ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – On Jake Rishavy’s third day at his new job with the Denver South Economic Development Partnership, his boss, Mike Fitzgerald, walked into his office, dropped a thick binder on his desk, and asked him, “What can we do with this?” The binder contained a 300-page report on the local healthcare industry, which an economist had compiled for the organization.
“Denver South had spent a year prior to my arrival researching trends in healthcare,” explained Rishavy, director of innovation at Denver South. “Healthcare is a major industry in this part of Denver, and we wanted to better understand how we could add value to it.”
Tasked with fostering commercial activity along the stretch of I-25 between I-225 and Lone Tree, Denver South regularly recruits out-of-state companies, works closely with policymakers, and runs a business retention program to ensure the economic vitality of Denver’s southern neighborhoods. But, from time to time, the 35-year-old non-profit also engages in projects of a less traditional kind.

“Economic development as a practice is radically changing right now,” said Rishavy. “What worked five years ago isn’t necessarily going to work in the next five years, and it may not even be working right now.”

After reading the report, Rishavy began meeting with the members of Denver’s startup community to identify the needs of what the report had called the healthcare industry’s emerging “digital health” sector. It was the beginning of a project that would enabIe partnership with Innovation Pavilion.

Building The Ecosystem
Vic Ahmed helped launch the Prime Health Collaborative. “When Jake first approached me, I had just launched Innovation Pavilion after five years of researching entrepreneurial ecosystems around the country,” explained Vic Ahmed, the cofounder of Innovation Pavilion. “From my research, I knew that digital health was trending. But when Jake showed me his report, I saw there was an opportunity to turn this region into a digital health hub.”
In partnership with Innovation Pavilion, Denver South launched the Prime Health Collaborative in early 2012. An attempt to convene Denver’s emerging digital health sector, the Collaborative consisted of monthly meet-ups and an annual summit. Within months, Rishavy and Ahmed had enlisted a team of passionate volunteers that included Pam Peccolo, Kerianne Leffew, Ray Hutchins, and Nim Patel.
“For the next three years, we worked together almost on a daily basis,” said Rishavy. “We realized that no organization had yet convened this industry because it was still nascent, and that the people we were meeting didn’t know one another because they had never been brought together.”
The Collaborative set about remedying this situation, hosting monthly gatherings at Innovation Pavilion that grew from a dozen people to several dozen to nearly a hundred in the organization’s first year. During this time, Dr. Arlen Meyers, president and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs, began to help the Prime Health Collaborative build an inventory of local digital health companies.
“We started engaging with the first 25 digital health companies we identified, asking them about their barriers to and opportunities for growth,” said Rishavy. “Our goal from the outset was to connect them with the resources that existed in the community to accelerate their development and encourage job creation.”
By mid-2013, the Collaborative had hosted two Digital Health Summits, and had held meet-ups at Galvanize in downtown Denver, at TechStars in Boulder, and at Innosphere in Fort Collins. As its membership grew, Rishavy began to see an opportunity to turn the Collaborative into a community of national prominence.
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