Editor’s note: The Council for Entrepreneurial Development is working with Local Tech Wire to provide a series of articles about trends in healthcare in advance of its upcoming Engage program.The ever-increasing costs and complexity of healthcare among the subjects that will be discussed at the Council for Entrepreneurial Development’s Engage program on March 31.

Monica Doss, president of the CED, recently talked with Tim Gupton, who currently serves as chief financial officer with two RTP biotech firms and is senior partner at Hughes, Pittman and Gupton LLP, an accounting firm, about trends in healthcare. Gupton also is founder and general partner of Research Triangle Ventures and helped launch several companies, including Trimeris, Inspire Pharmaceuticals and SARCO.

Doss: Tim, thanks for taking a few minutes to talk with me about healthcare trends and marketplace opportunities, in preparation for CED’s upcoming Engage: Healthcare program. What are some of the current healthcare trends affecting the innovation economy?

Gupton: The demography of our country is driving a huge increase in the demand for healthcare services and products. In the context of this increasing demand, many healthcare providers are struggling with delivery and payment of healthcare services. As a result, businesses and individuals are facing several problematic issues, including access, coverage and payment. To address these problems, we are seeing the convergence of technology and an older population demanding these products. I see healthcare in an important transition stage right now, especially in terms of how people plan to address these challenges.

Doss:: In response to this transition period, what healthcare technologies and market niches are emerging or have already emerged?

Gupton: Wherever there is a problem to be solved, there is an opportunity for entrepreneurs. Healthcare is one of the largest and most dynamic sectors in the economy. As a result, there are huge market opportunities and niches to fill, including new technology solutions, healthcare staffing and other services. Often when we think of the healthcare market, we think only about the parts we see as consumers — hospital care, insurance, for example. These are huge market opportunities for entrepreneurs, but healthcare also embraces much more; we’ve grown accustomed to tools like ultrasound and medical resonance imaging, but there are hundreds of new products in development based on technologies that didn’t even exist 5-10 years ago.

The Engage panel that I’ll moderate on March 31 features founders and CEOs from local companies that represent many of these healthcare niches. United Emergency Services, for example, meets the emergency room staffing needs of area hospitals by providing physician staffing for hospital emergency rooms. Another company, MDeverywhere, offers an effective option for healthcare delivery with its mobile computing platform for physicians. In addition to these two companies, LipoScience CEO Rick Brajer will join the panel to discuss his company’s magnetic resonance technology that treats heart disease and helps patients on the front end to be more effective. All of these companies were founded to meet specific healthcare needs.

Doss: What makes the Research Triangle region unique, especially when it comes to leveraging various healthcare market opportunities?

Gupton: The Research Triangle region enjoys the convergence of several important factors, all of which contribute to healthcare market opportunities. First, there is a critical mass of universities in the area that conduct over $1 billion in basic research and applied research.

Research Triangle Institute completed a comprehensive study for the Research Triangle Regional Partnership’s future cluster competitiveness plan and determined that our region was a world leader in research in development in eight highly competitive technological areas including pharmaceuticals, advanced medical care, biological agents and infectious diseases, pervasive computing, and informatics — all of which are directly aligned with healthcare market opportunities in the 21st century. With such a strong research infrastructure, the amount of intellectual property created is a vital resource. In addition to research infrastructure and other innovation-based support in the community, the Triangle also has backing from the big pharma industry, with companies like GlaxoSmithKline, Bayer and Merck in the area.

Doss: How has the Research Triangle’s innovation economy changed over the years? How do you see this region evolving in the future?

Gupton: Over the past 10 years, the Triangle has started leveraging and capitalizing upon its unique resources. Important changes include a maturing infrastructure, increased capital markets, greater labor pull, and improved access to intellectual capital at universities. The next phase of growth depends on our ability to create the next generation of successful companies. Capital is still important in fostering this growth as we gain maturity and momentum. I have seen glimpses of the Triangle’s ability to build large companies. Over the next several years, a big question will be, “can we go to the next level?” with more successful companies.

Doss: How will your Engage panel address some of these larger innovation-based healthcare issues?

Gupton: I see Engage as a great entry point for entrepreneurs. At the “Healthcare Marketplace Opportunities” panel, several experienced CEOs will share their experiences and help prospective entrepreneurs understand the benefits and challenges of starting a healthcare-based company. I view it as a motivational panel rather than a “how to” panel. I think the panel is unique because it’s about “why I started my business,” and not just “how I started my business.”

The panel should give entrepreneurs insight into the healthcare marketplace, and it will also give attendees “the guts” to go after an opportunity they have identified. If I had to rename the panel, I’d call it the “do-you-have-that-fire-in-your-belly?” panel.

Note: Tim Gupton has over 30 years of public accounting experience and serves as a business advisor to technology companies in early stages of development and funding. He is a senior partner at Hughes, Pittman and Gupton LLP, a public accounting firm in Raleigh, NC, and he is founder and general partner of Research Triangle Ventures. Gupton is currently the CFO of AlphaVax and Cropsolution, two life science companies based in the Research Triangle. Gupton has been a co-founder and start-up CFO for several other biotechnology companies, including Trimeris, Inc., Inspire Pharmaceuticals and SARCO, Inc. Gupton served as Chairman of CED from 2000-2001.

Engage: Healthcare Industry will include panel discussions, guest speakers and networking opportunities. It is set for March 31 from 4 to 7 PM at Duke University’s The Fuqua School of Business.

For information, visit: www.cednc.org/engage