The future is female

Houston nonprofit launches accelerator program to give women-led startup a leg up within health care

Ignite Healthcare Network has hosted a pitch compeition for a few years now, but this is the first year for its mini-accelerator program. Courtesy of Ignite

Within health care, female consumers make 80 percent of the buying power while women hold 65 percent of the workforce's jobs, according to a recent study. However, when you look at the C-suites in the industry, those percentages fall drastically, says Ayse McCracken.

"For as many women as there are involved in health care, it's not reflected in leadership," says McCracken, founder of Ignite Healthcare Network. "That's what brought us together."

Just 30 percent of health care C-suites are women — and only 13 percent have female CEOs, per the report by Oliver Wyman. Houston-based nonprofit Ignite is an organization comprised of over 150 of these rare female health care execs and focused on clearing a path for future female leaders in the industry.

McCracken founded the network in 2016, and her team established a "Shark Tank-style" pitch competition. After three years of the annual event seeing successes, Ignite is introducing its inaugural mini-accelerator program.

"As we saw this innovation economy and startup space begin to evolve in the city, it seemed that our contribution to this was that we could help incubate and find companies that had high likelihood of success," says McCracken.

Ignite and its partners identified 13 female-led companies from all around the world were selected from over 80 applications and now will go through a 10-week program called the Customer-Partner Program. Each company is paired with a partner and potential customer — from Memorial Hermann and Texas Children's Hospital to Humana and Gallagher.

Here are the participating female-led startups:

  • iTreatMD from San Francisco
  • BabyNoggin (by Qidza) from San Francisco
  • Ria Health from San Francisco
  • Savonix from San Francisco
  • MotiSpark from Los Angeles
  • UpHold Health from Chicago
  • Sound Scouts from Sydney, Australia
  • Augment Therapy from Cleveland, Ohio
  • Oncora Medical Philadelphia
  • Materna Medical from Mountain View, California
  • Path Ex Inc Houston
  • PyrAmes Inc. from Cupertino, California
  • Spoke Health Denver

The Fire Pitch Competition will take place on October 17 at the Texas Medical Center's Innovation Institute. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in prizes is on the line for the 13 companies.

"This year's event is already receiving increased recognition from investors," says Ignite board member and event co-chair, Cheryl Stavins, in a release. "In addition to the top three finalists sharing awards that include entry into the TMCx Digital Health Accelerator, over $125,000 in professional services, and cash prizes of $10,000, Fire Pitch participants will be eligible for investment prizes."

The Texas Halo Fund will be awarding its $100,000 investment prize, called the Corona Award, along with a $50,000 prize from TMC Innovation Institute.

Beyond the new program, McCracken says she wants to expand Ignite's reach and capabilities for its members and startups — including new investment opportunities.

"I think what we're doing now is reaching out beyond Houston and looking at how we can continue to grow the opportunity to have an impact and help women-led companies and women in organizations," she says.

Ria Health took home first place at the third annual Fire Pitch Competition. Courtesy of Ignite Healthcare

All it takes is a spark for something to ignite, and, at the third annual Fire Pitch Competition by the Ignite Healthcare Network, eight female founders set the stage on fire.

The Fire Pitch Competition first started in 2017 to shine a spotlight on female entrepreneurs in health care. With two successful events under her belt, Ayse McCracken says she knew she could do more to help these women with their business ideas.

"What we discovered is that it's not enough. Startups get to pitch all over, and they want to invest their time wisely," McCracken says. "And it's not enough for the rest of the ecosystem — the customers — and the investors want companies that actually are investable."

So, this summer, McCracken and her team launched a mini accelerator. Thirteen companies participated in the Fire Pitch Customer-Partner Program that matched the companies with potential customers, pilot opportunities, and more. Participating customer organizations have included Humana, Houston Methodist, Memorial Hermann Health System, Gallagher, Texas Children's Hospital, Texas Children's Pediatrics, DePelchin, Next Level Urgent Care, University of Houston College of Medicine, VillageMD, and The Menninger Clinic.

Then, eight finalists of the group were selected to go on to pitch at the Fire Pitch.

Also new this year: More cash prizes. In previous years, the Fire Pitch has around $20,000 on the table. This year's awards doled out $265,000 in cash and investment prizes to six of the eight companies that pitched. The panel of five judges included: Babs Carryer, entrepreneur, and director of Big Idea Center for the University of Pittsburgh's Innovation Institute; Tom Luby, director of the Texas Medical Center Innovation Institute; Kerry Rupp, partner at True Wealth Ventures; Sarah Sossong, principal at Flare Capital Partners; and Andrew Truscott, managing director for Health and Public Service at Accenture.

Here's which companies took home prizes at the 2019 Fire Pitch Competition at the Texas Medical Center's Innovation Institute on October 17.

First place: Ria Health

Ria Health, a San Francisco-based elemental health practice that uses technology and care to provide treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder, was the big winner at the pitch event.

Jen Douglas, CFO of the company, took home first place and the $15,000 prize from Ignite Healthcare Network, but the company also snagged one of the new awards this year. The Texas Medical Center's Innovation Institute awarded Ria Health with a $50,000 investment prize. Ria Health previously participated in the TMCx08 digital health cohort, so the team is very familiar with Houston and the TMC.

Second place: SoundScouts

Sydney, Australia-based SoundScouts is on a mission to help early detection of hearing in school aged children. Carolyn Mee, founder and CEO, represented the company on the stage. She took home second place, which didn't come with an investment or cash prize.

Third place: Savonix

Savonix also didn't walk away with any money, but was recognized by the judges for founder and CEO Mylea Charvet's pitch. The San Francisco-based company is a digital cognitive assessment platform that can easily and cheaply gauge cognitive function.

Texas Halo Fund $100,000 award: PATH EX

The biggest winner of the night based on investment size was Houston-based PATH EX. Led by CEO and co-founder, Sinead Miller, PATH EX has a solution to hospitals' biggest killers: Sepsis. The current TMCx company has a unique pathogen extraction platform that can directly capture and eradicate bacteria.

Miller accepted a new award for this year's program that came with a $100,000 investment from the Texas Halo Fund.

Texas Halo Fund $50,000 award: PyrAmes 

One award wasn't enough for the Texas Halo Fund, which handed out a second new award to Cupertino, California-based PyrAmes. Presented by co-founder and CTO, Xina Quan, the company has created a wearable blood pressure monitor that is reliable and nonintrusive to patients. Quan accepted the $50,000 investment from the fund.

Houston Angel Network $50,000 award: Materna Medical 

San Francisco-base Materna Medical, which created a device to help protect and prepare expecting mothers' pelvic health ahead of childbirth, took home the last investment prize. President and CEO Tracy MacNeal presented the company and accepted the Houston Angel Network's $50,000 award.