Thriving outside of Silicon Valley: 9 other digital health startup hubs to know

Although the real “birth” of the Silicon Valley mythos can be traced all the way back to the Palo Alto, Calif., garage where the founders of Hewlett Packard launched their company in 1939, global awareness of the tech-mecca exploded in the 1970s and has grown exponentially in decades since.

But such rapid real estate expansion and an influx of capital-hungry entrepreneurs can only go on for so long before reaching critical mass factors, such as rising costs of living, that divert new talent elsewhere. Recently, other zones throughout the country have begun to stake their claim on the blossoming digital health industry, investing in the necessary infrastructure to host companies started on big ideas with the potential for rapid development.  

The following nine cities are likely to play important roles in changing the face of digital health as we know it today in just few short years.

Austin, Texas. Austin hasn't been in the startup spotlight as long as places like Silicon Valley or New York, but there's good reason that young companies from all over the world are looking there to headquarter or expand new business. Austin is one of the youngest cities in the country, and it boasted a jump in tech-industry employment of more than 40 percent between 2001 and 2013, according to Forbes. The city's technology council doesn't anticipate any slowing down of that growth either, predicting over 11,000 more job opportunities in the digital sector to become available in the next few years. Since the early aughts, dozens and dozens of healthcare-oriented startups have set up shop in Austin, citing a less-crowded and still budding tech environment compared to California's Bay Area, with cheaper real estate as well. Joshua Baer, executive director of tech accelerator Capital Factory, told KQED in a 2015 interview that in the span of just a few years, the digital health scene in Austin grew from ghost town into a bustling scene. The city also tops The Kauffman Index of Growth Entrepreneurship's ranking for overall startup activity by city.

Miami. As of earlier this year, Miami is the second most entrepreneurial city in the U.S., with a startup density of 247.6 companies per 100,000 people, according to The Kauffman Index of Growth Entrepreneurship. One reason for this density could be that the city is viewed as a hub for international business, according to Tech Crunch. Major tech players who outpost in Miami, such as Google, Twitter and Facebook, are positioning themselves to do business with Central America, South America, and Europe. Christian Seale, founder of Startupbootcamp, says Miami is “America's City of 2050 for Digital Health” because it enables companies to work globally and focus on serving diverse communities ignored by the insular nature of typical tech hubs. South Florida is also one of the most diverse, population-dense portions of the southeast.

Boston. Ranked one of the youngest cities in the country by ShareCare, Boston also has one of the richest histories of invention and medical innovation of anyplace in the U.S. That history of innovation is likely one of the driving factors behind Boston being one of the biggest players in biotech in the world today — according to CB Insights, medical and life sciences companies in the Boston area took in nearly $2 billion in financing in 2013. Just this month, Pulse, a digital health accelerator based in Boston, launched and is seeking participant companies from all over the world. The accelerator is part of MassChallenge, a Boston-based nonprofit organization that works to promote startups in the area, along with projects like the Massachusetts Digital Health Initiative, a public-private-academic partnership introduced by Gov. Charlie Baker earlier this year. Companies that put down roots in Boston are also surrounded by some of the highest-quality medical centers and medical schools in the world, such as Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital and Tufts Medical Center, which provide expert healthcare insight and resources.

Atlanta. From Hypepotamus to Startup Atlanta and Atlanta Tech Village, the largest city in Georgia and ninth largest in the country is heavily populated with organizations dedicated to strengthening its already well-established startup ecosystem. Beyond having an extensive support system for young businesses, the city is rife with legacy firms and mentors — it has the third highest concentration of Fortune 500 companies in America, according to the Atlanta Regional Commission. Although Atlanta has been a major player on a global tech scale for sometime, the area surrounding the city is beginning to boom as well, according to The Kauffman Index of Growth Entrepreneurship, which lists Georgia as one of the top five states last year with the highest density of high-growth health companies. In 2014, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce rankedAtlanta among the top five cities in the country to start a business, due to cost, population size, and ease of launching a company. Forge, an Atlanta-based and focused nonprofit organization, hosts an annual Health Innovation Challenge hackathon and supports rounds of digital health firms as they move through its incubator program. Forge, which was co-founded by a clinician, emphasizes helping young health startups launch partnerships with local medical centers like EmoryUniversityHospital and the Atlanta VA Medical Center.

Denver. This year, U.S. News & World Report ranked Denver as the No. 1 place to live for a variety of reasons, many of which also make it a great place for up and coming health companies — quality and availability of healthcare; low cost of living; and one of the youngest populations in the country, to name a few. The city is home to more than 120 digital health-focused startups, according to The Denver Post. Players like Prime Health, a physician entrepreneur-backed organization, and the University of Colorado Denver's Digital Health Consortium are focused on making Denver-based health startups transformative for healthcare on a national scale. In early 2018, local developers and entrepreneurs will launched the Catalyst Health-Tech Innovation, a 300,000-square foot building outfitted with all the of tools young companies need to innovate and expand in Denver, and connect them with venture firms.

Kansas City, Mo.Kansas City might not be top of mind when it comes to tech, let alone digital health, but it is home to a number of forward-thinking organizations that are working to change that. It's home to KC Digital Drive, a tech nonprofit that hosts hackathons and an annual Digital Health Innovation Forum; the Kansas CityStartupVillage, an entrepreneur-led community focused on building out the city's startup ecosystem; and the Sprint Accelerator, which acts as a community center for entrepreneurial ventures and a forum for companies to find local talent. Additionally, organizations like /KC and KCnext represent the city's overall commitment to supporting its young tech-based companies. The city is also home to the campus of EHR giant Cerner, which is growing rapidly and drawing droves of young IT-minded professionals to the area. With dozens of Kansas City-based startups garnering national attention through large investments the city is likely to become a focal point for digital health in the midwest.

Madison, Wis. Situated in the Chicago-Milwaukee tech corridor, Madison, Wis., is home to a great number of biotech startups. This is due in no small part to the fact that EHR giant Epic Systems' headquarters is situated about 10 miles away in Verona, Wis. Epic employs thousands of young digitally-minded professionals, many of whom reside in Madison. Their presence drives Madison's digital health culture, and some even go on to start their own companies after leaving Epic, from Redox, an API and EHR integration firm, to 100state, a coworking space for entrepreneurs. With mentoring resources like Merlin Mentors and HealthX Ventures, a seed fund specifically geared toward health startups, the city is poised to continue to grow exponentially as a player in the national digital health scene.

Chicago. In addition to being home to a number of startup companies and a digital health incubator, Chicago is home base for HIMSS, the American Medical Association and the American Hospital Association. MATTER, the aforementioned digital health accelerator, actually houses the AMA Interactive Lab, where entrepreneurs and physicians collaborate on developing new technologies and services. MATTER has worked with dozens of health-based startups to build out their platforms and ideas and carry them to market. The city is also home to healthcare incubators AVIA and Healthbox, and tech entrepreneurship centers Blue1647 and 1871.

Salt Lake City. A preponderance of young people is generally a quality commonly associated with a thriving startup community, and Salt Lake City has just that. A number of demographic ranking sources classify Salt Lake City as one of the youngest cities in the U.S. in terms of population. Add the presence of two leading health IT-driven systems to the mix  — Intermountain Healthcare and the University of Utah Health and Sciences — and Salt Lake City becomes a proving ground for a number of budding digital health initiatives. The city is home to accelerators like BoomStartup's GenTech program, an arm of the Chicago-based incubator Healthbox, which focuses on mentoring young Salt Lake City-based companies rather than investing. Health Catalyst, a company that leverages big data analysis to improve health outcomes for patients, is also based in Salt Lake City.

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