Blue Cross Blue Shield forms innovation hub to partner with startups

03 Jun 2015 3:18 PM | Deleted user

retrieved Jun 3, 2015   |   Boston Business Journal   |   Jessica Bartlett 

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts has found a new way of innovating in health care: partner with fledgling startups.

The state’s largest insurer has been investing in startups for the last two years through its investment arm Zaffre Investments, partnering with companies that can provide new services to its members.

But lately the insurer is going one step further, discussing with fledgling companies what needs to be created to better the health care system, and acting as an accelerator program to more closely foster innovation.

“As we were thinking about our new location here (at 101 Huntington Ave.) and what could we do differently to be that convener, it struck us as an opportunity,” said Jason Robart, president and CEO of Zaffre.

The innovation hub concept has so far materialized into a competition through startup connector Elevar, bringing 150 companies to the insurer to help develop solutions. The insurer wanted companies to solve one of three problems: engaging with millennials, engaging with baby boomers, and engaging with communities around health.

“In almost all cases, they were companies that had a product or idea already,” Robart said. “It was a great example of a two-way street of innovation. These were some smart folks with great ideas. We were able to give them the payer’s perspective and with a few tweaks, it might address a different problem.”

The companies were since narrowed down to three. Zaffre is in the final stages of putting in place a pilot program with one of the companies focused on engaging baby boomers and seniors.

The process is helping Blue Cross have a hand in the innovations being developed from the ground up, as well as continuing to diversify Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts’ business – the insurer typically takes an equity stake in exchange for funding.

Already Zaffre has invested over $10 million in a variety of companies, including Ovuline, a fertility and pregnancy app that helps the insurer better connect to its members using the app, and InformDNA, which acts as a counselor to patients and to insurers to make genetic testing more streamlined and efficient.

“We realized that as we think about how the market is evolving, the opportunity for us to get closer to where innovation is happening in the market was going to be critically important, particularly as we thought about things like consumer engagement, and … how do we start to think differently about individual consumers that need support,” Robart said.

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