August 7, 2020
Health Care in Florida: It Takes a Village

Photo: Norma Lopez Molina

Rick Wassel oversees Florida Hospitals Health Village in Orlando.

Health Care: Hospitals

Health Care in Florida: It Takes a Village

Florida Hospital has embarked on building a Health Village -- a major center for bioscience innovation -- near downtown Orlando.

Amy Martinez | 10/28/2014

Eight years ago, Florida Hospital began buying up land off I-4 north of downtown Orlando for an ambitious project it calls Health Village, looking to expand its health care outreach and create a hub for bioscience innovation and commercialization.

Hospital executives traveled to cities like Boston and San Francisco and studied other regions “to make sure we weren’t missing anything,” says Rick Wassel, the project’s executive director and general manager. “We’re creating a markedly different strategy around innovation, focused on the health care and life science space.” 

Health Village, a 172-acre mixed-use urban medical community surrounding the hospital’s main campus, is now taking shape. It includes a new research institute for diabetes and obesity started with Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute and a “prototype lab,” where doctors, engineers and scientists can use a 3-D printer to develop, build and test their medical inventions. Construction is under way on the first of three buildings for a bioresearch park offering wet lab space to health care companies.

Health Village will become Orlando’s second major bioscience center, smaller in acreage and more urban in feel than the 650-acre Lake Nona Medical City. Just east of Orlando International Airport, Lake Nona is home to the University of Central Florida’s medical school, Nemours Children’s Hospital and Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute.

In all, Florida Hospital and its partners expect to spend $1.1 billion over 15 years to develop Health Village. Wassel, who has been involved in the project since its inception, recently spoke with Florida Trend about the effort: 

Startup incubator: Health Village wants to attract both large and small entrepreneurs, from startups to mature companies, Wassel says. Plans include co-working space and a life science accelerator facility to help entrepreneurs move through the startup and commercialization process. “If they’re early, early stage, they may need co-working space, which is very inexpensive. Maybe you sit at a table for a few hours or a cubicle for a week or a private office for a month. We’ll have that space for you. If you’re a little more upstream and your business plan is developed, you may have two or three employees, and you may actually have a client or two and some revenue. Then, there’s going to be space for you inside the life-science accelerator.” 

Mixed-use community: By the time it’s complete, Health Village could have up to 2,000 hospital beds, more than a half-million square feet of medical office space, 550 residential units, retail stores, parks and a hotel and conference center. It’s also home to a SunRail commuter train station. Wassel believes a walkable environment where smart workers “collide” can stimulate collaboration and innovation — and appeal to millennials. “They’re very conscious about how they get to work and how much energy they’re using. And they’re conscious about this idea of collaboration and getting a lot out of work, rather than just punching in and out.” 

Cooperation, not competition: Health Village is equidistant from College Park, Winter Park and downtown Orlando, where UCF plans to build a satellite campus as part of a public-private project called Creative Village. It’s also close to a new crop of shared workspaces downtown and will complement local startup efforts, Wassel says. “There are going to be people working on great ideas sitting in these various co-working spaces who should be talking to each other. What’s great is we’re only one SunRail stop away.” 

That spirit of collaboration also extends to Lake Nona, where Florida Hospital plans to occupy a large new medical office building. At Health Village, the Translational Research Institute for Metabolism and Diabetes is a collaboration between Florida Hospital and Sanford-Burnham. “For innovation to occur, you have to be open, which means you collaborate with Medical City, you collaborate with Creative Village,” Wassel says.

Access to mentors: Providing entrepreneurs access to a capital network and a mentoring network is part of Health Village’s development plan, Wassel says. “When we looked at innovation economies, we found two things that were crucial to the success of their ecosystems. No. 1 was the establishment of a capital network. No. 2 was the establishment of a mentor network. There’s still a lot of siloed activity occurring across Florida, unfortunately.” One of Wassel’s goals is to gather up investors and subject-matter experts from throughout Florida and beyond and connect them to entrepreneurs at Health Village. “It’s really about aggregating and facilitating relationships in those two networks so that we can connect you to the right organizations to grow your company.” 

Market changes: Why help young companies grow? Wassel points to the “triple aim” of U.S. health care reform. It’s not enough to react to market changes, he says; hospitals now must understand “where the disruptions are occurring and position our health care system” to improve patient care, affordability and the health of the population. “That’s the triple aim.”

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