Leadership People and Companies

One on One with Sherrick (Rick) T. Wassel

Guided by mission, economics and opportunity, healthcare is one of the most innovation-driven industries in the world and one ripe for disruption.
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IQ Orlando & Florida Hospital

Guided by mission, economics and opportunity, healthcare is one of the most innovation-driven industries in the world and one ripe for disruption. Every day, breakthrough technologies are brought to market as well as processes that can reduce costs and increase efficiency. Sherrick (Rick) Wassel has kept Florida Hospital at the forefront of this quest by building collaborative alliances with area stakeholders and leading healthcare and life science companies, while providing a platform where breakthroughs meet real world application. Though Wassel admits that today Orlando is not on the shortlist as an innovation tech hub, as managing director of IQ Orlando, he believes the day is fast approaching when Orlando will be recognized as one of the centers of the innovation economy.

EW: You have a very unique role in this healthcare system. How did you get here?

RW: I was in financial services, commercial real estate and banking before coming to Florida Hospital, so technically I am still in my first healthcare job. I have always been in a new venture, corporate strategy role over my 19 years here. I’m not a clinician or an operator; I do early-stage development and launch strategic initiatives and then hand them over to capable operators who turn them into successful businesses. Because I have been in that new venture or corporate strategy space, when new directions are being considered by Adventist Health or Florida Hospital, many times I end up being connected to them.

EW: Like IQ Orlando or Health Village? Is this sort of visionary, forward-thinking activity typical with healthcare organizations?

RW: There are a lot of strong hospital systems as well as other healthcare organizations – public and private – working in the space of new ventures. We hope to differentiate ourselves with the IQ Orlando model by creating a new corporate partnership between Ginsburg Health Sciences, Florida Hospital, Tavistock Group and UCF. Each founding member brings unique strengths and resources to IQO, which in turn help support Orlando’s and the State’s innovation economy and entrepreneurial ecosystem. We have to look at how to be disruptive across the full healthcare continuum. We believe it is one of the top four sectors that requires disruption, along with government, financial services and energy, though some would add others.

EW: Give me an early example of how this trend was launched at Florida Hospital; how are these ideas developed?

RW: Usually they begin with a team of individuals exploring or going through an idea vetting process. At Celebration, Adventist wanted to create a leading edge facility, not just another hospital campus. In that case, it was to design a hospital that was a national and international destination. We focused on developing competencies through specific service lines which would allow us to recruit top talent, both physicians and clinicians, and recruit or partner with organizations that were leading in the healthcare space.

To pull that off, we had to reconsider the physical design of the hospital, the medical staff model and the type of services we would provide, beyond the typical needs of regional stakeholders. To achieve this objective, we went to leaders in the healthcare space that weren’t providers, like medical device and healthcare IT companies, biotech and some pharmaceutical companies. We asked ourselves, ‘Could we partner with leading innovators, both clinicians and corporate partners, to develop a medical model and a physical campus that delivered care in a more advanced way? How do we take solutions and find a home for them?’ To do that, we had to think differently.

EW: Explain how that worked?

RW: For instance, we used to just be in a supply chain relationship with the medical product and device companies. They had products and we used our size and volume to negotiate the best price. But we said, ‘What if we spoke to different parts of those organizations that were focusing on product development, strategy and those trying to solve big-big problems in healthcare?’ Our thinking was, ‘If we are talking to them earlier in the development curve, we might be able to provide some solutions.’ Florida Hospital created Strategic Venture Group in 1998, whose job is to go out and work with those companies on various challenges in every sector of the healthcare equation, similar activities as to what Disney refers to within their organization as their ‘Corporate Partnership’ program.

EW: It isn’t just high-tech equipment, but processes as well?

RW: Yes, our goal is what we call the triple aim: reduce per person cost of healthcare; improve clinical outcomes; and improve the health of the general population. Every hospital is focused on this objective. Our challenge is, how does the whole system work synergistically to deliver on this target? We looked at best practices outside of the healthcare industry that we could apply within it.

EW: So you essentially vet ideas, technology and products that are then used across your system and others?

RW: That is what we began to do at Celebration Health and now IQ Orlando. Fast forward, we developed the Executive Health Program and Health Village with this end in mind. The Executive Health Program was designed to engage the decision-makers across corporate America at the highest level, to keep them healthy, knowing they would be able to impact the health decisions of their employees.

Just like the EDOs go on fact-finding and best practices trips, back in December 2013 there was a three-day staycation, called One Orlando, so Orlando’s thought leaders could get a better idea about what was happening right in the Orlando area. About 150 leaders came together to get a handle on what was happening outside those industries that we are primarily known for: tourism, leisure and real estate. I am referring to modeling and simulation, aerospace and defense, digital media, arts and entertainment, life science and healthcare and advanced manufacturing, etc. Many didn’t know the leaders in those sectors and what was going on. We realized that if we were going to advance our brand as an innovation economy, with its own tech clusters, there were steps we had to take.

EW: For instance?

RW: Out of that, we launched IQ Orlando, with the idea of, ‘What would happen if we built some structure around Central Florida’s life science and healthcare cluster?’ We would participate, but we couldn’t be the only one. We now have UCF, Tavistock Group, Florida Hospital and the AHG Group as the initial founding members. Our mission is to develop and grow this cluster.

We have three goals and objectives of that mission.
1) Organic growth and development – Which is identifying technology and intellectual property that is across the state, which by leveraging the collective strength of IQ Orlando they can get the resources and capital to stay and grow here, so that we aren’t just a great exporter of talent and companies. 2) Recruitment – We believe we can compete with other areas where it is very expensive to grow and develop a company, like California, New York or Massachusetts. Getting on the short list with national and international health care and life science companies is a priority. 3) Investment through access to sources of capital – We found that other innovation economies and knowledge communities have two common themes among others: access to capital and access to a mentor network. Meaning, subject matter experts and individuals with deep domain knowledge in specific areas that early to mid-stage companies can draw on. You need people to come as advisors, board member or hires.


This article appears in the June 2015 issue of i4 Business.
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