Innovative Cities: Louisville, KY

I visited Louisville, KY last week for a short trip to meet some of the many innovators there who are focused on aging. Aging and long term care is one of the key elements of their economic growth strategy, together with logistics (they're one of the biggest UPS hubs), bioscience and tech. I'd not been to Kentucky before, and have to admit my ignorance about where it actually is (I presumed it much further south), and had no idea Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Louisville were within a proverbial stone's throw of each other. This note records a few of the colorful characters I met, who are united by a common thread of being exceedingly friendly and whip smart.

Clockwise from top left: An iconic bridge over the Ohio River, Jeff demoing Elektrotek, Hillbilly Cafe and scrumptous eggs, Churchill downs and paddock, Signature Healthcare HQ.

The trip was hosted by Innovate LTC - the International Center for Long Term Care Innovation - which is a newly formed local business group, part business accelerator, part networking organization with capabilities for distributing innovative products from elsewhere. Its funding comes from the University of Louisville Foundation, and Signature Health, a local senior care provider. In addition to connecting and accelerating local (and international) businesses, they're building an online mall to sell some of the products, and working with the local bioscience group Nucleus (below) to flesh out a physical work space to showcase cutting edge technology innovation in downtown Louisville. It's run by John Reinhart, together with Alicia Heazlitt and Bryan Yoffe. John and Alicia, like most white collar workers, spend most of their time in tidy offices and meeting clients in their nice offices, but to their credit they both recently spent time training to be Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs), which meant getting their hands dirty - very dirty - to learn first-hand about the job of the people who actually do most of the work in senior living facilities (good post on this experience by their boss here). So hats off to them, and especially to Alicia who did a wonderful job at setting up a full itinerary of fascinating meetings and trips for the inaugural (and certainly not the last) Aging2.0 trip to Louisville, including a visit to the Derby where I spent too much on losing horses and winning mint julips, and for tolerating my cluelessness about her wonderful State.

Dr Jeff Beaty is Chief Reearch Officer at the Signature Research Institute. He’s been pioneering a new approach to patient-centric long term care, and has reported some impressive results based on fairly common-sense approaches. Look for my post on him and his approach shortly.

Vickie Yates Brown is President and CEO of Nucleus - ‘Kentucky’s Life Sciences and Innovation Center’, as well as being a health-focused partner in a major law firm. Nucleus is a well connected consortium of the movers and shakers in Louisville's business community who are working to support the development of a new research park being created by the University of Louisville. Their plan is to generate 8,700 jobs over the next 20 years, and raise $2.3bn capital to support the development of companies in the health care and bio sciences field.


Bryan Ehret is CFO of MobileMedTek a company that is working to mobilize health products, and their first product, Elektrotek is in the prototyping phase. It puts 5 of the most commonly used hospital tests: ECG (Electrocardiogram), EMG (Electromyography), NCS (Nerve Condution Studies), EEG (Electroencephalogram) and Evoked Potentials into a portable box, with sensors and an integrated iPad. This not only provides one box to replace 5 or so large pieces of equipment that live in hospitals and are wheeled about on trolleys, but does it at markedly lower cost, and in an easily transportable form factor. It allows remote diagnosis, so both patient and physician's quality of life is enhanced, and they even found time to innovate parts of the existing process (e.g. making the sensor wires less likely to tangle). MobileMedTek is (somehow) one of only 3 official partners with Apple in the health arena. Below is the video I took of Bryan presenting his prototype - they've been scooping up local business innovation awards, and are now in the process of raising money. This is a promising company addressing an important need with a disruptive business proposition.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YJYNI6DtOHg]

Dr Joe Steier is the Founder of Signature Healthcare, and I suspect one of Louisville's more colorful, energetic and enterprising characters, and that's saying something, as the city lives in Technicolor. A husband, father of four, entrepreneur and author with a CPA, MBA and Doctorate in Education (from Wharton), he juggles multiple interests like one of the dough-throwers at the Bearnos 'Little Sicily' pizza joint in downtown, which he's owned since 1996. He's a busy man, and in our short conversation he demonstrated that one of the ways he manages is to talk incredibly quickly. In 1999 he joined Home Quality Management, rebranded it, and built it into Signature Healthcare - one of the region's fastest growing businesses, and winner of numerous 'Best Places to Work' awards. Joe's strong faith has influenced Signature's strategy, which is built on 3 pillars: spirituality, intrapreneurship and learning. Signature care homes have a resident minister, although they do not preach a particular religion. It was apparently quite a controversial move to have spirituality so closely woven into their mission, but it doesn't seem to have hurt their growth. Moreover, cutting edge work by Dan Buettner and his Blue Zones team - which look at areas around the world with high longevity - show that "attending faith-based services four times per month will add 4-14 years of life expectancy". The correlation may be more to do with having purpose and community, rather than religion per se, but either way, it's a fascinating topic.  I visited the Signature Health HQ, where they were just concluding a prayer day, and looked around their facility which included an incubator space for new companies. I also visited their skilled nursing facility at Louisville East, which currently accommodates 128 residents in either long term care or post-acute care (e.g. people recovering for a few weeks from major operations). I was struck by how smoothly the place was running, and how friendly the staff were, but it was also clear that there are major innovation opportunities, for example, while 80% of hospitals are piloting iPad apps to improve efficiency, I have yet to come across a senior living facility that is doing this. [If you know any, please add to the comments.] Connected to this is the lack of electronic medical records in senior living - a huge disconnect, given that physicians and hospitals are working hard (and being subsidized) to incorporate EMRs in everything they do, yet the connectivity breaks down around the most needy patients entering or leaving senior care facilities.

Ted Smith is director of the Economic Development Corporation for the city of Louisville, working for the Mayor, Greg Fischer. Ted combines being a terrifically nice guy with having an oversized brain; before being involved in the gritty day to day of running a city, he got a Phd in Cognitive Neuroscience (working with astronauts, as you do), did post-doc work at MIT, spent time as a tech entrepreneur, and most recently did a stint working with the innovation force-of-nature at HHS, Todd Park. As such he’s thoroughly briefed on the cutting edge innovations in the health space and how to get stuff done. Unfortunately, I met Ted after a number of mint julips, so had to work hard to keep up the pace.

Phew. A busy 24hrs.

So, big thanks again to Innovate LTC for putting this trip together and doing such a good job at showcasing their town. I'm excited by what they're working on, and you can bet that you'll be hearing from them, and their innovation agenda, again soon.


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