Alphalab Health is based at the Allegheny General Hospital Suburban Campus in Bellevue. Photo courtesy of AHN.

AlphaLabHealth, a healthcare and life sciences accelerator, will soon launch in Pittsburgh, serving as an innovation hub for the life science sector, advancing medical technologies and making early-stage investments. It’s the result of a collaboration between Allegheny Health Network (AHN) and Innovation Works.

The goal is not to take ownership of companies, says Dr. Jeffrey Cohen, AHN’s chief physician executive for community health innovation, but to provide the tools, resources and space they need to grow and thrive.

“We do a lot of innovative projects and have launched a lot of programs over the years but this, this one checks so many important boxes for us,” says Rich Lunak, president and CEO of Innovation Works.

“For one, it’s a terrific program that helps regional entrepreneurs in the life sciences and fills some important gaps,” Lunak says.

“Secondly, we’ve made a concerted effort in recent years to try to integrate corporate partners more, because they can add so much value. And to have one of the region’s largest providers — Allegheny Health Network — be willing to work, and collaborate with us to help entrepreneurs, is huge.”

And there’s a community development goal, he notes, in helping to restore the Suburban General Hospital in Bellevue, closed since August, 2019, where AlphaLabHealth will be located.

Cohen says it will likely take over 25,000 square feet, space that is being upgraded now. Built 130 years ago, the 230,000 square foot hospital is  used to be quite a community asset for that region. As the steel industry died, the hospital did as well.

Cohen had an epiphany while reading the book, “And the Wolf Finally Came,” by Western PA native John Hoerr, about the decimation of the steel industry and the economic effect on communities such as McKeesport, Braddock and Homestead.

“I realized this isn’t just steel, this is healthcare,” says Cohen. He made it his mission to repurpose the community asset, turning it into an innovation campus to “deal with the economics of the community and measure it with a healthcare lens.” They are now in the process of restoration, working on a community kitchen for bakers, food trucks and others that will eventually help feed those in need.

AlphaLab Health is a piece of that much bigger project, the Allegheny General Hospital Suburban Campus, which Cohen now oversees. “That’s a really cool angle to this,” says Lunak.

“The focus for AlphaLab Health is on the biotech community in Southwestern PA,” says Cohen, who is also an entrepreneur who started and owns Penn Image on Penn Avenue. “It’s giving them a home to get started and a way of injecting innovation back into the healthcare system.”

“We think that this is not only a remarkable program for Pittsburgh but really is a national best practice,” says Lunak, who adds that it is a great way to attract and retain talent in the area.

The combination of the facility and the close collaboration with Allegheny Health Network will allow them to attract entrepreneurs from across the country, Lunak notes. “The only comparable program I can think of in the United States is at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in LA,” he adds.

Innovation Works, which operates AlphaLab and AlphaLab Gear,  had been talking about a health component for several years. “And right around that same time, we started to talk to the team from AHN. There seemed to be a lot of mutual interest in it, and it sort of evolved from there.

Maybe the greatest advantage in having them as a partner is the support and resources they provide which will speed up product testing, get entrepreneurs in front of health care experts and reduce barriers in numerous ways, says Lunak.

There are all sorts of components of this relationship that benefit the entrepreneur and help us to do what we plan on doing in a more streamlined fashion, he says. Because of that, and the fact that it’s a cohort-based model with deep education mentorship and investment, there’s nothing else like it in the region.

“We are collaborating with everybody in the region,” he adds.

While they have accepted three startup companies for the first cohort, they have yet to announce them. Cohen says they hope to get going by November 1. Interested startups can apply here.

Tracy Certo

Tracy is the founder and Editor at Large of NEXTpittsburgh which she started in March 2014 and sold in December 2020. She is passionate about making Pittsburgh a better place for all and connecting people to do the same.