What defines HIMSS?: A Newbie’s Perspective

**Note: This blog was co-written by my colleague at Bessemer, Andrew Walsh, who attended HIMSS with us this year**

As I boarded a plane from NYC LaGuardia to CHI O’Hare I really didn’t know what to expect. Weeks of preparation in researching the exhibitors, setting up meetings and setting up my accommodations (make sure to book early – hotels book up fast!). I thought I was ready for #HIMSS15.

Landing in Chicago, you notice immediately that HIMSS is everywhere. It is as though an entire city is consumed by HealthcareIT.  HIMSS signs, shuttles, it is the talk of the town and inescapable. I arrived early on Monday morning to retrieve my badge and walk the floor to get the lay of the land before diving into jam packed schedule.

This newbie’s initial reaction – wow this conference is big, very big!  Looking out on to the massive 1,600,000 sq ft conference hall filled with hundreds of booths just reinforced just how much money there is in healthcare.

My second impression – I never learned in grammar school that HIMSS is actually a commonly-used part of speech:




  1. The annual HealthcareIT conference hosted by HIMSS, “a global, cause-based, not-for-profit organization focused on better health through information technology (IT). HIMSS leads efforts to optimize health engagements and care outcomes using information technology” (himssconference.org)

“Have a great HIMSS,” “How is your HIMSS” and “happy HIMSS”

The Old

The thing that struck me most of all in walking the large halls of HIMSS is that the HCIT industry is ripe for disruption.   It feels like the majority of the industry is fat and happy, slowly plodding along, enjoying the fruits of an industry that has grown significantly faster than GDP over the last three decades.   These are the companies who have the LARGE exhibitor booths (and when I say large, I mean several times larger than my NYC apartment) and occupy most of the show.   They are also the guys whose software looks like what a typical middle school student could code these days.

It is also very clear that healthcare regulation, while important from a patient safety perspective, can impede the pace of change.  The conference floor was filled with discussion about the Texas state ruling limiting the use of telemedicine by requiring physicians have an in person meeting to prescribe medications.   Clearly, aspiring entrepreneurs need to think deeply about the impact regulation will have on their company.

The New

After spending the majority of my first 2 days at HIMSS on the main floor, I dedicated my final day to the HX360 showcase (which features most of the early stage companies). Tucked in the very back of the exhibit hall, it would be hard to stumble upon this gem of an area at the conference. Spending time with the entrepreneurs in the HX360 startup showcase restored my faith in the future of HealthIT. I saw a lot of products that had not only great underlying tech but also beautiful UX/UI that make them seem like a truly modern day tech company. If you are unicorn hunting, this is the place to be.

One of the major themes common to the startups in the showcase is how patient-centric they are. The first step towards successful patient engagement is to actually have the users engage with the solution. Utilizing intuitive user interfaces and a focus on mobility, their products are moving in the right direction. In a similar vein, many of the startups in the showcase focused not only on the relationship between the patient and the provider but also on that between the patient and their family, and the patient and their record.

The Old Meets the New

There was no better proof that these worlds are indeed colliding than the biggest piece of M&A news at this year’s HIMSS: IBM’s strategic announcement of not one but two acquisitions of relatively early stage companies (Explorys and Phytel).  IBM has made a large investment in its Watson unit in recent years.  By acquiring two of the leading population health and analytics companies, IBM appears to be doubling down on its efforts to apply Watson to healthcare – healthcareitnews.com.

And now to an old BVP tradition when it comes to HIMSS . . .

HIMSS15 “By The Numbers”:

  • 81,500 – steps walking the exhibit halls
  • 2,970 – minutes in meetings
  • #1 theme at HIMSS15 –previous winners in this category – population health and analytics – have already had several companies in these categories be acquired or go public. Unlike in years past, there wasn’t a clear winning theme this year.  Instead there was a three-way tie at the top with patient engagement, telemedicine, and interoperability being the most often cited trends.
  • #1 booth tchotchke – VisionWare who had a fabulous caricature artist – see mine on left. I think he did a good job if I may say so myself.  Unfortunately my colleague Steve’s rendering made his eye brows look larger than most of the HIMSS booths!
  • andrew walshsteve kraus
  • 0 – the number of times the three of us actually had lunch over the course of three days. There was literally no time for lunch when you are hustling, meeting companies, entrepreneurs and other investors from 7am-10pm every day.  Well, except for Steve who had a proclivity for stopping by any booth that had candy or popcorn or peanuts.   Jolly Rancher for lunch sound appetizing?
  • 23 – Jersey number of Chicago legend Michael Jordan. Who knew he was so into healthIT?

andrew and jordan

  • 7 – the number of magicians working the booths at HIMSS15 . . . literally!

 Unfortunately none of the magicians pulled a unicorn out of their hat for us.   Trust us, we asked them to try!   But maybe that will come at next year’s HIMSS which will be in Vegas?

Until then, if you think you are starting/building a healthcare unicorn, we would love to hear from you.

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