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Ballad Health, ETSU announce “Appalachian Highlands Rural Innovation and Entrepreneurship Alliance”

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

In the past few months, we have spotlighted exciting new initiatives in the Appalachian Highlands region that includes Kingsport, Bristol and Johnson City.

Those range from this February teknovation.biz article highlighting plans for the renamed East Tennessee State University (ETSU) Research Corporation to new and expanded programs from the Sync Space Entrepreneur Center (Kingsport) and FoundersForge (Johnson City) and, most recently, this March 2022 teknovation.biz article about Ballad Health and its new Innovation Center and venture fund.

The announcement (see full release here) of the latest initiative came late last week with a new venture between Ballad Health and the ETSU Research Corporation that is expected to bolster regional efforts to enhance economic growth in the Appalachian Highlands, while also creating a national portal for rural health innovation.

Named the “Appalachian Highlands Rural Innovation and Entrepreneurship Alliance,” the new initiative will coordinate multiple local and national areas of research and idea development, particularly impacting the delivery of healthcare, through surveilling efforts, accelerating early stage development, translating research into business opportunities, and identifying scalable opportunities for investment, ultimately reshaping the overall economy, health and well-being of the region.

“We are bringing together the expertise, energy and know-how of the Appalachian Highlands together with a shared vision and vision around innovation and entrepreneurship,” said David Golden (pictured right), Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the ETSU Research Corporation and Allen and Ruth Harris Chair of Excellence in ETSU’s College of Business and Technology. “Aligning existing efforts like the STRIVE program and Rugged Buc Lab with the Ballad Health Innovation Center and the ETSU Research Corporation allows us to leverage the strengths the region provides.”

For Ballad Health Chairman and CEO Alan Levine, the latest collaboration honors a commitment made when Ballad Health was created to leverage the regional strength of the Appalachian Highlands, reaching across all the communities it serves in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia to enhance opportunities to turn good ideas into thriving businesses and economic opportunity.

“This center will not only leverage good local ideas into business opportunities for the region, but it will attract ideas from all over the world, which will support the enhancement of healthcare delivery and innovation, while also creating an ecosystem for those transformative ideas to grow and be put into practice all over the world,” Levine (pictured left) said.

Noting that “idea development and translation to business is important, but not entirely possible without capital,” Levine also announced that Ballad Health is seeding a new regional investment fund, specifically for rural health, with $1 million from Ballad Health, and the new fund will be open to other investors and entrepreneurs interested in innovation within the Appalachian Highlands.

“As the Alliance grows, we expect other investors and organizations will look to grow additional capabilities in diverse areas such as digital media, biopharma and data analytics,” Levine said.

The latest announcement comes on the heels of the creation of several centers at ETSU through partnerships between the university and Ballad Health, starting with the Center for Rural Health and Research, which, within two years of its creation, has received grant funding and a national designation as a rural health research center – alongside institutions such as the University of North Carolina and the University of Kentucky as leaders in rural health research.

Other collaborations include: (1) the Ballad Health Strong BRAIN Institute and Center for Trauma Informed Care; (2) the Appalachian Highlands Center for Nursing Advancement; and (3) more than $30 million annually in partnerships for the delivery of medical care and services throughout the region

Examples of opportunity in the innovation space related to rural health include: (1) development of an incubator for viable innovation in healthcare services, technology or programs; (2) operationalization of concepts, refining them from ideas to reality; and (3) utilization of existing seed funding and venture capital to invest in opportunities which will enhance growth of the businesses and provide a return to investors.

Golden, a retired Eastman Chemical Company executive, believes that his organization and Ballad Health are uniquely positioned to make meaningful advances in rural health, even becoming the Silicon Valley of rural healthcare. “In fact, it is already happening from within the university, from innovation occurring inside Ballad Health, and from ideas being developed by people throughout the region and nation,” he says. “This forward-leaning effort creates both a pathway for translation of ideas to execution and a mechanism for the creation of economic growth for our region and regional investment into these incredible ideas. This Alliance will help unlock engagement and participation from forward-thinking businesses and people to create the momentum that will drive our region into the future.”

ETSU President Brian Noland (pictured right)added that “We have had the expertise and vision for this level of innovation. Now, along with the creation of the Center for Rural Health and Research and the ETSU Research Corporation, ETSU has implemented the framework to organize and operationalize this work. Our university is already home to one of the nation’s leading health science centers in America, with a nationally ranked medical school serving rural America, a nationally ranked College of Public Health, Tennessee’s largest public nursing school, an innovative pharmacy school and other programs which, coupled with Ballad Health, create the perfect environment to encourage the development of ideas, to nurture and invest in them, and to enjoy the prosperity they will bring to the region when they are realized.”

The “Appalachian Highlands Rural Innovation and Entrepreneurship Alliance” is expected to organize throughout 2022, as it expands its leadership and invests in its first opportunities.

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