Austin medical Innovation District would generate $800M, 2,800 new jobs, study finds

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A successful Innovation District in downtown Austin, focused on advancing health and medical technology and sciences, would generate hundreds of millions of dollars in output and create thousands of jobs in the next 10 years, a new study finds.

The Downtown Austin Alliance and Capital City Innovation, who commissioned the analysis, will release the results Tuesday. KXAN got a first look at some of the report’s key findings ahead of its publication.

Bounded by 11th Street, Interstate 35, Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard and San Jacinto Boulevard in the northeast section of downtown, the Innovation District already includes the Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin and the Dell Seton Medical Center.

Work has already started on the site of a new office tower in the emerging Innovation District. (KXAN Photo/Chris Davis)

Redevelopment projects are already underway to transform the former University Medical Center Brackenridge Hospital into a new 17-story office building. An emerging Innovation District would combine those projects with existing health infrastructure and Austin’s startup culture to stimulate growth in the city’s health sector.

“We have a lot of potential here,” said Michele Van Hyfte, vice president for urban design with the Downtown Austin Alliance. “We have all the ingredients.”

The study found an Innovation District would do the following in the next 10 years:

  • Generate $800 million in economic output
  • Create 2,800 new permanent jobs
  • Increase available jobs for people without four-year degrees by 27%
  • Increase land values by 53%

Austin Mayor Steve Adler and state Sen. Kirk Watson are scheduled to speak at an event Tuesday morning to release the full report.

‘There’s a lot of energy and momentum’

ClearCam, a medical device startup currently based out of a medical co-working space called MedtoMarket in south Austin, is an example of the healthcare ecosystem at work.

The company’s CEO, Dr. John Uecker, is a surgeon and leader at Dell Medical School’s division of surgery and perioperative care. He approached UT engineering students with a problem he wanted to solve.

Surgeons use a tool called a laparoscope, a small camera, to see inside patients during minimally-invasive surgeries. But blood and tissue can stick to the lens, obscuring the image, and surgeons have to pull the scope out, wipe it off, then re-insert it to pick up where they left off.

Uecker wasn’t happy with that and pitched the problem to an engineering professor for a design class.

“After we were at it for about a year and a half, we thought the solutions that they came up with would have some real traction and decided to form a company and keep going with it,” Uecker said.

Dr. John Uecker demonstrates the ClearCam device on Monday, Jan. 27, 2020. (KXAN Photo/Chris Davis)

The solution they’re bringing to market is a piece of equipment that attaches to traditional laparoscopes that the surgeon can manually turn to wipe off the lens while the camera is still inside the patient. “Think windshield wiper for a laparoscope.” The device saves time on the operating tables, Uecker said, and thus reduces the risk of complications.

ClearCam expects to get FDA approval for the device within the next month.

One of the students who came up with the idea, Chris Idelson, is now ClearCam’s vice president of engineering. “There’s a lot of energy and momentum around the healthcare ecosystem right now,” Idelson said.

Healthcare professionals partnering with UT students to create a medical startup is a prime example of the kind of process the Innovation District’s advocates want to foster.

“We hope to be an example for others to follow as this medical innovation district grows here in Austin,” Uecker said.

Finding the right recipe

Redevelopment work continues on Waterloo Park. (KXAN Photo/Chris Davis)

The challenge in creating an Innovation District is figuring out the right way to bring together the ingredients that already exist in the city, Van Hyfte said.

Office and development space need to combine with existing healthcare infrastructure and communal spots, like the redeveloped Waterloo Park within the district’s bounds, to encourage growth, she said. “It looks like creating a place, creating a vibrant, complete neighborhood where all of those different community partners can come together and have a place to work together, meet together and make those innovation moments happen.”

Even for companies like ClearCam that are not located within the district, encouraging the growth of a geographical area is a positive for the ecosystem as whole, Uecker said. “The appetite for innovation is very strong here,” he said.

“I think it’s the perfect recipe for a successful medical innovation district.”

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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