Washington state’s global health organizations employ more than 14,000 people and contributed about $8.8 billion to the state’s economy in 2017, according to estimates from a report released this week by the Washington Global Health Alliance.
The Washington State Global Health Landscape Study showcases a healthy ecosystem that supports new global health ideas and startups, said Dena Morris, president of the Alliance, a Seattle-based umbrella group. The Alliance tallies 268 small businesses, nonprofits, research institutes and other organizations engaged in global health in the state. They benefit from a talented workforce, office space near clients, peers and funders, and access to philanthropy.
“All of those things come together in the Seattle region,” Morris said.
Startups in particular benefit from the ecosystem in Seattle, which also intersects with the Seattle tech community, says Morris. These include Seattle-based Amplio Network, which produces audio devices–talking books–for people who are illiterate to learn about agriculture or health issues.
“We grew much faster being in Seattle than we would have if we were in a different city,” said Cliff Schmidt, a former Microsoft developer who founded Amplio in 2007 (then called Literacy Bridge). Much of Amplio’s funding comes from individuals in the tech sector, many retired, says Schmidt, who has twice been recognized by the Microsoft Alumni Foundation (since merged with Microsoft Alumni Network). Microsoft provides grants and matching funds to selected organizations run by former Microsoft employees. (Schmidt also was a finalist for GeekWire Geek of the Year in 2015).
Amplio’s lead software engineer is a Microsoft and Amazon alum, and the program managers who help deploy the devices in the field include graduates from the University of Washington’s Evans School of Public Policy and Governance and the Jackson School of International Studies. The company now employs 22 people and has contracts with larger organizations such as CARE International, funded in part through grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Since 2013, jobs in global health have grown at 2.8 percent per year, about the rate of Washington state’s overall employment. While direct employment in the sector stands at about 14,000 people, the number of additional jobs created stands at about 40,000, according to the report, together generating an estimated $3.6 billion in total labor income and $15.3 billion in business revenues for the state in 2017.
Twenty percent of the organizations are small businesses, Morris noted. This is a particularly telling sign of a healthy ecosystem, she said. These include biotech companies such Just Biotherapeutics, funded partly by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and medical device companies such as Shift Labs, which is marketing a lightweight, portable device for IV fusions.
A large proportion of the global health organizations also advance health in the United States. And some, such as Global to Local, founded in 2010, benefit local communities. CEO Jonathan Sugarman, a former professor at the University of Washington Department of Medicine, said Global to Local “harvested expertise” from PATH and other global health organizations to develop public health programs in Tukwila and SeaTac. Global to Local, for instance, was advised to listened to the local community before deciding to launch an exercise program for Somali women and a diabetes program that combines an app with support from community health workers.
The new report shows how much the ecosystem has developed since the establishment of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000. The foundation contributed about $287,000,000 in grants to Washington state global health activities in 2017, about 31 percent of the total, which includes funding from the US Centers for Disease Control and the US National Institutes of Health.
The Washington State Global Health Landscape Study was performed by RTI International, a nonprofit research group based in Research Triangle Park, N.C., and Morris said the analysis was done independently of the Washington Global Health Alliance.