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Providence Hospital Chain: Catholic, Nonprofit...And Venture Capitalists?

Providence Olympia Facebook page

The state’s largest nonprofit hospital chain is getting into a new line of business: venture capitalism.

Providence Health & Services, which runs 34 hospitals and hundreds of clinics, wants to be a player in the startup scene. The Catholic-affiliated chain has created a venture capital fund with about $150 million to invest in companies pioneering new health care models, especially ones focused on technology.

Aaron Martin, who left a position at to run the venture fund, said Providence wants to be more than just a consumer of new health tech; the chain wants to help drive it.

“How do we make it easier to find a doctor and schedule online and perhaps even see a physician through telehealth? So how do you engage with it like you would in most other situations you would find on the Web today?” Martin said.

The nonprofit entity would then become part owner of the companies, and, like any shareholder, it will be trying to milk good returns from its investments.

Martin said the returns will feed into the health system’s mission. He added Providence will also partner with the companies, offering up their clinicians’ expertise and a handy place to test out new ideas. The chain hopes to help the new technologies and business models figure out how to operate in real health care settings.

A few other hospital chains have created these kinds of funds, which they say spur innovation faster than traditional practices.

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.