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Texas Children's exec to help transform the hospital's approach to innovation

Myra Davis is responsible for Texas Children's Hospital's technology and innovation — two completely separate things, she says. Courtesy of TCH

A few months ago, Myra Davis got a whole other slew of responsibilities with the addition of just one word to her title: Innovation. The senior vice president and chief information and innovation officer of Texas Children's Hospital oversees a team of individuals not only focused on bringing in new technologies and ideas — but maintaining those processes.

Currently, the hospital is in a transition phase looking to better represent its ongoing innovation, as well as bring in new aspects of innovation. Along with Paola Álvarez-Malo, assistant vice president of strategic and business planning at TCH, Davis is looking to keep TCH at the forefront of hospital innovation and pediatric care.

Davis sat down with InnovationMap to discuss the hospital's transformation process and how, while the work together, technoogy and innovation bring two different things to the table.

InnovationMap: What has been your initial focus since assuming the “innovation” part of your title a few months ago?

Myra Davis: When I was appointed, I stepped back and asked myself how we can go about doing this. I knew it was more than the need for technology. We needed to begin to leverage data and a resource that can be agnostic to the organization to help drive strategy.

IM: Why is being both the innovation officer and the information officer important?

MD: Typically, an innovation officer would pass off a new technology to the information officer and hope that they keep it up. Innovation is more than technology. It's about change, and advocating for change in practices, how we hire, how we look at outcomes, and how we look at data. Innovation is radical disruption of how we do things today. It's a full-time job, and then it backs up into including startups and new companies.

IM: Where are you in the transition process?

MD: We're in a discovery phase, which is almost complete. It will drive an outcome of what the structure should look like for an organization of our size and magnitude, and what additional resources we need to have. For example, today to make an appointment, you need to call and make an appointment at the front desk. But we should be disrupting that process and leverage technology. We should have goals of decreasing calls moving forward. We don't yet have the structure to bring those ideas to the table, but that's where I see it going.

IM: How have you seen innovation become a bigger player in health care?

MD: Health care is always a service organization. We're here to serve patients and help them get better. I think clinically, there's always been a need to stay innovative because it's medicine. Now, we're seeing the need to infuse the behaviors of innovative thinking and acting in our operating models to meet the health care model of service. What I mean by that is the cost of care. The models must change because reimbursements are changing, populations are changing, the demand of patients have changed. When I started, we never had patients not wanting to come in for care. Now, patients are saying they don't want to come in because it costs too much. While there's been a plethora of technologies — we have a host of technology systems — but we're realizing we've only scratched the surface with the opportunities we have.

I often talk about the little "i" versus the big "i" in the word "innovation." The little "i" is leveraging what you have already — that's an innovative game changer. Then there's the big "i" and that's the commercialization of a product or partnering with a startup company and they go public. When we say innovation, most people think of that big "i" but it's a spectrum.

IM: What’s the big technology you see disrupting the health care industry?

MD: I think it's data science. It's a major breakthrough. For prescriptive, predictive, and descriptive reasons, we can't afford to keep doing things ourselves. The market is getting competitive, and we must get to decision making faster. You got to go with the data. You can't be so precise it keeps you from being creative, but you have to start with knowledge.

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Portions of this interview have been edited.

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Building Houston

 
 

Cheers Health has expanded its product line as it evolves as a wellness-focused brand. Photo courtesy of Cheers

Houston-based startup Cheers first got a wave of brand devotees after it was passed over by investors on Shark Tank in 2018. In the years since, Cheers secured an impressive investment, launched new products, and became a staple hangover cure for customers. When the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted businesses, the company rose to the occasion and experienced its first profitable year as drinking and wellness habits changed across America.

Cheers initially started its company under the name Thrive+ with a hangover-friendly pill that promised to minimize the not-so-fun side effects that come after a night out. The capsules support the liver by replacing lost vitamins, reduce GABAa rebound and lower the alcohol-induced acetaldehyde toxicity levels in the body. The company's legacy product complemented social calendars and nights on the town, providing next day relief.

With COVID-19 lockdowns and social distancing measures, the days of pub crawls and social events were numbered. Cheers founder Brooks Powell saw the massive behavior change in people consuming alcohol, and leaned into his vision of becoming more than just a hangover cure but an "alcohol-related health company," he says.

When the pandemic first hit, Powell and his team noticed an immediate dip in sales — a relatable story for businesses in the grips of COVID-19.

"There is a three day period where we went from having the best month in company history to the worst month in company history, over a 72 hour stretch," he remarks.

He soon called an emergency board meeting and rattled off worst-case "doomsday" scenarios, he says.

"Thankfully, we never had to do any of these strategies because, ultimately, the team was able to rally around the new positioning for the brand which was far more focused on alcohol-related health," he says.

"We found that a lot less people were getting hangovers during 2020, because generally when you binge drink, you tend to binge drink with other people," he explains.

He noticed that health became an important focus for people, some who began to drink less due to the lack of social gatherings. On the contrary, some consumers began to drink more to fill the idle time.

According to a JAMA Network report, there was a 54 percent increase in national sales of alcohol for the week stay-at-home orders began last March, as compared to the year prior.

"All of a sudden, you have all of these people who probably aren't binge drinking but they're just frequently consuming alcohol. Their drinks per week are shooting up, and they're worried about liver health," explains Powell.

Outside of day-after support, Cheers leaned into its long-term health products to help drinkers consume alcohol in a healthier way. Cheers Restore, a dissolvable powder consumers can mix into their water, rehydrates the body by optimizing sodium and glucose molecules.

For continued support, Cheers Protect is a daily supplement designed to increase glutathione — an antioxidant that plays a key role in liver detoxification — and support overall liver health. Cheers Protect, which was launched in 2019, became a focus for the company as they pivoted its brand strategy and marketing to accommodate consumer behavior.

"The Cheers brand is just trying to reflect the mission statement, which is bringing people together through promoting fun, responsible and health-conscious alcohol consumption," says Powell. "It fits with our vision statement, which is a world where everyone can enjoy alcohol throughout a long, healthy and happy lifetime,."

At the close of 2020, Cheers had generated $10.4 million in revenue and over $1.7m in profit — its first profitable year since launch.

During the brand's mission to stay afloat during the pandemic, the Cheers team was also laying the groundwork for its entry into the retail space. When Powell launched the company during his junior year at Princeton University, bringing Cheers to brick-and-mortar stores had always been a goal. He envisioned liquor and grocery stores where Cheers was sold next to alcohol as a complementary item. "It's like getting sunscreen before going to the beach, they kind of go hand in hand," he says.

"When we spoke with retailers, specifically bars and liquor stores, what we learned is that a lot of these places were hesitant to put pills near alcohol," he says. Wanting an attractive and accessible mode of alcohol-support, the Cheers team created the Cheers Restore beverage.

Utilizing the technology Cheers developed with Princeton University researchers, the Cheers Restore beverage incorporates the benefits of the pill in a liquid, sugar-free form. The company states that its in-vivo study found that the drink is up to 19 times more bioavailable than pure dihydromyricetin (DHM), a Japanese raisin tree extract found in Cheers products and other hangover-related cures.

"What we figured out is that if you combine DHM — our main ingredient — with something called capric acid, which is an extract from coconut oil, the bioavailability shoots way up," says Powell. He notes the unique taste profile and the "creaminess" capric acid provides. "Now you have this lightly carbonated, zero-sugar, lemon sherbert, essentially liver support, hangover beverage that tastes great in 12 ounces and can mix with alcohol," he explains.

The Cheers Restore beverage is already hitting the Houston-area, where its found a home on menus at Present Company. The company has also run promotions with Houston hangouts like Memorial Trail Ice House, Drift, and The Powder Keg.

Currently, the beverage is only available in retail capacity and cannot be ordered on the Cheers website. As Powell focuses on expanding Cheers Restore beverage presence in the region, he welcomes the idea of expanding nationally in the future to come. While eager customers await the drink's national availability, they can actively invest in Cheers through the company's recently-launched online public offering.

Though repivoting a company and launching a new product is exciting, the process did not come without its caveats and stressors. While Cheers profited as a business in 2020, the staff and its founder weren't immune to the struggles of COVID-19.

"I think 2020 was the first year that it really became real for me that Cheers is far more than just some sort of alcohol-related health brand and its products," says Powell. "Cheers is really its employees and everything that goes into being a successful, durable company that people essentially bet their careers on and their family's well-being on and so forth," he continues.

"It really does weigh on you in a different way that it's never weighed on you before," says Powell, describing the stress of the pandemic. The experience was "enlightening," he says, and he wants others to know it's not embarrassing to need help.

"There is no lack of great leaders out there that at long periods of their life they needed help in some way," he says. "For me that was 2020 and being in the grinder and feeling the stress of the unknown and all of that, but it could happen to anyone," he continues.

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