Submission Type

Innovation Highlight


Introduction: People with ideas about how to improve products and services often benefit from a structured process to test their ideas. The Innovation Cohort was developed to empower staff at MaineHealth to create solutions to unmet needs. This article describes the progress and perspectives gained over 3 years of the program.

Methods: The Innovation Cohort was loosely modeled on the National Science Foundation’s iCorp that emphasizes customer discovery and hypothesis testing early during development. Innovation Cohort applicants proposed a specific problem and answered 5 basic questions related to solving that problem. Selected participants shared readings and attended 5 in-person meetings focused on customer discovery, developing prototypes, and testing hypotheses at each step of development. In 5 cycles over 30 months, 62 people applied, and 24 projects were incubated.

Results: The projects independently attracted $130,000 in investments to advance the work. Projects were developed into commercial products for sale, published, and continue to iterate in a local accelerator. Connections formed among people and institutions that have not routinely collaborated on projects of this type.

Discussion: The Innovation Cohort model is useful for cultivating people and ideas that may impact care, education, and research across a health care system. The most significant challenge to scaling this type of work is not funding, but rather to retain the high intellectual friction and low social friction required to cultivate ideas.

Conclusions: With a structured but approachable process, a small team that values ideas and progress over hierarchy, and a little capital that can be deployed quickly, ideas can interact and progress in a learning health system.



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