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Venture philanthropy and AI’s growing place at Sharp

By The Health News Team | May 14, 2024
Kelly Ko, Macalah Vanleeuwen and Dr. Rick Lemoine of Sharp HealthCare

(L - R) Kelly Ko, Macalah Vanleeuwen and Dr. Rick Lemoine, who are spearheading the advancement of health care innovation at Sharp.

Kelly Ko, PhD, Sharp HealthCare’s vice president of innovation and strategic initiatives, recently held a workshop for physicians called “Introduction to Health Care Entrepreneurship.” The workshop covered a range of topics, from understanding venture funding and intellectual property to how artificial intelligence (AI) is impacting health care.

Ko, along with Dr. Rick Lemoine, chief medical information officer, and Macalah Vanleeuwen, program manager, leads Sharp Ventures, a formal program to advance health care innovation. Securing partnerships and raising funds are two elements of venture philanthropy, but they aren’t the top priorities for Ko and his team.

“Anything we invest in has to make sense for the organization, for our patients and for our community,” Ko says. “When we pour our time and energy into a company, a product or a service, we’re there because we believe in it.”

Sharp Ventures has partnered with Apple, Dandelion Health and Abundant Venture Partners, among other organizations, in bringing the latest innovations to Sharp. And soon, Ko and his group will launch the Sharp Advanced Analytics and Artificial Intelligence (A3) Institute to explore how AI can improve care across the industry.

“AI is an inevitable part of the health care ecosystem to augment the workforce that we have in place,” Ko says.

AI’s place at Sharp

As AI rapidly becomes more relevant, Sharp is well-positioned, having launched its own internal AI assistant, SharpAI. The custom AI system can speed up document review by summarizing text and analyzing data.

But while AI can automate some operations, the Sharp Ventures team is adamant AI will be used as a tool, not a replacement for the people who provide care to patients. “As we pursue AI’s potential, anchored in safe and responsible principles of innovation, we believe Sharp HealthCare can fulfill its commitment to enhancing the health and well-being of the communities we serve,” Jon McManus, vice president and chief data and software development officer, says.

Sharp Ventures has joined several consortiums to learn how to leverage newer technologies to enhance the clinical space, learn best practices on interpreting data, and be at the forefront of health care innovation.

The A3 Institute is supported by the Foundations of Sharp HealthCare’s ENVISION campaign, which is a $250 million project to transform health care across San Diego.

“Philanthropy has always been about transformation at Sharp, from facilities to medical technology to training,” says Bill Littlejohn, senior vice president and CEO of the Foundations of Sharp HealthCare. “Investing in innovation and advanced computing is an important element in achieving our vision of the future of health care in San Diego.”

Finding the right partnerships

Investing in startups can be volatile. Approximately 75% of venture-backed startups fail, according to Harvard Law School.

Sharp Ventures is selective on which companies it affiliates with. The team vets nearly a dozen companies each week to determine which ones are worthy of becoming potential partners. “The last thing you want is a doctor or a health care system that jumps at every new thing that comes along,” Dr. LeMoine says.

Ko’s team weighs the company’s values, its potential for success and whether the investments make clinical sense to determine which companies to invest in. For example, Sharp is one of the founding partners, along with Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins Medicine, in the Coalition of Health AI (CHAI), which supports caregivers and health systems in AI developments.

In March, Sharp joined Miscrosoft's consortium called the Trustworthy & Responsible AI Network (TRAIN), allowing health care systems nationwide to share solutions, expertise and clinical insights with each other. "I don't think anyone has all the answers to this yet, but the groups that we've aligned with are figuring that out," Ko says.

Leveraging the latest in innovation to enrich The Sharp Experience

According to Dr. William Bianchi, an emergency medicine doctor and the Emergency Department director at Sharp Coronado Hospital, newer technologies and advancements have developed quickly.

“It feels like there’s a new application or idea that enters this space each day,” Dr. Bianchi says. “When you add AI into the mix, it’s an accelerator.”

The speed of innovation is part of the reason why Dr. Bianchi was among more than 70 physicians and executives who attended Sharp Ventures’ workshop in early April. Guest speakers led seminars and breakout sessions to answer questions, such as “How do I know if there is a market for my idea?” and “What can I learn from other startup founders?”

“We want to develop The Sharp Experience for innovators,” LeMoine says.

Learn more about how to support the Foundations of Sharp HealthCare through ENVISION; get the latest health and wellness news, trends and patient stories from Sharp Health News; and subscribe to our weekly newsletter by clicking the "Sign up" link below.

Kelly Ko

Kelly Ko


Kelly Ko, PhD, is Sharp HealthCare’s vice president of innovation and strategic initiatives.

Macalah Vanleeuwen

Macalah Vanleeuwen


Macalah Vanleeuwen is the program manager of Sharp Ventures, an initiative to bring the latest innovations to Sharp.

Jon McManus

Jon McManus


Jon McManus is the vice president and chief data and software development officer for Sharp HealthCare.

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