Rock Health

Malay Ghandi

Rock Health has been around since 2011 first as an accelerator and now as an early stage venture fund. Matthew Holt had a chance to sit down with Rock Health’s Managing Director Malay Gandhi ahead of his appearance at WinterTech to discuss how Rock Health looks at the consumer side of digital health, and what developments Rock Health thinks we’ll see in the near future.

Matthew Holt: It’s Matthew Holt with Malay Gandhi. He is the managing director of Rock Health, and has been officially for what, nearly a year or so now, Malay?  Is that right?

Malay Gandhi: Since June, June of this year.

MH: So about six months. Most of us know that Rock Health was founded by Halle Tecco and Nate Gross a few years back, 2011, and probably was the first and most influential of the incubators and accelerators that target health care specifically. Perhaps you can explain a little bit about how Rock Health works. Most people know that Rock Health is a nonprofit, and that you guys do a lot in terms of stimulating the ecosystem with small events, big events, and your reports on financing and so on. But you are mainly a fund and the amount of money that you invest in your companies has been increasing from I think $20,000 in the early days to $100,000 plus recently? Could you explain how that actually works compared to other accelerators or incubators?

MG: Yeah. Essentially, the way Rock Health works is there are three big things that we do, all under our mission to support and fund entrepreneurs. We have our venture arm, which does seed investments in the companies now. We’ll write checks up to $250,000 per company, really at the seed-stage. We conduct research which we release publicly. Let’s say about four reports or so a year, as you mentioned, tracking funding, but also doing deep diving in various topical areas.

Then our third area, we host a couple of events each year. Our signature events are the Health Innovation Summit, which is for everybody; the CEO Summit, which is an event for founders and CEOs of digital health companies; and then finally, the XX Retreat, which is a women’s professional leadership group for women who work in health care. Continue reading “Rock Health and the Search for ‘Home Screen Health App’”

Rock Health recently released a decidedly mixed report on the current state of Digital Health investing, as the data suggest many investors continue to tentatively explore the sector, but most have yet to make a serious commitment.

Overall, VC funding for digital health increased significantly over the past year, from just under $1B in 2011 to about $1.4B in 2012; 20% of this total was associated with just five deals: two raises for transparency companies, Castlight (targeting employees with high deductible plans looking to manage their costs) and GoHealth (targeting consumers contemplating purchase of health insurance); two raises for referral companies, Care.com (helps consumers find the right caregiver – defined broadly, as needs addressed include eldercare, child tutoring, babysitting, and pet care) and BestDoctors (helps employees find the right doctor), and one deal for 23andMe (a pioneering consumer genetics company).

Not surprisingly, the largest thematic area of investment ($237M) was “health consumer engagement,” comprised of companies that – like the first four above – help consumers or employees with healthcare purchases.   “Personal health tools and tracking,” the second leading category, captured $143M in funding last year.  “EMR/EHR” ($108M) and “hospital administration” ($78M) rounded out the list; the last two numbers seem shockingly low given the apparent size of these markets, and suggest both areas may be perceived as  firmly owned by incumbent players, and prohibitively difficult for new participants to enter.

Athenahealth’s just-announced acquisition of Epocrates highlights the competitive pressures even existing EMR companies face as they struggle for traction in an environment that seems to be increasingly dominated by a few large players, most notably Epic. “Our biggest obstacle,” Athenahealth CEO Jonathan Bush told Bloomberg Businessweek, “is that 70% of doctors don’t even know we exist.”  In contrast, I’ve suggested that a category I’d broadly define as EMR adjacencies may be primed for growth, as VC’s Stephen Kraus and Ambar Bhattacharyya have also discussed recently in this intelligent post.  The related area of care transitions is also attracting considerable entrepreneurial interest, including current Rock Health portfolio companies WellFrame and OpenPlacement, and TechStars alum Careport; it remains to be seen whether a robust business model will emerge here.

Continue reading “2012 Digital Health Investment Activity: The View From the Valley”

Healthcare providers are finding their “play it safe” culture isn’t conducive to breakthrough innovation.

Facing the inevitable deflationary pressures being put upon the healthcare system, innovation is critically needed. Having spoken with several innovation groups in health systems, most examples of “innovation” are decidedly uninspiring. Primarily, it is due to the fact that virtually all of their decisions have to go through the prism of how new ideas will fit with current businesses — a guarantee that will doom so-called innovation to be little more than incremental improvements. Consequently, increasing numbers of hospitals and health systems are smartly allocating money to venture funds that have free reign to find truly disruptive new businesses.

Health systems have taken various approaches such as becoming a Limited Partner in venture funds like Health Enterprise Partners. Some of the larger systems, such as HCA and Dignity Health, have their own venture arms. A new development is a much smaller organization establishing their own venture fund. Implicit in this approach is a much more hands-on approach than as an investor in a 3rd party venture fund. Rex Health Ventures is an early example of venture-capital investment funds in the country started by a community, nonprofit hospital (Rex Health Care). The fund is being launched with an initial $10 million investment from Rex Healthcare and will help finance the most promising innovations among new medical services, tools and technologies.

Continue reading “Innovation Case Studies: Small Hospital Venture Funds”


Health startups are emerging in high numbers this year and it’s no surprise.  The health tech space is booming with new advances in HTML5, mobile health, and social media.  But with the economic downturn, it’s hard to go out on your own without funding or guidance.  But there’s help.  Over the past year, four startup incubators have surfaced offering a mentoring program specific to health technology entrepreneurs.  But, which one should you apply to? Here’s a breakdown of each accelerator and their offerings:

Continue reading “Which Health Incubator Should You Apply To?”

By

Recently ZocDoc had a huge funding round demonstrating the success that they are having. There’s a number of lessons learned from ZocDoc’s experience. Unfortunately, many haven’t demonstrated Zocdoc’s wisdom leading to a large number of healthtech failures. A recent study highlights this phenomena. After interviewing 110 digital health entrepreneurs, RockHealth recently released its study Rock Report: State of Digital Health demonstrating the disconnect between the startups getting funding and what many startups are pursuing. This disconnect is the last and most important reason healthtech companies have failed that are detailed below. The following are the top reasons why healthtech companies have failed or had to do major pivots in order to survive:

Lack of Specific Focus or Adoption point
It’s well documented that a lack of focus kills startups whether they are in healthcare or not but it is particularly prevalent in healthcare. The diversity of opportunities in healthcare is so great that it’s tempting to try to solve it all. These startups are ignoring the old saying about how to eat an elephant — one bite at a time. Too many startups are trying to swallow the elephant whole.
Expected consumers to pay
With the exception of weight loss programs, there aren’t many examples of consumers paying directly for health services. Over time, this is likely to change as more of the burden of healthcare costs gets shifted to consumers as was highlighted in a Healthcare Disruption series (see links below). However, I’d be very cautious about any business expecting to have consumers pay in the near-term.
Continue reading “Lessons from the Carnage in HealthTech”
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