Immelt seeks to unite healthcare with Silicon Valley mainstream

A lot was written about GE chairman Jeff Immelt's appearance yesterday at the Web 2.0 Summit, but one key point can't be emphasized enough.

A lot was written about GE chairman Jeff Immelt's appearance yesterday at the Web 2.0 Summit, but one key point can't be emphasized enough.

Jeff Immelt was at the Web 2.0 Summit. He wasn't at a health care show. He was pitching tech people.

Immelt deliberately brought something with him designed to get a little Silicon Valley wow, a handheld ultrasound called the Vscan the size of an old-fashioned cell phone.

Sounds cool, but African techs have been able to take complex readings on phones for some time, with results compiled elsewhere and reports delivered to the field.

More important than what was in Immelt's hand was what was in his pocket, namely a pen GE can use to sign off on up to $250 million in venture capital money. The idea was "this is what we can do, now you show us something better and we'll do business."

It was probably no accident that GE Healthcare picked the same day to announce a screening test for cancer-related proteins with Eli Lilly. Immelt wants to link the creativity of Silicon Valley to the health IT and health technology mainstream. He wants the people on both sides of the divide competing for the same pile of cash.

All this is part of a general transformation of the company away from the Jack Welch era, which was about finance and entertainment, back to the company's roots in technology. Every great GE chairman reinvents the company around a vision, and this is Immelt's.

The vision is starting to pick up believers, like Alexander Wissel at Seeking Alpha. Calling GE "America's largest mutual fund" because of its size and scope, he nevertheless rates it a buy as the "ultimate recovery play."

Health technology and health IT both represent technology, but they have been focused outside the Valley. The health and cure tail has been wagging the technology dog. GE wants to reverse that, and if it can this Web 2.0 Summit will have turned out to have been a watershed.

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