Health Care Maverick Building Home for Like-minded Innovators in Heart of Cascadia (Part I)

December 13, 2016

The Cambia Grove harnesses the innovative spirit of Seattle—already an established global tech and retail epicenter—on behalf of health care transformation. Since its founding in 2015, the Cambia Grove team has been working to create a vital health care hub where the Cascadia region's startups and innovators can convene with senior leaders from payers, provider networks and large employers to catalyze the development of tomorrow’s health care solutions. This 9,000 square foot physical space creates important connective tissue that combines the Cambia Cause—to serve as a catalyst to transform health care, creating a person-focused and economically sustainable health care system—with collaboration and real action.

At the heart of all this activity is Cambia Grove co-founder and executive director Nicole Bell. Nicole was recently named a Bronze Winner of the Stevie Awards for Women in Business, in the category of Maverick of the Year.

Nicole Bell joined us in conversation with Cambia Grove Community Executive David Shepard to talk about what the award means for the work she is doing to build a vibrant health care sector in the Emerald City. 

The Stevie Awards are awards for supporting innovation.

Nicole Bell: It was a tough competition, there were twelve finalists. [Finalists included] women who were leading unique business units within companies.

That must have felt like validation for the work you are doing to support innovation from within Cambia at the Cambia Grove.

Nicole Bell: It was surprising that our work could be recognized on a national front. We have regional impact by design. The nomination in the category of Maverick is also meaningful, because the term is heavily associated with men, institutions like the military and with power. Having a female leader of a health care space devoted to innovation is sort of an evolutionary breakthrough. It’s not about breaking glass ceilings. It’s taking a unique approach and surprising people with the outcomes. And that is the Cambia Grove completely. We have been continually surprised by the outsized impact we’ve had since we opened our doors.

Many people say that people in health care don’t actually innovate compared to other industries. The award speaks to how different what we’re doing at the Cambia Grove is.

Nicole Bell: There’s starting to be understanding of what we’re doing. We spent our first 18 months helping people understand that we’re not an accelerator, or incubator, or co-working space. People are coming around. We’ve always enjoyed the community’s gratitude for what we do, and we hold ourselves accountable to live up to the promise that we will innovate. Sometimes we prefer to use transformation to describe what we are doing. Transformation implies that you are at a starting point that is not ideal, and that you are behind or maybe broken. Transform is a more active verb that makes us feel like the vision we are working toward is achievable. That’s why I like the term better.

In order to do that, you need leadership but also people working together. What are the key things that have happened since the idea for Cambia Grove emerged?

Nicole Bell: We’ve seen meaningful change. In our 2015 census we wanted to catalog what was here already. We believed we needed to get better at incorporating innovation into our health care institutions. And that if we could do it in our backyard that would be ideal. But we had nothing besides feelings. In 2014, Point B and Life Science Washington had cataloged the local early stage digital health companies. They identified 45. Within a week or two of opening we had already met with more than 45 leaders of digital health startups.

We cataloged them ourselves in 2015 and found nearly 100. In our Economic Development report [for Washington state] we found 722 overall companies in digital health, health IT and health care services. So at least 1/7th are early stage companies. The sector is not small and they have economic power.  We’re cataloging not just Washington now but Oregon, British Columbia, Idaho and Utah, and we have a ground floor view on the young businesses in the region. And some of the results from our Anchor Partner program are also showing how we are able to help entrepreneurs catalyze their business.

Speaking of meaningful change, how does your participation in Social Venture Partners fit in?

Nicole Bell: It’s a collection of senior leaders who have been successful in their own right but want to give back to the community in a focused way. SVP focuses and organizes their efforts so that there’s a tangible, tactile benefit. SVP provides peer groups in our backyard and a strong presence in Seattle and Portland and that struck a chord for me. For their Fast Pitch, we can partner with young entrepreneur teams leading up to the event. The Cambia Grove has dealt primarily with one health care category – for-profit companies. We’ll have the opportunity through SVP to bring into our community a more diverse set of thinkers. I also gain a peer group of local, successful leaders who are like-minded in wanting to give back to the community through mentorship.

As an additional benefit, more people will understand how what the Cambia Grove is doing is relevant. SVP is doing a lot of things related to health care, but they haven’t focused on health care as a primary area. A lot of entrepreneurs in the Fast Pitches are focused on clean air, or solutions for rural communities, which address social determinants of health. That’s an upstream component of health care, and the root cause of a lot of health care ills.

That’s encouraging because it provides a focus and energy to keep that work in alignment with the Triple Aim. It sounds like it supports collaboration that is not siloed into one industry.

Nicole Bell: That’s what they see in partnering with us. Now we have to deliver for them. Looking upstream of when people hit the hospital is what it is going to take for us to create a more economically sustainable and person-focused health care system.

Want to read more about Nicole’s insights into innovation in the health care sector in Cascadia? Look for Part II of the interview coming soon.

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