Partners HealthCare's innovation team executes complex, high value transactions and nearly 4,000 additional contracts annually: Here is the strategy

Partners HealthCare Chief Innovation Officer Chris Coburn discusses Partners Innovation team and its culture of managing high volume workstreams while also excelling at intense, highly complex deal making.

Question: What characteristics do you look for in bringing on new team members?

Chris Coburn: Partners HealthCare is built on a heritage of innovation and excellence that has characterized its hospitals for more than two centuries. Our group aspires to that same creative, knowledge seeking and problem-solving culture. In building our team, we seek people who embrace that perspective and can thrive in our unique environment. Partners, comprising the nation's biggest academic research enterprise and the biggest system in New England with more than 6,000 Harvard faculty as well as our group of 125, has the largest academic deal making team in the U.S. We recruit by academic training — we have five MDs, 27 PhDs, 16 MBAs and 17 JDs among others — and just as strongly by cultural fit. We also make professional development and training a priority. We started a program called Innovation Academy for our team which is a series of offsite development programs custom designed with Babson College that aims to hone our team's collaborative, deal-making and faculty engagement skills.

Q: How do you spread that perspective focused on innovation among others in the health system?

CC: A few years ago, Partners created a process improvement unit modeled after GE's Six Sigma teams. We are working with them to implement a new project that maps the innovator's journey throughout our system, from pre-discovery through commercialization. We think it's important to clearly understand the perspective of the Partners innovator and make our efforts as targeted and efficient as possible, especially as we want to increase our commercial outcomes.

Q: How is the innovation department organized? What is your strategy for executing deals?

CC: We organize ourselves in primary units reflecting PHS business development priorities: deal making, alliances, digital and system support, investment, asset development, corporate and technology strategy, international consulting, operations and finance. Some categories blend together depending on the opportunity. Functionally speaking, we need to be good at two primary modes of work. First, we are a high-volume shop. We do nearly 4,000 total contracts per year, with 3,869 in fiscal year 2019. That requires a fast-moving, high workflow organization and the tight systems that make that possible. On the flip side, our investment, revenue-bearing and alliance agreements typically involve intense attention to detail in the scientific, market, organizational arenas and require negotiating through highly complex issues.

We tend to earn our credibility with industry, investors and faculty with our ability to reliably execute in both categories. The high volumes weave us throughout the system and the intense negotiations yield the large collaborations and deals that move the needle, whether clinical or economic. In doing both, we work to consistently expand the innovation culture.

More articles on healthcare innovation:
A core piece of UCSD Health's innovation strategy is pontification: 'You have to be a visionary,' says innovation chief Matthew Jenusaitis
'At Stanford, it's a team sport': How Eric Yablonka is fostering innovation with Silicon Valley in his backyard
How Kindred Innovations has found success in an 'atypical' model of looking inward to branch out

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