- Associated Press - Friday, October 30, 2015

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Startup companies with ideas for improving health care in Arkansas will get a chance to pitch their products to investors under a program announced Friday that organizers compared to the popular television reality show “Shark Tank.”

Baptist Health, which operates eight hospitals in Arkansas, and the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub announced it was launching HubX-LifeSciences, touted as the first such privately funded and industry-specific program in the state.

“Our modest goal with HubX-LifeSciences is to make Arkansas a national and world leader in developing better ways to deliver health care by harnessing the determination and creativity of business leaders and the free market,” said state Rep. Warwick Sabin, the Innovation Hub’s executive director.

The Hub, a nonprofit that offers training in areas such as computer programming and offers entrepreneurs ways to connect with potential investors for their companies and ideas, plans to introduce similar programs in the future.

Up to 10 startup companies focusing on digital health care platforms, health care services and medical devices will be chosen to participate in the 13-week program. They’ll receive initial seed investments ranging from $25,000 to $50,000 and receive assistance as they develop their ideas into products.

At the end of the program, they’ll pitch their products to investors. Grejuana Dennis, Baptist’s vice president of patient services and innovation, compared it to the ABC show Shark Tank, which offers entrepreneurs the opportunity to pitch products to wealthy investors.

“These companies will prepare presentations in hopes of securing additional rounds of funding from Baptist Health or other community investors,” Dennis said.

The program is accepting applications through Feb. 15, and the accelerator will be hosted at the Innovation Hub from April through June.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson praised the program at Friday’s news conference, saying it “really goes at the heart” of what the state is trying to do with improving health care.

“There’s an opportunity to have unlimited success in greater efficiencies in health care, in innovation and delivery, better health outcomes,” Hutchinson said. “And guess what? It could be some innovation that really takes off that makes Arkansas the micro hub for health care technology.”

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This version of the story corrects the second reference to Dennis.

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Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo

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