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Sprint forms mobile health care business accelerator

Updated: 2013-09-25T03:04:55Z

By MARK DAVIS

The Kansas City Star

Sprint Corp. has launched a business startup program in Kansas City with Techstars, the same partner that Microsoft brought to Seattle and Nike to Portland, Ore.

Techstars, based in Boulder, Colo., has worked with more than 300 young companies through 11 business accelerator programs like the one Sprint announced Tuesday.

Together, they hope to tap into and expand the Kansas City area’s entrepreneurial surge and expertise in life sciences through the Sprint Mobile Health Accelerator.

“For them to partner with Sprint is a tremendous shot in the arm for Kansas City,” said Thom Ruhe, vice president of entrepreneurship at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

Ruhe said the Sprint Accelerator adds to a growing collection of opportunities for business startups in the area, such as SparkLabKC, the Pipeline fellows program and Entrepreneur Scholars at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Ruhe said Sprint’s involvement provides a big difference given all the resources it has available.

“It’s a beautiful match,” he said.

The Sprint Accelerator is a 90-day program in which 10 young businesses will gain access to funding, technology, expertise, investors and executive mentors — including Sprint chief executive Dan Hesse. The accelerator plans to repeat the program annually.

It seeks out businesses nationwide that can connect health care with mobile devices.

Dylan Boyd, managing director of Techstars, said Kansas City gained the group’s attention from its growing accomplishments as a tech startup center and its support for entrepreneurship.

Techstars operates accelerators in Boston, New York, Chicago, London, Austin and other cities.

“Kansas City has been quiet, but there’s been so much going on here,” Boyd said.

The Kansas City area, between 1990 and 2010, saw one of the greatest increases in high-tech business startups relative to its population, according to recent reports from the Kauffman Foundation.

That growth established a footing for a more recent surge that has gotten more attention and has been fueled on several fronts.

The Kauffman Foundation founded weekly gatherings of startups called 1 Million Cups, which it plans to expand to 20 cities by the end of this year.

This month, Kansas City saw the formation of a $25 million entrepreneurial investment group named FlyOver Capital as a response to the Big 5 initiatives of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.

The Sprint Accelerator also reflects a convergence of entrepreneurship, technology and life sciences here.

Google Inc. chose the Kansas City area as the first market for its high-speed Google Fiber Internet connection, which it has since expanded to Austin, Texas, and Provo, Utah.

The Kansas City area is the home of Cerner Corp., a leading provider of information technology to hospitals and physicians, and the Stowers Institute for Medical Research.

Jackson County is asking voters in November to approve a half-cent sales tax to support medical research.

Kansas City stands at the center of an “animal health corridor” that describes research, business and education activities from Manhattan, Kan., to Columbia.

The Sprint Accelerator brings that together with Sprint’s expertise in wireless technologies.

Organizers offered several potential paths for that convergence, such as wearable technology that monitors health and activity, mobile apps able to diagnose, products to help with care for people or pets, health products that interact with smartphones, and ways to work with big data to improve health care and costs.

Sprint, the largest producer of private patents in the area, is opening its testing labs and research facilities at its Overland Park campus to the budding firms. Sprint’s network engineers also will be available.

Techstars will provide the winning applicants $20,000 in exchange for a 6 percent stake in the businesses.

Each company also will have the option of raising $100,000 from Sprint, which will buy bonds that can be converted into stock in the new business. And they will be able to pitch their business plans to angel investors and venture capitalists.

The young businesses would locate in the accelerator site in Kansas City for the three-month program. Organizers hope most or even all of them remain local enterprises, though the program is open to applicants nationwide.

Sprint teamed with Techstars partly to draw the attention of entrepreneurs outside the Kansas City area, said Kevin McGinnis, Sprint’s vice president of development.

Mentors form the heart of the program, which has lined up 64 mentors, of an anticipated roster of 85 to 100, to work with the accelerator companies. Many come from the ranks of Sprint and Techstars.

Others are executives from a mix of local and distant sources including Truman Medical Center, Hallmark Cards Inc., the Kansas City Area Life Sciences Institute, Google Play, Microsoft, Facebook and Amazon.

How to apply

Applications are due Dec. 6. Go to SprintAccelerator.com.

To reach Mark Davis, call 816-234-4372 or send email to mdavis@kcstar.com.

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