A look inside Anthem's new digital incubator

As healthcare continues to evolve, legacy players are aiming to be the first to gain access to the latest innovations.

At Anthem, that effort has meant launching its own Digital Incubator, which pairs financial backing with mentorship and opportunities for partnerships with universities and corporations.

"Essentially, we are looking to get access to cutting-edge healthcare products," said Kate Merton, staff vice president and head of Anthem Digital Incubator, in an interview with Fierce Healthcare. "We work with our entrepreneurs early in the cycle to make sure they're developed with the mindset of the payer, of the consumer and the provider all in one."

ADI offers a number of pathways for innovators to take and operates in both digital and physical platforms, with its first incubation space opening in Palo Alto, California.

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For one, the incubator hosts challenges for would-be innovators to compete for prizes while developing solutions targeting key health issues. This week, ADI opened applications for community health challenges, with specific focus areas targeting health literacy, food insecurity and medication adherence.

On health literacy, for example, the challenge aims to find solutions for people with chronic illnesses, seniors and people who speak English as a second language to help break down barriers for them in navigating the wealth of data on healthcare and conversations with providers.

Eligible companies must be younger than five years old and must own the intellectual property for their concepts, Anthem said. The insurer plans to announce the winners in April.

Other challenges have focused on maternal health, with winners of the $25,000 prize set to be announced next month, as well as on innovative solutions to address COVID-19.

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Merton said these challenges allow the incubator to take a targeted approach to tackling critical issues. The social issues at the center of the community health challenge, she said, are common ones found among Anthem's members.

"Healthcare is a big ocean to boil, and you never get anywhere by trying to do everything at once," Merton said.

In addition, ADI has entrepreneurs in residence who are given the opportunity to work alongside the payer's leadership and other executives, including through one-on-one mentorship.

Entrepreneurs are assigned a navigator who will offer coaching, strategic insights and access to other experts within the organization and who is aligned with the target markets of the incubator company.

Merton said an example of this might be bringing the entrepreneur in to work with the Anthem team on a consulting project.

"Getting to work with a payer upfront is instrumental to making sure not only do they get access to patients in the market, but have the experience to build the right product," she said.