Deep in the heart of Chicago, a group of innovators is working to solve some of the most difficult healthcare challenges. Meet MATTER, a three-year-old community with an innovative mission: help startups of all stages of growth solve the right healthcare problems in the right ways; bring together health systems, industry executives and investors to learn, connect and collaborate; and help businesses define their challenges, identify solutions and innovate faster.
Nestled in Chicago’s Merchandise Mart, MATTER is housed in a state-of-the-art 25,000-square-foot space. This space was designed by healthcare and life sciences entrepreneurs, industry leaders, and innovators to facilitate communication and collaboration between different areas of healthcare. The location includes workspace, meeting and learning areas, and specialty healthcare environments.
Highlights of MATTER’s advanced office space include the AMA Interaction Studio, which replicates an outpatient environment where entrepreneurs and healthcare workers can work side-by-side. and “The Shop,” a medical device prototyping lab where tinkerers and entrepreneurs can perfect tomorrow’s medical technology.
What exactly does MATTER do?
MATTER’s website states that “complex healthcare challenges aren’t solved in silos,” so the organization equips, emboldens, and empowers entrepreneurs from across the healthcare industry to tackle these challenges together. Using their unique three-prong approach, MATTER aims to create a cohesive environment where professionals from different disciplines can work together.
The organization equips healthcare innovators with the knowledge and tools they need to be successful. The MATTER Curriculum has more than 100 classes designed for innovators and taught by entrepreneurs, subject matter experts, and university faculty. MATTER’s mentorship programs connect entrepreneurs with more than 300 experts from across the ecosystem.
Empowering Healthcare Innovators
MATTER also emboldens innovators by fostering a community of like-minded professionals with the singular goal of solving healthcare challenges. There are regular fireside chats, keynotes, and panels so entrepreneurs and professionals can stay up-to-date on the latest innovations in the healthcare field. MATTER helps to empower healthcare innovators by providing access to players from across the healthcare industry, from venture capitalists, physicians, and pharmaceutical professionals to hospitals, IT companies, and medical device producers.
J.B Pritzker, an Illinois-based venture capitalist and Founder of Chicago’s technology hub, 1871, believes MATTER will help entrepreneurs in the biotechnology field incubate their ideas. “Over the next decade, this entire healthcare sector will be transformed, as we experience an entrepreneurial revolution in medical devices, sensors, diagnostics, data collection, and data analysis,” Pritzker said.
The organization’s goal is to facilitate communication between different aspects of the healthcare ecosystem and create programs that enhance collaboration between stakeholders in different disciplines.
Founder Jeffrey Aronin
One of the industry influencers the organization provides access to is 25-year biotech and healthcare veteran, Jeffrey Aronin. As the founder of MATTER, Aronin believes Chicago should work to become a leader in the field of biotechnology. “With our depth and established companies, universities, and hospitals here in Illinois – and along with the rapid advances of medical technology generally – Chicago has the opportunity to become an unparalleled leader in this sector,” Aronin told CBS Chicago.
In addition to Founding MATTER, Jeffrey Aronin is the co-chairman of the MATTER board. CEO of Paragon Biosciences, and Non-Executive Chairman of the Board at Harmony Biosciences and Castle Creek Pharma. As part of MATTER’s “Tales from the Trenches” series, Aronin explained what sparked his passion for pharmaceuticals.
While shadowing a physician, he met a young patient who suffered from serious, chronic seizures. There were few treatment options other than to remove a portion of the child’s brain. The family, understandably, was devastated and afraid. As a last-ditch effort, the doctor gave the child a very new medication that could potentially help the seizures subside and, remarkably, it worked. Aronin said that seeing the family’s relief and jubilation ultimately led him to a career in biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.
After discovering this passion, Aronin served as president and CEO of Ovation Pharmaceuticals, a company he founded in 2000 which was acquired by Lundbeck, Inc. in 2009. His current company, Paragon Biosciences, LLC, invests in and incubates growing biotechnology companies that help people live longer and healthier lives. Paragon recently launched two new companies, Emalex Biosciences, founded to develop therapies for central nervous system disorders, such as Tourette Syndrome, and Skyline Biosciences, founded to develop first-in-kind oncology therapies to treat premalignant and malignant conditions with unmet medical need.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed Jeffrey Aronin to the executive committee of World Business Chicago and he is also a regular lecturer at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and Northwestern University Kellogg School of Business.
Three Successful Years
In February 2018, MATTER celebrated its third birthday with CEO Steven Collens sharing an update regarding the company’s accomplishments over the previous year: in 2017, MATTER hosted over 300 events and 150 educational workshops for professionals throughout the healthcare industry. It also guided 21 teams through “Chicago Innovation Mentors,” a 6-month-long mentorship program for science-based ventures.
MATTER held two healthcare innovation challenges and launched a series of strategic conversations called “Immersions.” These conversations centered around the aging population, health data analysis, and precision health. MATTER also launched “3.8,” an initiative to recruit women for healthcare startup boards. The company has already made strides in this field, and there are currently five women on the board of directors. Across the United States, 70 percent of startups have no women on the board of directors.
Matter’s Industry Leading Board Members
MATTER’s board consists of 23 senior leaders from across the healthcare spectrum, from physicians to professors. Among them is Ellen Rudnick, a Clinical Professor of Entrepreneurship, and a Chicago Booth & Executive Director at the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation. Thomas DeRosa, CEO of Welltower, a leader in healthcare real estate. DeRosa is a frequent speaker on the aging population, and the devastating impact dementia has on different populations.
MATTER is currently working with the Consulate General of Canada to help Canadian entrepreneurs enter the U.S. job market, thereby working towards one of MATTER’s chief goals to expand its community and continue to recruit top-tier professionals to grapple with today’s healthcare problems.