Some of the most exciting things at SXSW 2018 aren’t the technology (though that’s amazing – SVP Joe Doyle found the Interactive Innovation Awards especially noteworthy), or even the celebrities (Account Manager Jacob Tepper was surprised by Elon Musk in one session, and Associate Creative Director Allie Golden ran smack into Timothee Chalamet) but the partnerships.

Image of ticket for Elon Musk speaking at SXSW 2018

At SXSW 2018, instead of just hearing about the importance of innovative health collaborations, we’re seeing it in action in big ways. Partnerships that would have been unimaginable a few years ago are proliferating in the Health track, proving together that they can make real innovation happen.

We saw evidence of this across many sessions. Our very own EVP Justin Chase participated in the Sprinklr panel discussion “Partnerships that build customer-first strategies.” A number of sessions spotlighted patient entrepreneurs creating virtual conferences and tools for their communities, as VP Vicky Cory and Media Director Angela Shaw noted in “Do Online Communities Make us Healthier?” Payers are working alongside start-up app developers, as EVP Angela Tenuta and VP Shane Mayer observed in “Using Digital Tools to Tackle Chronic Disease.”

Image of Dr. Rasu Shrestha speaking at SXSW 2018

Many of our pharma clients (especially innovation groups and COEs) encourage and attempt novel collaborations. But we frequently see those partnerships struggle to maintain steam under the weight of pharma’s traditional business model – where the word “partnership” often connotes hiring a vendor or entering into a tightly negotiated co-promote agreement.

As Justin pointed out, a good comparator to pharma’s current situation recently played out in the financial services industry. The banks themselves were not the first to innovate. Tech empowered new players to enter the field and work together in new ways, from crowdfunding to microlending to app developers, even to Elon Musk’s PayPal. This forced a heavily regulated finance industry to innovate, with some of the oldest and largest organizations playing catch-up with tiny disruptors to remain competitive. But they did all eventually make the turn.

At an aptly named session Allie attended, “Everybody Wants to Innovate, Nobody Wants to Change,” speaker Dr. Rasu Shrestha of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center noted, “The future of healthcare will be built on the shoulders of strong partnerships.”

And these partnerships are forming under very divergent sectors. In one session, Samsung mentioned participating with the FDA in a Software Precertification Pilot Program to fast-track digital health solutions. Only nine companies were chosen for the program out of more than 100 applicants. They do include Johnson & Johnson and Roche. But they also include startups Pear Therapeutics and Phosphorus, as well as Apple, Fitbit, Samsung, the nonprofit open-source Tidepool, and Google’s Verily.

As the FDA put it, “These companies represent the breadth of the digital health community and its range of products.” They cited that a fundamental selection criteria was “where can we learn the most.”

Tech innovators and industry stakeholders collaborating to improve health is not the future we are chasing anymore. The time is now. And it’s extremely exciting.