Highway To Health: Rock Health Wants To Make Wellness As Fun As Guitar Hero

Halle Tecco, who founded the new health-care startup incubator Rock Health, is bringing in visionaries like the founder of Guitar Hero to help creative, innovative, and--dare we say it--fun health-care startups get off the ground.

Halle Tecco was working last year for the Apple App Store when she realized something: she was jealous of her coworker's job.

This was curious, because in some respects, Tecco was right where she wanted to be. A student at the Harvard Business School, she knew she wanted an internship in the health-care field. But at the same time, she wanted to work in a place filled with a spirit of innovation. Her job in the business development division of the App Store, with a focus on medical apps, ought to have been ideal.

"That being said, I was jealous of the woman who sat next to me," Tecco tells Fast Company. That woman who sat next to Tecco covered gaming, rather than medical, apps. "Every day, really interesting developers were coming in. There was lots of creativity around building a product, using all the features." Hospitals, meanwhile, seemed to create their apps almost reluctantly, as part of a "check-the-box strategy," recalls Tecco.

Tecco developed a business plan in a class, and that grew into Rock Health, a nonprofit incubator for health-care startups. Rock Health has been soliciting applications since the first of this month; that process will close May 13, and some dozen lucky winners will soon be receiving $20,000 grants along with a host of other startup support (legal counsel, design advice, mentoring, and so on). The cohort will be announced in June.

"We don't care if someone has health experience," Tecco says of the applicants. "In fact, if they have no experience in health care, it might even be better." Rock Health has a team of physicians willing to offer medical expertise.

Can Tecco really make health care as creative, innovative, and--dare we say it--fun as gaming? She's off to a good start, to judge from her partners. Charles Huang, who founded Guitar Hero, is on board; he has a longstanding interest in health care, and has volunteered to mentor startups that come through Rock Health.

"'Fun' is a word rarely associated with health," he tells Fast Company, in a great understatement. And yet consider for a moment the act of sprinting, and the game of tag. If a PE teacher takes a class outside to do sprints, they hate it. Have them play tag, and they'll do it voluntarily for 30 minutes without complaining. "Tag is sprinting, wrapped in a set of rules and objectives that makes it a game.  I know we can find many ways to make health, fitness, and wellness more fun."

Games drive adoption of new technologies, he adds. 3D, accelerometers, and gesture-control all found their footing in gaming. "Games have to keep innovating because the lifecycles of games are so short," says Huang. "Pharma companies are worried about patent expiration for blockbuster drugs. In games, few games will ever live long enough to see the end of a 17-year patent protection period."

Follow Fast Company on Twitter. Email David Zax, the author of this post, or follow him on Twitter.

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