Still relishing the excitement of learning his team has won funding for a $1.5 million project through the 2018 Regional Innovation Strategies Program, Mike Fritsch’s enthusiasm is infectious.
“This could be a game-changer for our region,” explains the Northeast Indiana Innovation Center’s (NIIC) senior entrepreneur-in-residence and director of revenue development. “We’ll be thinking much more boldly about how to do things.”
The bold thinking Fritsch describes stems from the idea behind the NIIC’s winning project: a collaborative development center called the Indiana Connected Health IoT Lab (Connected Lab). IoT refers to the Internet of Things, a complex network of connections between devices such as cell phones, home appliances and personal electronics via the Internet. While IoT isn’t a new concept, its powerful potential is only beginning to be tapped for health-related industries. Positioned among industry clusters that include medical devices, advanced manufacturing and insurance — combined with local and statewide access to healthcare providers, pharma, health IT and cybersecurity sectors — northeast Indiana offers a geographic advantage and synergy over other areas.
“We have the right ecosystem for this,” says Fritsch. “We’re looking at attracting companies to this area from other states
and even internationally and developing Indiana’s strong health care establishments to deliver health care excellence – better quality, better cost, better experience and better patient engagement using IoT.”
The project is as simple in theory as it is complex in execution. The Connected Lab will bring together companies, ideas and technologies to create an integrated health network – not a network of providers and facilities, but one of information. That information can be used to develop new products, create new applications and cultivate innovative processes. It’s about more than simply gathering data; it’s about doing something with it to achieve better patient and community outcomes.
Max Yen, the NIIC board member, entrepreneur and Purdue Fort Wayne Steel Dynamics Distinguished Professor of Engineering, who will serve as lab director, explains: “It’s about taking advantage of the convenience of the Internet and then going behind the scenes with artificial intelligence and information to come up with potential solutions.”
A significant component involves connecting the right entities, which includes two main groups: IoT suppliers and health-related market companies. Supplier companies might be sensor technology, advanced manufacturing, cybersecurity and information technology/data analytics firms. Health-related markets might include medical devices, insurance, health care and pharmaceuticals. Applied research capabilities from academic institutions will supplement the mix, with the combination creating a robust formula for healthcare innovation.
Anyone with an idea can come to the NIIC’s Connected Lab to talk about how to develop it. As they work together to flesh out the details, the NIIC will act as a connector to introduce the right players and provide mechanisms for them to work together. Collaborative agreements will facilitate cooperation without companies being afraid of competition. An on-site Proof-of-Concept Center at the Northeast Indiana Innovation Park will allow them to test viability in a state-of-the-art setting.
In short, the Connected Lab aims to bring together people and ideas across different industries to drive innovation in the health-related space. The possibilities are endless.
“We think this could redefine what the health care industry is supposed to be,” says Yen. “As a region, we are very good in areas such as advanced manufacturing, communication, healthcare, orthopedics and more. These are all connected in some way, so we’re aiming to put them together and become a powerhouse for connected health.”
The Connected Lab will be one of the largest projects the NIIC has ever undertaken. In addition to expanding its own staff to support the effort, the NIIC believes the lab project will bring big economic wins to the region. Over a three-year period, it aims for 90 companies to be formed or assisted, 110 direct jobs to be created or retained, 310 entrepreneurs to be trained and more than $4 million of project investment capital to be leveraged.
“The NIIC has always been an innovator, a think tank and a possibility place. With commitments and energy from our industry, academic, community partners and their capabilities and the powerful ideas for transforming healthcare, we know this is the right time to launch,” states Karl LaPan, president and CEO, The NIIC.
It all boils down to bringing the right people together across industries rather than within them. And while anyone can approach the NIIC with an idea, Fritsch and his team are also actively seeking participants.
“If you have a company that has any of these capabilities and are interested in making this a part of what you do, call us,” says Fritsch.
Ultimately, Fritsch believes that the marriage of connectivity and collaboration will become a model for driving economic development in the region.
“There’s a big opportunity here,” says Fritsch. “This new wave of technology and way of doing things could change entire business models.”
Address: 3201 Stellhorn Road Fort Wayne, Indiana 46815
Phone: (260) 407-6442
Years in Business: 19 (The NIIC)
Products & Services: The Indiana Connected Health IoT Lab will actively engage health care organizations, IoT supplier companies and applied research universities to catalyze company growth, creation and attraction while providing better outcomes for patients. The lab will function as an incubator to connect the latest IoT technologies, developers, integrators and end-users in an “idea laboratory” to envision and ideate new processes and products.