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Amazon Web Services just launched a health care accelerator. Here's why it matters.

By Eunice JeongTy Aderhold

August 2, 2021

    In June, Amazon Web Services (AWS) announced the launch of its new Healthcare Accelerator. The program will be a virtual four-week incubator, held later this year, for 10 selected U.S.-based, early-stage digital health companies using cloud technology.

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    Amazon has already had several well-documented ventures in the health space, such as Amazon Care, but this new announcement represents another step in a series of targeted moves to connect AWS directly to health care.

    AWS is the arm of Amazon that hosts its cloud computing services and APIs which organizations can purchase to build their platforms. It has long promoted early-stage startups across all industries with programs like AWS Activate, EdStart, Floor28 Tel Aviv, and the recent Space Accelerator (which is structured most similarly to the Healthcare Accelerator).

    AWS has also already made a few forays into the health care space. In 2020, it developed the Diagnostic Development Initiative in response to Covid-19 to support groups in using AWS to accelerate diagnostics research and development, which is ongoing through 2021.

    Just recently in July, it developed AWS For Health, a portfolio of solutions for health care, genomics, and biopharma, alongside open access to data management through Amazon HealthLake. AWS' moves into specialized startup accelerator programs and into health care make it reasonable that it would launch a Healthcare Accelerator program next.

    Based on other health accelerator models and AWS' past moves with accelerators, here are some early predictions we have for what the new Healthcare Accelerator could look like.

    The Healthcare Accelerator solidifies AWS as a go-to platform for health startups

    The primary benefit for startups participating in the Healthcare Accelerator—rather than one of the many independent or corporate/health system-sponsored incubators—is the AWS promotional credits and technical training that final participants will be awarded.

    Many successful startups have built their platforms with AWS cloud services. Having access to credits and support directly from AWS itself can boost new companies in ways they wouldn't be able to by themselves.

    This benefit might make the race to be selected as the final 10 Accelerator contestants even more competitive. Long-term, creating the Healthcare Accelerator can also further allow Amazon to widen their network of health care companies tied to AWS.

    AWS will expand into more niche topics within health care with accelerators and other ventures

    The Healthcare Accelerator may signal future investment plans in the health space. Some health-specific accelerators (such as StartX Med) were developed as an offshoot of larger existing accelerator programs (like the Stanford StartX network).

    If the new Healthcare Accelerator is successful, it might lead AWS to create more niche health care-focused accelerators and other programs in the future, possibly for areas such as medical devices or digital health.

    Having direct involvement and investment in early-stage health care companies with the Accelerator would allow AWS to better assess market segment opportunities and develop strong relationships with potential big-name innovators at an early stage, which would greatly benefit Amazon's influence.

    AWS announced the Amazon For Health initiative several weeks after the Healthcare Accelerator was revealed, indicating that it is moving in this direction for the future.

    AWS may eventually broaden the Healthcare Accelerator's scope, network

    For now, the Healthcare Accelerator is structured as a limited four-week program for only 10 final contestants. However, many of AWS' other accelerators and startup-related ventures involve more wider-scope, open access.

    For example, EdStart and AWS Activate both accept applications on a rolling basis and split their program into multiple tiers. EdStart offers the Innovators tier for the earliest-stage companies, and a separate Members tier which is for more advanced companies and requires a separate application.

    Activate has a self-funded/bootstrapped tier for earliest-stage startups with no outside funding, and a self-funded/funded tier for startups that have external funding. It appears that for now, AWS is sticking to a boot camp-style limited program for the Healthcare Accelerator, rather than a more open long-term collaborative program like EdStart. However, it is possible that in the future it will turn to a more long-term model with multiple tiers of membership and more open spots.

    Health-adjacent incubator programs are not new, but AWS' entry into the health care accelerator space is of special importance.  It represents Amazon's clear desire to move further into the health care space and highlights how the company can use its enormous scale, resources, and technological power to gain a foothold in the field of health care and health technology.

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