Joule, an innovation-fostering start-up launched last year by the Canadian Medical Association (CMA), is growing in several new directions in 2017. The company has added a new social innovations category to its next round of grants for physician-entrepreneurs (the deadline for all applications is May 1). Joule is also beefing up its innovation support system to help germinate ideas that aren’t award-winners (yet), launching an innovation platform later this year.
“There are a lot of great ideas out there but the biggest gaps are in getting them to market and scaling them up – so that’s where we come in,” says Joule CEO Lindee David (pictured).
The company had a good year in 2016, but believes it’s only the tip of the iceberg. Joule received 126 applications for grants from entrepreneurial doctors with bright ideas for healthcare solutions: 94 in the technology category, 22 in products, and 7 in process solutions, says David. “Most of these solutions displayed a high level of sophistication in their ability to transform a critical aspect of the system, improve patient care, and save physicians time and money.”
In 2017, David says Joule is changing the way money is allocated. “This year, we’re providing two awards for late-stage commercialized products that are in the marketplace: One for $50,000 and another for $25,000.
We’re also providing two grants of $25,000 for early stage ideas that aren’t in the market yet.”
A new category called social innovation is also being introduced, with an award of $25,000. “This could be an idea that involves climate change and its impact on health, for example, a carbon footprint tracker. Or perhaps an idea that tackles the opioid overdose crisis with an opioid tracker for physicians.”
Last year the final five grant winners were selected by Joule’s innovation council, which is comprised of 14 members. Eleven are physicians with established entrepreneurial records, three are successful business leaders with strong marketing and product development backgrounds, and one is a venture capitalist.
“They don’t just review grant applications – they also provide guidance and mentoring to grant recipients. Next year we’ll look at expanding that role by involving them in evaluations of some new products that we might want to bring into the marketplace.”
The four main selection criteria for receiving Joule grant money remain unchanged from last year, says David. “The number one criterion is: How is it relevant to Joule’s mission to help physicians do their best? The second is: What’s the potential to scale within Canada and beyond? The third is: What healthcare benefits does the solution bring to Canadian patients? The fourth: To what degree does it disrupt and transform our current approach to healthcare? We rank them based on these four criteria, and split them by percentages in terms of relevance, scalability, healthcare benefits and degree of disruption. We select the top 25 ideas, and then reduce them to five.”
There are about 30 products in the pipeline under review by the Joule team. Not all came in via the 2016 grant program – many were pitched informally over the year. Once the evaluation process is complete, these products could be made available to CMA members to test and use in their medical practices. “I’d like to bring at least one new product into our organization this year,” says David.
The Joule team is also building an innovation platform that it plans to roll out later this year. “We wanted a solution that could help doctors at all stages, from ideation right through to commercialization. It’s a collaboration platform that will help doctors whatever stage they’re at to engage in innovation discussions.”
The intent of the innovation platform is to create a support system for all CMA members, not just the grant recipients. “It will allow doctors to send questions and get feedback from CMA members. We realized after we launched the program last year that we needed to help all grant applicants, not just grant winners, to help them advance their initiatives.”
The platform will allow members to target their discussions and solicit feedback from the right people. “If someone is developing a solution in cardiology, they could target cardiologists for feedback. Or if people are interested in reviewing a product, the platform could provide them with an easy way to sign up for that and provide feedback to the innovator. There are several different things that we’ll be able to do on the platform.”
The Joule team plans to take a more active role in brokering relationships on behalf of its members in 2017. “If someone has an idea that hasn’t quite crystallized, we’ll match them up with someone on the innovation council to fine-tune the idea. If they’re looking for investors, we’ll help them make the right connections either with our council members or external organizations. Last year, we reacted to members asking for this kind of assistance, but this year, we’re going to be more proactive.”
David says Joule plans to expand its reach substantially this year. “We’re expecting to increase the number of applications to our 2017 grants by 50% over last year’s. And the innovation platform we plan to launch in the near future will help to increase the number of physicians engaged in innovation programs within Joule and beyond.”
To download the Joule app, visit https://www.cma.ca/En/Pages/joule-innovation-app.aspx