CIW Co-op Member Steve Collens Leads New Hub for Health Innovation

CIW Co-op member Steve Collens is poised to do for health technologies what he did for digital tech in Chicago.  The 1871 “instigator”, as his resume puts it, will draw on his experiences helping to launch Chicago’s central hub of entrepreneurial innovation as CEO of Matter, an entrepreneurial incubator for “next-generation health IT, medical device and biopharma companies,” according to Matter’s website.

CIW Co-op member Steve Collens steps into a new
role as CEO of Matter, Chicago’s health
technology incubator.
Matter has been in the works for a year and a half, when Mayor Rahm Emanuel first began inquiring about the need for a space for health entrepreneurship. In many ways, however, Collens’ appointment as CEO of Matter represents a 15-year journey. Prior to launching 1871, Collens spent 10 years at Abbott, where he saw first-hand how large-scale corporations supported life science and health R&D.
It was that type of support for health innovation that Emanuel, Collens and Matter’s founding team identified as missing in the broader Chicago community—at least outside of Fortune 500 companies like Abbott Laboratories.  With emerging technologies in patient data management, biopharma and medical devices, the team believes health care is on the edge of technological change, but “there isn’t a center of this community; there isn’t a hub,” Collens explained.
“There isn’t an easy way for people to meet each other and make connections,” he said further of health entrepreneurship.
Collens began the process of forming Matter much the way he did when helping to launch 1871: by visiting incubators across the country.  But where he found a vast ecosystem of digital tech communities, from San Francisco to New York, health tech hubs were sparse.  Often, he found that these companies focused “entirely…on health IT companies” and rarely were they “community-focused,” as Mayor Emanuel and Collens intended Matter to be.
The reason for this lack of health tech centers?  It stems from the myriad regulations associated with healthcare and medicine.  From HIPAA regulations on patient data sharing to healthcare laws to FDA rulings, the industry, although ripe for innovation, is covered in red tape.
Despite that, Collens sees a lot of room for growth in the industry, and he notes that Matter plans to combat many of the setbacks that entrepreneurs could face when developing technologies with classes, workshops and mentorships.
“We’ll spend a lot of our time curating relationships between entrepreneurs and innovators and the experts who they can learn from,” he described of the model Matter will put in place.

Applications to membership at Matter opened mid-August, and Collens hopes to grow Matter to include approximately 200 members.  As with 1871, Collens aims to make Matter the go-to place for entrepreneurs and investors to meet and form business relationships, providing a platform for growth for Chicago’s health entrepreneurs.  In describing this goal, he draws parallels to 1871.
1871 has injected enthusiasm and energy into a community that was already here.  It just was less well organized, and it was harder for people to make connections and meet each other and meet mentors—and get attention.  That’s similar to what we’re doing now with Matter for the health technology community,” he said.

Erin Robertson is managing editor at Chicago Ideas.

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