The exterior of the main building at Inova’s 117-acre campus in Merrifield, the former home of Exxon Mobil offices. (Courtesy Exxon Mobil) 

The $112 million partnership to bring a University of Virginia School of Medicine campus to the Inova healthcare complex in Fairfax is an important addition to an emerging industry in the greater Washington region. We have given lots of regional focus to cybersecurity, and now, personalized healthcare needs similar attention.

As we look to grow our economy off our strengths, personalized healthcare is an essential opportunity here in the capital region. It delivers therapeutic technologies based on a patient’s genetic and proteomic makeup. It allows doctors to choose medications that work best on a specific patient, and to customize guidance on how to avoid illness and live better quality lives.

(Photo courtesy of Jonathan Aberman) (Photo courtesy of Jonathan Aberman)

As an industry, personalized healthcare shares with cybersecurity certain growth characteristics that make it attractive for our economic development — especially because of how we now know our region innovates and grows winning businesses.

Through Amplifier Advisors comprehensive analysis of our region’s entrepreneurial and innovation ecosystem, we can point to a consistent model of successful D.C. entrepreneurship. Leaders of businesses such as Capital One, AOL, Cvent, and MedImmune grew and successfully sold their businesses by taking strategic advantage of being at the crossroads of a unique entrepreneurial ecosystem that combined capital, talent and proximity to the federal government.

Ample data now supports the conclusion that the cybersecurity industry provides opportunity for D.C. entrepreneurship. Almost 1,000 cybersecurity companies in the region, as well as the presence of many federal labs and universities, have created a large, impressive talent pool.

The federal government is both a primary funder of research and development and a customer for cybersecurity technologies. It is also where issues such as privacy, legal liability for corporate boards when data breaches occur and national security coordination of threat responses are determined — issues that must be addressed and resolved for our cybersecurity industry to reach its potential.

Entrepreneurial activity in personalized healthcare is not yet at the level of cybersecurity, however, the growth opportunities are very similar.

The greater Washington region has a large and growing concentration of talent to support a dynamic personalized healthcare industry. The addition of University of Virginia School of Medicine at Inova amplifies existing activities at Johns Hopkins, George Washington University and George Mason.

The federal government is a large funding source for research in personalized healthcare, with the National Institutes of Health being the best known but not sole example. And, as in the case of cybersecurity, resolution of important policy issues is needed for the personalized healthcare industry to grow — issues such as privacy, insurability considering genetic disposition for disease, government healthcare reimbursement and allocation of healthcare resources.
There are two other important reasons our region should applaud efforts to grow more entrepreneurial activity in personalized healthcare.

First, the conversion of research and development into commercial production occurs most frequently in healthcare, especially for university-derived technology transfer. Therefore, by focusing more regional efforts on personalized healthcare, we make it more likely that our universities and supporting organizations will create exciting new businesses that will accelerate regional growth.

Second, the development of cybersecurity and personalized healthcare in the same region will provide an important multiplier effect. Many of the technologies underpinning the medical wave of the future — data analytics, sensors, man/machine interface and artificial intelligence — are also highly relevant to the development of the cybersecurity industry.

And, of course, the concentration of highly confidential patient data is a huge market for cybersecurity technologies.

There is still significant work to be done to integrate our region’s innovators into these opportunities. But, knowing where you want to go is a condition to success. And each day that is becoming clearer.

Jonathan Aberman is a business owner, entrepreneur and founder of Tandem NSI, a national community that connects innovators to government agencies. He is host of “Forward Thinking Radio” on SiriusXM, a business and policy program, and lectures at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.