A $2 million gift to University Hospitals by serial entrepreneur Michael Feuer and his wife Ellen aims to enhance the hospital’s ability to spur innovation by giving UH’s CEO the financial and decision-making latitude to back strong ideas.

The gift will establish the Feuer Innovation Accelerator fund at the hospital. UH Ventures, the innovation and commercialization division of the UH system, will oversee the accelerator and help gather and evaluate ideas, ultimately inviting the UH employees who generate them to present their ideas to Dr. Cliff A. Megerian, who took the reins as CEO early this year.

In this accelerator environment, chasing innovations that directly improve patient care and health means that a UH nurse, for instance, could bring forward an idea that keeps an unsteady patient from falling over. Feuer says it’s a way to discover the whispers that can grow to a shout.

“I’ve found in business — in big companies or small companies — some of the greatest ideas come from within,” says Feuer, who co-founded big box retailer OfficeMax. “The problem is that hospitals are bureaucratic by nature. My concept was there are tens of thousands of employees and tens of thousands of possibilities, but everybody thinks they can't get funding for their ideas. This money lets Cliff distribute these funds and solicit ideas from all of the employees in the hospital on a perpetual basis.”

This fund could look to monetize some of the ideas that are funneled up from within and take warrants in the new entity, Feuer says. If successful, the new entity could help feed the fund, fueling a cycle of new ideas.

“A dealmaker knows this: in 10 deals, two or three will fail,” he says. “One or two you want them to fail to get them away from you because they made your life miserable. But four or five will be good, and one might be a triple or home run.”

Feuer has known Dr. Megerian for some 15 years. He was an instructor at the Case Western Reserve University Weatherhead School of Management, where Dr. Megerian earned a certificate in health care management. It’s through that experience that the hospital CEO caught Feuer’s attention.

“I was really impressed with him in the class because of his quest to know things,” he says. “What struck me the most was that he was a person who used his intellect and inquisitiveness to explore not what was, but what could be. That’s the hallmark of an entrepreneur and an innovator. I’ve always had a lot of respect for creative people like that.”

While Dr. Megerian’s background is in health care, Feuer says, he's also a deal guy who will be able to dig deep into the UH workforce to bring forward a lot of good business ideas.

Feuer, who grew OfficeMax from one location to more than 1,000 stores during his 16 years as CEO, is currently CEO of Max-Ventures, a private equity and consulting firm. He has served for 12 years on the UH Cleveland Medical Center Board of Directors and was a member of numerous committees. Ellen Feuer has been active as a UH volunteer and spent her career as a development professional.