

  • Manufacturing and Supply Chain

  • Medical Education

  • Medication Adherence 

  • Mental Health

  • mHealth or Mobile Technologies

  • Neurodegenerative Disorders

  • New Care Delivery Models

  • Nutrition

  • Oncology

  • Opioid Abuse Support and Prevention

  • Parkinsons

  • Patient Access

  • Patient Communication

  • Patient Communities

  • Patient Education and Self-Management

  • Patient Engagement

  • Patient Experience

  • Patient Flow

  • Patient Generated Data

  • Patient Monitoring

  • Patient Transportation

  • Perioperative Operations

  • Population Health Management

  • Psychiatry

  • Public Health

  • Rare and Orphan Diseases

  • Reduce Medical Costs

  • Social Determinants of Health

  • Social Networking

  • Stroke

  • Telehealth

  • Traffic Crashes

  • Transitions of Care

Solve them.

Digital health won’t work unless we collectively prove its value. PULSE’s demonstration projects are manufactured with a focus on value-creation.

If you are a startup with a product and less than $5M in funding and $5M in revenue, we will solve these massive challenges together.

The deadline to join PULSE @MassChallenge is October 10, so http://masschallenge.org/applyapply now