How Partners HealthCare encourages employees to innovate in one word: Money

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I just got some good advice from Salesforce president Keith Block about how a large company can innovate like a startup. But there’s one strategy he forgot: cash.

Partners HealthCare has started cutting $50,000 checks to employees who come up with creative new treatment ideas that could be commercially viable. The awards must be used to fund projects and are part of the health care network’s Innovation Development Grant program, unveiled Thursday.

Partners plans to make this an annual contest to encourage doctors and researchers to think beyond current practices.

“Our vision is to foster the spirit of innovation that exists among our 60,000 employees, as well as encourage first-time innovators,” said Chris Coburn, Partners’ vice president for innovation.

The first 20 winners — chosen from among 350 applicants — have ideas that include new treatments for ovarian cancer, and kidney and liver disease; a nonsurgical alternative to gastric bypass surgery for patients with type 2 diabetes; and sensors for monitoring anesthesia in pediatric patients.

Partners already helps employees take health care products to market through its Innovation division, led by Coburn. The company owns the intellectual property rights to employees’ inventions and splits the proceeds of commercial licensing agreements, with 25 percent going to the creator, 25 percent to his or her lab, 25 percent to his or her department, and 25 percent to Partners. The grants should accelerate commercialization efforts, said Anne Klibanski, the company’s chief academic officer.

“Working successfully with industry is a high priority for Partners HealthCare,” she said. “This new program is an important tool to speed the breakthrough innovations of our staff into new, patient-benefiting products.”

Nothing like 50 grand to make you think outside the box, eh?

Cal Borchers is a business reporter for the Boston Globe. Reach him at callum.borchers@globe.com.
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