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A new home for health innovation

Sharecare is proud to call Atlanta home for many reasons, not the least of which is the confluence of factors – including its public- and private-sector activity, postsecondary institutions, entrepreneurial culture, and more – that have long established it as the epicenter of global health. However, as Maria Thacker Goethe, CEO of the Atlanta-based Center for Global Health Innovation (CGHI), has said, “Our renowned institutions and many of the private entities that support the industry have longed for a place for these groups to call their shared home.”

That’s why several years ago we jumped at the opportunity to join a collective effort, led by Maria and her team at CGHI, to bring together the world’s leading players in global health, health technology, and life sciences in a shared home, right in the heart of Atlanta.

The new Global Health Innovation District, inaugurated in December 2021, will solidify Atlanta’s status as the world’s global health capital. Located in a 47-story Midtown high-rise formerly occupied by AT&T, the District is expected to be a major job generator and innovation center, accelerating corporate and private investment, building and attracting businesses, and developing the region’s unparalleled diverse talent base into the workers of tomorrow. The initial hub, consisting of 200,000 square feet of conference center, laboratory, and office space, will house a diverse set of stakeholders including renowned incubators and accelerators, corporations, NGOs, universities, health systems, midsize-small businesses, community groups, and venture funds.

The effort to launch the District, made possible by support from Sharecare, Transwestern, and an anonymous West Coast foundation as well as the input of hundreds of organizations, capitalizes on several characteristics of Atlanta that are necessary ingredients for catalyzing innovation:

  • The players in the District have a vision of the future that is significantly different from the status quo. Our vision of health – to be differentiated from the “wait-till-it’s-broken” healthcare system we have in the U.S. – prioritizes well-being for all people, with equity built in from the start. As Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens explained during a December 2021 press conference announcing the District, we need to “make sure we have healthy communities,” which are related to social determinants of health (SDOH) like housing, crime, food access, and more. Mayor Dickens has pledged to make social determinants of health a key focus area for his administration, and the District will help other communities around the globe to do the same. Just last week, CGHI announced that it will use a grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration to deploy community health workers across Georgia, Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Kentucky, Michigan, and Texas to build COVID-19 vaccine confidence in vulnerable and medically underserved communities.
  • Atlanta has superb institutions of higher learning such as Emory University, Morehouse School of Medicine, and the Georgia Institute of Technology (also CGHI partners) that advance cutting-edge research and train the next generation of healthcare providers, public health practitioners, technologists, scientists, and more.
  • Atlanta’s entrepreneurial culture is unquestioned. In the five years leading up to 2021, venture capital investment in local tech businesses surged to $2.1 billion, with roughly half of that amount being invested between 2020 and 2021.
  • Atlanta has the necessary ingredients for meaningful public-private partnerships. These are hard to do right but are mission critical. The presence of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) alongside a growing list of Georgia-based for-profit and not-for-profit organizations in life sciences and digital health, many of which already partner with the CDC and other fixtures of the global health community, presages exciting collaborations.

When Jeff Arnold, Sharecare’s chairman and CEO, asked me to join the digital health company from the World Economic Forum a little over a year ago, he described the vision he had for the District as a catalyst for positive change in people’s lives, helping to realize a goal of becoming “all together better.” That vision has carried us through the hard work of setting up this new district, and I’m excited to see how the partnerships forged here – thanks in great part to the leadership of Maria and her team – will advance and scale well-being transformation both locally and globally.