Editor’s Note: Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.
Crystal City’s rebranding as a hub for all kinds of innovation has a new entry in its portfolio: LiftOff Health, a new incubator for healthcare startups.
Founded by Michael Slage, an entrepreneur and former NASA employee who also founded Better Health Box and Healthengage, LiftOff Health is in office space above the Crystal City Shops, given to them for a six-month trial period by Vornado, and Slage said it’s the perfect launching pad for an industry that has gone curiously underdeveloped in the D.C. startup scene.
“A lot of angel groups and places like the Dingman Center don’t really invest in healthcare because they don’t understand it,” Slage said. Along with being an incubator and coworking space, LiftOff will serve as a vetting agency, helping to prepare investor presentations for its clients and validation studies for investors.
“We stand between companies — the risk-takers — and hospitals — the risk avoiders,” Slage added.
LiftOff will wear many hats, but the company still has to “figure out what we are,” Slage said. Is it an incubator, a coworking space, a trade association for healthcare startups, a nonprofit? All could theoretically apply, but Slage said the company is ready to assume all forms.
“It all comes down to how we increase innovation in healthcare,” he said.
There are a couple ways Slage and his cofounders, Sandeep Pulim, Ludmila Litvyakova and Pratik Patel, plan on spurring innovation. First, is a partnership with Marymount University. The school is in negotiations to invest in LiftOff, and partner to provide educational programming. In fact, Slage said when he brought the idea to MU President Matthew Shank, Slage said Shank’s enthusiasm was part of the impetus to start the company.
Second, Slage said he reached out to dozens of foreign embassies in D.C., whose countries are thirsty for better healthcare products. While the U.S. market is tough to break into because of daunting federal regulations, the barrier to enter the market in foreign countries is much lower. LiftOff is already capable sending its clients on a five-day “trade mission” to the United Arab Emirates to set up partnerships in one of the world’s wealthiest countries.
“In the UAE, there’s a huge need for the things we take for granted here,” Slage said.
Third, LiftOff is partnering with the increasingly vital TechShop, just a few blocks away, for a new “Health makers” program. Many of the startups the incubator hopes to bring on as clients will be building and testing new devices, and there are few better resources than the maker space in Crystal City.
LiftOff currently has 12 clients in its 5,000-square-foot space, and it’s looking for more. Slage and his team take equity in their clients’ companies — between 4 and 8 percent — or accept cash for a new tenant. LiftOff already has $500,000 in investment and is looking for another $500,000 to grow its incubator program.
Part of how the company has been able to take off so fast — they only entertained serious discussions around the idea starting last November — is its partnership with Vornado. Seeing LiftOff’s potential, Vornado gave Slage the space rent-free for six months “to see what we can do with it.” The space opened in January.
If the company is successful, there is hundreds of thousands of square footage in Vornado’s portfolio for it to grow into. Vornado and the Crystal City Business Improvement District are betting it will be.
“Liftoff Health is a great example of how our innovative ecosystem is taking hold,” Crystal City BID President and CEO Angela Fox said. “We have entrepreneurs, like Michael Slage, who are coming to us to kick off their ideas because Crystal City has what they need to be successful — TechShop, Crystal Tech Fund, a creative workforce, incredible access, location, and affordable space that can grow with them as they thrive.”
The number of services, events, programs and partnerships LiftOff Health is planning is almost too high to county. They will bring in lawyers and doctors for office hours, have seminars for healthcare professionals to learn about angel investing and start programs to develop a startup ecosystem for healthcare in D.C. much like there already is for government contracting.
It all seems rather ambitious, which means it fits right in in the new Crystal City.