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TMC Innovation debuts new “alpha” program for early-stage innovations

Held the third Thursday of every month, the program is open to anyone employed in the Texas Medical Center


By Alexandra Becker | July 15, 2019

It is said that ideas shape the course of history—but how does an initial spark catch fire? It’s a question Lance Black, M.D., associate director of TMCx, is hoping to help answer with the creation of TMC Alpha, a new program debuting this week at the TMC Innovation Institute.

Open to anyone employed at the Texas Medical Center, the program aims to guide individuals or groups who have ideas for improving health care or who are struggling to move beyond the earliest stages of innovation.

“This is a way for anybody who has an idea to walk into the TMC Innovation Institute and get formal support,” Black said. “It could be a nurse who has a seedling of an idea to a research group that’s been working on a technology for some time and is now thinking about spinning out a company. We want to support those at the earliest stages of consideration for commercialization — to point you in the right direction.”

Held on the third Thursday of each month, the new TMC Alpha program is split into three parts: a lunch-and-learn from noon to 1 p.m., opportunities to pitch from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., and one-on-one “office hours” from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., where attendees can meet with advisors for personalized coaching and guidance. There is no formal application process and no cost for the services offered.

Register here for the first session of TMC Alpha, to be held Thursday, July 18 at noon.

Black said he hopes TMC Alpha will entice individuals with clinical backgrounds who may have great new ideas for health care but don’t know much about starting a business.

“Physicians, nurses, administrative staff—they all have a nuanced understanding of the unmet need,” Black said. “You have to be in the weeds living it day-in and day-out to be able to appreciate the nuances, and it’s from those nuances where real solutions come.

“We’re trying to invite those people … into what is really going to make technology progress to the next stage, and that is commercialization opportunities,” Black continued. “Part of our goal is trying to make sure they avoid the expense and time spent in areas that aren’t going to be fruitful for the development of a company.”

The TMC Innovation Institute has more than 200 advisors, as well as community partners who can support commercialization efforts, Black said.

“It’s about matching people with the right skill sets to these innovators so they can take it forward to the next step,” he added.

Lance Black, M.D., associate director of TMCx.

TMC Alpha is also partnering with some of the innovation hubs embedded within Texas Medical Center hospitals and institutions to promote collaboration and provide a direct line between clinical settings and entrepreneurial experts.

Stuart Corr, Ph.D., director of surgical innovation and technology development at the Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery at Baylor College of Medicine, is one of a handful of ambassadors appointed to the new program.

“TMC Alpha can be very proactive in its approach and get things done very quickly,” Corr said. “They understand what’s at stake.”

“All of the institutions within the TMC should view this as a resource that can give value back to their own institutions and to their employees,” he added.

TMC Alpha will complement all the other work and research taking place within hospitals and other institutions.

“These institutions already do a lot to support internal innovation,” Black said. “We want to be able to complement that. We don’t want to take the place of these resources; we want the innovators to go to their internal support systems and then come to TMC Alpha when they’re in need of next steps.”

William “Billy” Cohn, M.D., vice president for Johnson & Johnson Medical Devices Companies and executive director of the Center for Device Innovation at the Texas Medical Center (CDI @ TMC), was tapped to speak at TMC Alpha’s first lunch-and-learn session.

Black said he hopes the monthly sessions will be casual and flexible—that attendees come dressed as they are, stay for as long as they like and return for future guidance as many times as necessary in order to propel their ideas forward.

“Being able to execute on a good idea and bring it to fruition is challenging and rare,” Black said. “I think TMC Alpha will ultimately be how we can best support local innovation and local companies.”

To learn more or to RSVP for a spot in the program, email alpha@tmc.edu.




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