West Wireless CMO: 'We're not giving money away'

The $90 million investment by Gary and Mary West in the West Wireless Healthcare Institute may seem enticing to someone with a startup mobile or wireless healthcare company, but don't get the wrong idea.

"We're not giving money away," Dr. Joseph Smith, chief medical and science officer for West Wireless, says. The organization is, however, helping to connect some promising small firms with potential investors, including the institute's own venture fund.

Smith spoke to FierceMobileHealthcare last week in another place some of the cash is going, namely the WWHI 36,000-square-foot headquarters building on Torrey Pines Mesa in tony La Jolla, Calif. Right now, much of the three-story structure remains unoccupied, but it's far more developed than when the institute started with just five employees in the same building slightly less than a year ago.

Three research and testing lab are in place and there is additional space designed to accommodate two more labs. The institution also has brought in the first five of an expected two dozen or so postdoctoral researchers, each of whom get two-year grants to pursue specific projects in wireless healthcare technology toward fulfilling West Wireless' five main purposes: to innovate, advocate, validate, invest and commercialize.

Smith, a cardiologist with a master's degree in electrical engineering and a Ph.D. in medical engineering and medical physics, understands that U.S. healthcare needs whatever help it can get. "We'll be making little connections continuously as opposed to salvaging the wreck," he says.

"It is easy to rail about what is wrong with healthcare. It is hard to come up with solutions that everyone can agree on," Smith adds.

One thing West Wireless will do with some of the cash is to help commercialize promising technology. "We will invent when we have to," Smith says. "We'd also like to leverage the scale of consumer electronics." In other words, Smith would like to see healthcare technology embedded into widely used products such as smartphones, video game systems and even flat-panel televisions.

And if more money is necessary to accomplish some of these goals, "Gary and Mary made it clear the resources would be available," Smith says. After all, the one variable Gary West can't really control in his other businesses is the cost of employee health benefits. Support some money-saving technologies in healthcare and West might see an improvement in the bottom line of for-profit West Corp.