On November 7th, about 120 healthcare enthusiasts gathered to collectively map out the healthcare innovation ecosystem in Minnesota.

I have to admit, this was an experiment. Our events are usually semi-structured panel discussions or talks featuring a healthcare entrepreneur. For years now, I have been discussing who healthcare.mn could be and what I could do; so I decided to stop talking and just test it out.

Part 1: Storytelling

First, I acknowledged that most of the interactions at our events are surface level. However, healthcare is so personal. So, I featured storytellers who discussed their journey, why they work in healthcare, and what keeps them going.

I kicked us off with a story about her upbringing as a first generation American, and the cultural and intersectoral nature of healthcare. I highlighted the innovations I’ve seen in the most plain places, and shared my dream to open the innovation umbrella so that people are connected to resources that can turn their makeshift solutions into viable career opportunities. I challenged the group to tap into their personal drivers for working in healthcare, and to humanize healthcare by sharing these stories with colleagues and customers.

Michelle Chaffee described how her mother’s improper care after a stroke led her to figure out a solution for caregivers and accidentally become the founder of tech venture alska. She received validation from people who used the product and found it meaningful. Her question to our group: How does your idea meet a need that isn’t currently being met?

David Amor shared how a very personal and painful healthcare experience sparked his interest in the field. He saw an opportunity to assist healthcare companies by using his expertise in regulatory affairs. David became sick of the lack of early stage healthcare startup funding, so he decided to put some skin in the game by becoming an angel investor. His challenge to the group: What particular area of expertise can YOU continue to nurture and share with the Minnesota healthcare community?

Jazlynn Paige illuminated the fact that healthcare is felt strongly in other sectors. As a school psychologist, Jazlynn often tests and diagnoses students with untreated mental illness — noting it as a driver for behavior and performance in school. In addition, she shared a story in which a student who was often acting up turned out to be deaf in one ear and suffered from vision problems. Once treated, he was able to follow along with class proceedings. Her challenge to the group: How can we provide low-income uninsured or underinsured families with healthcare without sacrificing quality?

Kurt Waltenbaugh questioned, if with enough data we can predict bankruptcy or divorce, why can’t we do the same with healthcare outcomes? He emphasized that although we know that at least 60% of health drivers are outside of the clinic, the US spends twice what it should on healthcare. His solution, Carrot Health, taps into behavioral data to help healthcare companies understand their consumers’ cost drivers. He challenged our community’s consumers to question everything, and the large company executives to move faster.

Last, Muhammad Abdurrahman recounted how his experience with childhood asthma, and his close friends’ suicide attempt influenced his ability to envision products that would have to work because he depended on them. He created a smart watch to give control back to his father who was debilitated by a stroke and heart attack. His question to the group: What would change if you knew you’d have to rely on your projects final product/service?

Part 2: Intelligent Matchmaking

While I allot time specifically for networking at all of our events, there is a small chance that attendees will make strategic connections. Therefore, after the storytelling portion of the event, I asked everyone to take out their phones and head to Collaboration.ai. Each attendee entered their name, email, and answered a few questions. Within minutes, attendees were sorted into 11 groups of 9 or 10 and settled at tables to get to know each other a little better. Collaboration.ai believes that by using their tool, you can increase the chance of strategic connections. We plan to conduct similar tests at future events, and optimize the results through feedback from attendees.

Part 3: Ecosystem Mapping

Somehow, the first two parts of the event stayed on time, and at 7:30pm we began the last portion of the event: the mapping activity. I facilitated the groups to essentially “brain dump” on to post-its all of the resources they were aware of that supported Minnesota healthcare startups, entrepreneurs, and innovative projects; and to jot down all of the healthcare startups and innovative projects in Minnesota. The groups then categorized this information by visually grouping them on the white boards, and discussed what was missing from the ecosystem — writing those down on red post-its. Each attendee got “vote-notes”, which they used to indicate resources they had never heard of, or categories of healthcare that needed the most innovation.


Quite a few attendees reached out saying that they had found very strategic connections in their groups, while others felt that they were misplaced. Regardless, most groups noted having had great conversations at their table. We got very positive comments about the format of the event, the ability to get so many different types of people in the room, and the sheer energy felt during and after the event.

From Healthcare.mn’s perspective, the outputs of the event were surprising. We were astonished by how many resources exist to support healthcare innovation in Minnesota! We ended up with over 90 resources, many of which we had never heard of (validated by the number of vote-notes participants attributed to them). We were interested to find many resources in the wrong categories, as well as resources that fit into many categories. Both at the event and in emails afterwards, we were asked to share these resources — illuminating a need for a resource map of sorts.

We anticipated that we would end up with a pretty comprehensive list of healthcare startups in Minnesota, but instead saw many of the same startups repeated across groups and in multiple categories. Even some of the startups that Healthcare.mn has featured through events were nowhere to be found! We’re not sure what this means — is there a need to curate an up to date list of early stage healthcare startups in Minnesota? Is it helpful to see which customer segments, problems, or sub-sectors of healthcare startups are addressing, or are people more interested in just starting their own? Feel free to provide feedback by commenting on this post or emailing hello@healthcare.mn.


Now, what you’ve all been waiting for… the visualization of the outputs created at the event! We appreciate your patience; as many of you know, we are volunteers working on this after our day jobs or school. We know what we have is a meager start, but the plan is use continue to collectively update and reorganize this data in a way that is useful for our members, and develop and design programming and initiatives that are driven by these insights. What we overwhelmingly heard is, we need a resource map for healthcare innovation… well, here is a start. Your feedback is very welcome (by commenting on this post or emailing hello@healthcare.mn), and we look forward to seeing you at future events!!

Click here to see Resources for Healthcare Innovation in Minnesota

Click here to see Healthcare Startups and Innovative Projects in Minnesota

Glafira Marcon
leads Healthcare.mn, Minnesota’s home for healthcare innovation and startups. They serve over 1400 members by organizing events that bring together all healthcare industries, curating programming for aspiring entrepreneurs, and connecting early stage founders with established players.

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