5 Pivotal Moments — and 5 Lessons Learned — from Innovation Lab’s First 10 Years

A decade ago this summer, a group of like-minded healthcare system leaders came together to craft an innovation engine for their hospitals. In the simplest terms, the goal was to create an independent, self-sustaining organization that would identify great ideas from providers and staff members, turn those concepts into products, and get them across the finish line to market — all under the shared mission to change lives for the better.

At Innovation Lab, we believe there’s always a better way to do things: to make healthcare less intimidating for everyone, and especially for children; to design new devices and technology for patients; and to simplify delivery for providers. We also know that while innovation may begin with a sudden flash of insight, it takes years of patient work and collaboration to turn a great idea into a functional product.

In that spirit, I was recently reflecting on five of my favorite moments from Innovation Lab’s first decade:

  1. When we saw our first product on retail shelves. The WingSling, which elevates the hand and wrist comfortably and effectively after surgery or injury for optimal recovery, arrived at CVS in 2017. Going to the store to see the display for the first time was a thrill, and I’ll never grow tired of the experience of holding a Lab-developed product in my hands. Ideas are great and get things started, but to achieve our mission, products must be made available to the people who need them. Five years after the WingSling launch, we had 22 products in the market. Most importantly, those products have collectively improved nearly a half million lives. 
  1. When we launched our first digital innovation. We discovered that an IT employee at a member hospital had designed healthcare-related shapes and symbols to use in Microsoft Visio, which allows for visual storytelling related to process mapping and improvement in the healthcare setting. The VisuFlow software add-in that evolved helps users incorporate healthcare-specific imagery. This was an important early win for the Lab, and you can still license the product today.
  1. When we launched a Lab product overseas. In collaboration with hall-of-fame astronaut, physician and innovator Scott Parazynski, we developed hot and cold medical compression packs with a proprietary design that provides uniform coverage while allowing a full range of motion. Strive therapy packs became our first products offered outside of the United States, with distribution in the United Kingdom. Having Dr. Parazynski as a collaborator brought a new spotlight to our work and mission.
  1. When we accelerated our work to meet an urgent need. We launched the BayWin Closed Circuit Valve during the pandemic, going from a 3-D prototype to a production run of 5,000 in two months. This device, developed in collaboration with a respiratory therapist and pediatric cardiologist, allows providers to suction airways or transport patients without breaking the ventilator circuit — an innovation that helped them safely deliver respiratory care during COVID. It was a testament to the power of teamwork, as we met daily and sometimes around the clock to get it to market quickly. The BayWin valve earned recognition from Fast Company for “Innovation by Design.”
  1. When a Lab innovation captured the national spotlight. Last fall, we had the chance to tell the world about the Move-D brace, which gives young patients like its namesake, Dylan, more independence while living with upper-extremity tremors. Our innovation team was selected from 150 applicants to present this design at the national pitch event for children’s medical device ideas during the 10th Annual Pediatric Device Innovation Symposium in Boston. The team won a $30,000 prize to continue development of the brace.

The lessons we’ve learned in the past 10 years

The journey from concept to commercialization is never simple or straightforward. Innovation, by its very nature, requires space and time to experiment, make mistakes, backtrack and try again. In 10 years, we’ve reshaped and refined the process of healthcare innovation — and here are a few of the things we discovered in the process.

  1. Having a space to collaborate is crucial. Opening our initial office in Newport Beach, CA was the spark that ignited our work. Ideas are often created while on the front lines, where providers and staff are finding ways to overcome hurdles in healthcare. But our dedicated facilities are where we turn those ideas into something real, with a lab where tinkering, collaborating and asking “what if?” generate marketable devices, apps and other products with unique impact. Our integrated space serves as a collaborative environment for sparking the next idea and delivering on our mission.
  1. Innovation can come in unexpected forms. The word “innovation” is often synonymous with high-tech and digital advancements — but it doesn’t have to be that way. Dr. Sujit Vijay Sakpal brought us a novel study guide for surgical residents preparing for the rigorous oral board exam. He offered a true innovation in the field: problem-solving, methodical, algorithmic approaches with thorough explanations for patient-based case scenarios, coupled with his own sketches of different procedures. We had never published a book, but we figured it out! You can now order Surgery Vade Mecum directly from Amazon.
  1. Maximize the ROI on failures. We learn as much from the innovations that falter as we do from the ones that soar. Take our spin-off of a pharmacological platform that assessed drug efficacy and safety based on a person’s genomic profile, which was our first joint venture with a hospital member. Headwinds from FDA regulations released shortly after we created the company and slow adoption from clinicians, coupled with the pandemic in 2020, created significant barriers to company growth. This taught us the importance of timing. Another example was a mobile app to help patients suffering from congestive heart failure manage their post-discharge care. On the first day of our pilot, we learned many individuals lacked smartphones and so couldn’t use the monitoring tool. Here we learned how critical it is to deeply understand your customer. The lessons learned from those cases and others have informed later, successful innovations. We’re not afraid to take calculated risks, because we’re smarter every time we rebound.
  1. Make people the priority. The heart of Innovation Lab is our team of smart, talented, passionate people working in every stage of the innovation cycle — a rarity in the industry today. Many incubators focus only on a slice of that pie, while we nurture innovators and their products from concept to commercialization. With that much in-house talent, the Lab as a whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts.
  1. Tighten the focus. In our early days, to build awareness, we focused on capturing every great idea and seeding a culture of innovation within our member systems. Now that we have a deep pool of great ideas, we’re intensifying our outreach to engage with the right commercialization partners with the right strategies to bring the strongest ideas and products to market. Through this effort, we have cultivated a pipeline of innovations valued at $27 million and counting.

What’s next?

 Both within our member healthcare systems and externally, we’ve earned our name as a place for providers and staff members to bring ideas. It’s still a select pool of concepts that make it to market via Innovation Lab, as our rigorous evaluation and market-based assessment process selects only those innovations that have real potential to transform healthcare.

We firmly believe in sharing knowledge with others, and have recently launched our inaugural Innovation Bootcamp, which is a series of virtual education courses for anyone interested in bringing forward innovative ideas to improve healthcare. These courses will help unleash more moments of brilliance and teach others how to bring great ideas to market.

Today, our focus is on building relationships with commercialization partners who recognize the value behind the products the Lab brings to them. We are also growing our network of health systems as Innovation Lab Subscription Partners and Member-Owners of The Innovation Institute. We will continue to value and rely on the robust participation of our health system partners to elevate our collaborative work over the next 10 years – and beyond.

We’ve brought innovative products to market that are delivering impactful improvements in healthcare delivery and helping us achieve the goal we set in the very beginning: to change lives for the better.


Interested in partnering with Innovation Lab on the commercialization of exciting new products and services? Reach out anytime and let’s talk.

Ryan Kelly is general manager of Innovation Lab. With more than 20 years of experience in research, innovation and commercialization, Kelly is a scientist-turned-health-innovation-expert at the forefront of biomedical research, commercialization and transformation.