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The new health technology incubator was the result of Kellogg alumni and faculty pairing with venture capitalists.

MATTER

Minding MATTER

New health technology incubator MATTER will help bring medical devices to market

By Paul Dailing

7/1/2014 - The lease hasn’t been signed at the Merchandise Mart. There’s no paint on the wall, no signs indicating this office space will soon house a health-tech incubator bringing entrepreneurs and medical innovators to the same table.

The space is, in the words of Kellogg Clinical Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship & Innovation David Schonthal EMP-74, just “concrete and columns and windows.”

And opportunity.

By the end of the year, the empty room at the Merch Mart is expected to house MATTER, a hub designed to help entrepreneurs turn innovations into products. Unlike startup incubator 1871 down the hall, MATTER will focus on one industry – health technology.

Buoyed by a recent investment of $4 million from Springfield and named as a priority in Gov. Pat Quinn’s 2014 State of the State Address, the not-for-profit MATTER is trying to bring innovation to the changing health sector.

“What we are trying to do is bring different groups and disciplines together because the world of health care technology is overlapping,” Schonthal said. “The core idea behind MATTER is to catalyze new and productive interactions between researchers, entrepreneurs, established companies, providers, payers, investors and others. Hopefully get exciting new technologies and therapies to market much more efficiently. ”

Clinical trials and tribulations

New healthcare technologies have several hurdles en route to market that other new products don’t, including clinical trials, HIPAA compliance, insurance company buy-in and FDA approval.

“Anything that’s regulated by the FDA is a whole different world,” said Andrew Cittadine ’98, president and CEO of Chicago-based Diagnostic Photonics.

Cittadine, Schonthal and venture capitalists Caralynn Nowinski and Michael Liang laid out the idea for what will become MATTER over dinner one night in 2011. With labs, hospitals and universities throughout the region, Chicago has a huge crop of potential, if inexperienced, health tech innovators.

“It’s a young community. It’s one where there aren’t many entrepreneurs and the culture is somewhat nascent,” Cittadine said.

The resources and experience of large corporations will be key in getting these products to market, Schonthal said. He said they’re eyeing Chicago-area health care companies like Abbott Laboratories, Baxter International and Takeda Pharmaceuticals U.S.A., but they want to go national.

“We would love to get companies like Johnson & Johnson, Amgen, GE and others around the country to get involved and hang a shingle at MATTER,” Schonthal said.

Proto MATTER

In 2012, the MATTER team took the idea to ChicagoNEXT, the public-private collaboration launched by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to turn Chicago into an innovation hub. There, it caught the eye of Pritzker Group Senior Vice President Steven Collens ’01, a familiar face in both health and entrepreneurship circles.

“I spent 10 years in the health care industry and then worked on setting up 1871 so this project kind of joins those two things together,” Collens said. “When they came and presented it to ChicagoNEXT it certainly caught my eye as something with a lot of potential to make a difference in the community.”

Chicago, Collens said, is the third-largest health care economy in the country and a place with a dynamic, growing startup community.

“What we don’t have is something that really connects all the pieces to support entrepreneurs,” he said.

Collens said the process the 1871 team used to design their space and model — talking to stakeholders about their needs and visiting co-working and incubator spaces across the nation for inspiration — will likely be the template for MATTER, helping fill that empty room. 

Read about more Kellogg alumni in the medical startup space: