Podcast Transcript: Corporate Citizens Driving Civic Innovation

By Sacha Heppell - November 18, 2020

 

Corporate Citizens Driving Civic Innovation - Interview with Kent Thiry

PODCAST NOTES

In this episode, SmartTab’s CEO and Founder, Robert Niichel welcomes Kent Thiry, Former Executive Chairman of DaVita's Board of Directors. In 2018, Kent founded a CEO group, called Colorado Thrives, focused on advancing the quality of life of all Coloradans. Kent is here to highlight Colorado Thrives’ goals of improving equity, health, and prosperity for future generations. He shares the inspiration that drives Colorado Thrives and their vision to take Denver and Colorado to the next level of innovation and wellbeing. Kent touches on the Economic Mobility focus of the organization and the specific initiatives they’re working on and will be working on in the coming years.

There are many early stage companies, digital technology and healthcare startups in Colorado working on innovative solutions to tackle many of the world’s problems. What steps can these companies take to grow and evolve in the next 5-10 years? What does that mean for the expansion of Colorado’s future as an innovation hub? How do we leverage the talents of the bright young people in Colorado to accomplish those goals? Tune in to learn more!

PODCAST TRANSCRIPT

Sacha Heppell

Welcome to Who would have thought my name is Sacha Heppell, Chief Marketing Officer of SmartTab. I'd like to introduce our hosts today Robert Niicel our founder and CEO whose background is in leadership and management of pharmaceutical research and development. He founded SmartTab in 2016, to drive the development of novel drug delivery systems at our lab in Denver, Colorado, at the Catalyst Health Tech Innovation center. Today, Robert will speak with a very special guest and well respected business leader, we will dive into a conversation about Colorado Thrives and what's possible when corporate citizens become civically engaged and come together committed to transform the well being of their community and the ripple effect that has on the world. We'll hear his take on innovative early stage companies in Colorado and how they can make the greatest impact in the years to come. With that. I'll pass it over to you Robert to introduce our honorable guests today Kent Thiry, otherwise known as KT.

Robert Niichel

Thank you, Sacha. It's my pleasure to welcome KT, an extraordinary leader who served as chairman and CEO DaVita for two decades, and has played an instrumental role in the growth of Colorado. In 2018. He founded a CEO group called Colorado thrives focused on advancing the quality of life for all Coloradans. KT is committed to bringing a village of leaders together to drive innovation, and improve the well being of everyone in Colorado and beyond. Welcome to the show, KT, and thank you so much for taking the time to be with us today. We would like to start with studying the stage, perhaps by your successful time into DaVita. If you could please talk briefly about your time at DaVita.

Kent Thiry

Well, I was very lucky, young man. I was there for 20 years. We grew a lot, both domestically and internationally. We were a clinical innovator, and a high clinical performer. And we built a healthy culture. And I was very lucky to be a part of all that.

Robert Niichel

Yeah, that's a you know, exciting times. And it's nice to see the growth and certainly see how you are, you know, expanding more into the community. So then, from davita, clearly not slowing down at all. You started the Colorado thrives program designed to advance Colorado as an inspiring and inclusive community known globally for innovation, collaboration, and overall well being. Could you describe why Colorado thrives now exists, and maybe shine some light on what the major goals of this organization are?

Kent Thiry

Colorado thrives was started because I noticed that there were no collective groups of big business leaders. And so I made 14 invitations, and got 14 acceptances. Pretty much everybody is current or former CEO of a large company. And the idea was not to focus on the business environment, but to focus on the Colorado environment generally, and how to ensure well being for all Coloradans, all people in all places, that was the idea. And it was pretty amazing that 100% of the leaders I reached out to were interested in creating just that.

Robert Niichel

Yeah, that's exciting. Then with economic mobility, being at the forefront of Colorado thrives really curious to hear more about the partnership with tech stars, Arizona lab strat Education Network, and then the creation of the workforce development accelerator.

Kent Thiry

This was really fun stuff. We spent a year with the pro bono help from the Boston Consulting Group staring at all the different areas where we might be able to make a difference for Colorado, all people in all places. And after a year, we held a vote. And by far the leading category was economic mobility slash workforce readiness. And so we then launched nationwide search for who, what were some of the best ideas, the best new practices, the best organizations, the best policies and dealing with that, and as we got going, we realized that this was an area that really needed to turbocharge innovation. And we started talking to tech stars, the wonderful incubating group that's here based in Colorado, even though it operates globally and said, let's put the power of the talent within Colorado Thrives together with the existing technology of the TechStars incubators, and create an accelerator, probably unique in the world at this point, totally focused on attracting a cohort of 12 very innovative startup companies that were going to be active in this space. And that's what we did with TechStars. And our other partners there.

Robert Niichel

Yeah, that's really great how you combine the technology with Colorado landscape, and then, you know, really moving on to tie into that are a lot of early stage companies, digital technology, healthcare startups working on these innovative solutions in Colorado. And then, you know, many of these local companies are looking to tackle big global problems. interested to hear your thoughts on how you see these small, innovative companies expanding and taking on a much larger footprint in Colorado as they grow in the next 5 to 10 years?

Kent Thiry

Well, the story of America is clear that small companies, startup companies drive a huge part of America's lifelong fascination with innovation, and so important that America maintain its competitive edge in this realm. And it's so important to Colorado, that we create an environment where those kind of small and cool companies can flourish, and succeed enough to stay here and stay independent, as opposed to just being sold to some other company for some other state. And the progress that has been made in Denver over the last 10 years, particularly in medtech and related areas, has been quite striking, and could make a big difference for Colorado, the employment opportunities we have in the in the healthy economy we have and the brand that we have, but also contribute to the rest of the country.

Robert Niichel

Yeah. And then expanding on that, what would be your advice? Or what do you believe, you know, the steps would be that these smaller companies can take to ensure that they grow and they're successful, and then how they integrate into the landscape of Denver, as its newly founded tech and medical hub.

Kent Thiry

I think for the small companies that are launching this adventure, so important to think about your capitalization, that you need to have enough capital, but I always tell people is if you are confident, you have the ability to build a great plane that will grow, that will fly further and faster than any other plane, the worst place to try to save money is on the runway. Because if you're not build a long enough runway, no one will ever get to see how great your plane was going to be. And so first to make sure you're sufficiently capitalized, which also then helps you retain independence. And second is to attract a great board so that they can give you the right counsel, the right objectivity, the right network of relationships, those are two of the fundamentals for these cool companies to get right early on.

Robert Niichel

Yeah. And then, you know, as we grow, and as we grow into basically our title as a medical and tech hub, how do you recommend we leverage all the talents of bright young minds that are in Colorado? And you know, and then how does that fit into accomplishing the goals of your organization of Colorado thrives?

Kent Thiry

I think the more that we can help our universities develop vibrant curriculum in these areas, not 20 year old, out of date, academic stuff, but more cutting edge contemporary stuff, the more we can have our universities work with the private sector directly, including even having private sector facilities on the campuses, I think the more that the community can create an exchange sort of a marketplace. So people get to know each other with events like Denver Startup Week, which is so great for people getting to know each other and then being able to network for the rest of the year. These are three or four of the things that if we do them, right, continue to do them. Right. And in particular, working with a lot of the local incubators, we can have a very distinctively successful in general startup environment, not just medtech.

Robert Niichel

Yeah. And then expanding on that, you know, we talked about the Colorado thrives and then you know, really looking to the future. You have this great group of executives you brought together and then where do you see the organization five years down the road,

Kent Thiry

Colorado thrives is off to a good start, we got the TechStars accelerator joint venture, we're working with another very powerful innovative company called Braven, which helps young adults get necessary job training, sort of a boot camp. We're working with E for all a group that helps local businesses get started, not businesses that are going to scale nationally, but businesses that are going to be local like bakeries and restaurants and things like that, and helping a lot of people start those kind of new operations. So many people have that passion, but don't have the capital or expertise to get that going. So those are all the things that Colorado thrives is doing already. We're also working with endeavor, an international nonprofit venture capital network, and we've already helped Several companies joined in the endeavor global network. So these are other things that thrives is already done, in addition to helping working with Denver on the COVID problem. But as I stare at the next five years, per your question, I think we're going to do is we'll be active in more areas, not just economic mobility, and workforce readiness, for example, we're looking at homeless issues right now, and particularly mental health issues within the homeless population. We're also looking at transportation, these are other areas that we might very well get into. In addition, I think we will slightly expand the size of Colorado thrives as we find other business leaders who believe in leaning into civic engagement.

Robert Niichel

Yeah, those are some major future initiatives, certainly the transportation as well as the homeless, and then kind of tying into that your firm, your organization had a pretty big role in the COVID-19 responses. And, you know, it's interesting how you know, the community needs feeding the front line supporting small businesses, perhaps you could just expand a little bit on how you took those initiatives to help with the covid 19 pandemic?

Kent Thiry

Well, first of all, each thrives company did its own brand of remarkable work in dealing with COVID, setting up remote capabilities, helping people retain their jobs, helping their supply chains retain their jobs, helping their customers access their products and services. So individually, each company really did some remarkable things. And we shared a lot of our ideas and best practices. And so each of us was helping others, which was enabling all of us to help other people generally. So that was very cool by itself. But then in addition, we did some interesting work with the city of Denver, helping them think through all the different facets of the challenge, and what steps could be taken to facilitate business recovery, which of course, is vital, because that means people will have employment. And that means they can help stimulate local communities as well as the broader economy.

Robert Niichel

Yeah, that makes sense. That makes sense. That's a large undertaking. So I believe with that, we can kind of wrap it up here. So I'll say, Katie, thank you for doing what you're doing with Colorado thrives and you know, bringing economic mobility and stability to the state of Colorado. Thank you so much for your time today. And we're looking forward to seeing all the impact of Colorado thrives has on the state and the city of Denver, and we look to you know, anything we can do to support and partner with these companies in the future. That would be great. So with that, we'll wrap it up. Say thank you, and good luck.

Robert Niichel

All right. Thank you very much. And thank you for everything you guys are doing to foster a sustainable, dynamic entrepreneurial environment here in Colorado. So keep it up. We appreciate your time, KT.

Kent Thiry

Thanks, guys.

Robert Niichel

If you're interested in becoming more involved, and like to learn more about Colorado thrives, go to www. coloradothrives.org


 

 

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