It was at a leadership retreat in 2014 that members of the Greater Dayton Area Hospital Association (GDAHA) looked around and said, we’re the biggest employer in town and that’s something we want to change.

Now, one year later, a for-profit collaborative effort known as Ascend Innovations™ has been launched with the intent to transform the economic environment in the Dayton region and improve healthcare by design.

A Rich History

Once an industrial powerhouse, Dayton cultivated notable Fortune 500 companies, such as National Cash Register (NCR), Mead Paper Company, business forms companies Standard Register and Reynolds and Reynolds, Dayco and Phillips Industries.

In fact, Dayton was perhaps the hub of America’s first global business, with NCR’s notable founder John H. Patterson working in Dayton while NCR cash registers were sold abroad.

But with downturns in manufacturing in the US, this had left the city in a time of major change but a deep and loyal love of place.

Despite the economic downturn, Premier Health Partners and Kettering Medical Network are nationally recognized health networks and Dayton Children’s has also been site of unique and collaborative partnerships with regional, state and federal entities. GDAHA is a member service organization of 28 hospitals that have an $8.1 billion economic impact and directly employ 33,800 people in the Greater Dayton region. The region is also home to the Air Force Research Labs at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base with a large economic impact as one of the largest, most complex bases in the Air Force with over 26,000 personnel, serving in 116 different mission organizations all with a significant role in helping support and defend the United States.

A Bold Path Forward

What did the association of hospitals find was best way to spur innovation and economic growth? In a bold move they decided to combine forces with the Air Force Research Labs and a product design firm Kaleidoscope experienced at bringing products to market.

“We think the community will be healthier if there are other industries that join the Dayton region with employment and impact,” said GDAHA President and CEO Bryan Bucklew in an article for the Dayton Business Journal.

In fact, Bucklew noted that the long-term goal was to increase economic development in the region so that in five to 10 years, hospitals are not the top industries in the region. “We are looking to connect the economic powerhouses of the region for the health of the region,” he added.

And Ascend Innovations is poised to be just the solution in a region that is betting on itself. It is formed as a collaborative for-profit venture between Kaleidoscope and GDAHA, in collaboration with the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) at Wright Patterson Air Force Base.

“Investing in Our Own Innovation”

This new business is a cross-functional product design and development team made up of clinicians, researchers, industrial designers, engineers and business analysts focused on redefining what is humanly possible.

Ascend employs purpose driven design and development to identify unmet needs and challenges for the healthcare partners. Also, the team will explore the re-application of AFRL technology and independent insights to produce commercially viable human health innovation. And that’s the prize that the team is betting on. With a deeply entrenched habit of creating companies, building things and making things better, Ascend will tap into these resources and history to create commercially viable products that will spur the growth of the region.

Perhaps one of the most unique aspects of Ascend is that it is a for-profit venture. Not only does it rely on its own organization for funding, the business model is not based on government grants nor donations to operate, but its focus is to provide economic value to the community at large.

“We are investing and betting on ourselves,” said Bucklew. “We’re not relying on the state of Ohio, or the Third Frontier or federal grants. We are investing in our own innovation, technologies and drive. What we’re working on here is larger than the individual hospital networks, the hospitals are working together.”

And while there is an innovation center movement within the healthcare industry, AFRL’s association with Ascend Innovations brings another unique advantage to this for-profit joint venture. Ascend combines military research with Kaleidoscope’s proven design practices to produce commercially viable solutions in human health and performance.

A New Chapter Unfolding

This novel collaboration between a healthcare organization, design firm and the Air Force is new. This in itself presents significant opportunities for commercialization of national defense technology to advance health. As members of the community, the hospital association is also deeply interested in helping to support and further the AFRL’s mission through collaboration.

As Dayton starts this new chapter of global businesses that it arguably began, Ascend will uniquely bring together forces that previously had no formal ways to collaborate to improve healthcare by design. Harnessed well, we predict that Dayton will be ground zero for the future of healthcare.


Greater Dayton Area Hospital Association: The link to quality care
Ascend Innovations: Human Health Innovation
Wright Patterson Air Force Base: 2013 Economic Impact Analysis
Dayton Business Journal: Exclusive: Hospitals fund startup to commercialize technology from Wright-Patt


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