Minnesota health technology firms saw another sharp increase in investment capital in the first half of the year, according to an industry survey.

Through June 30, 64 companies raised $227 million, about $174 million of which came in the second quarter alone, according to research published Wednesday by trade group Medical Alley Association. The report beats the previous high of $213 million recorded by the association in the first half of 2009.

"We've been trending in that direction — 2014 was a record-breaking year and we broke the record again in 2015. And now 2016 looks to continue that trend," said Tess Donahue, vice president of marketing and communications at Medical Alley.

Digital health start-ups, ranging from health insurance providers to makers of software tracking patients, drove the growth. For the first time, the relatively new sector upstaged the rest of the industry in investments in the second quarter; a Minneapolis health insurance start-up, Bright Health, raised $80 million in April, accounting for the vast majority of the sector's $93 million tally.

A total of 19 digital health firms raised $102.1 million in the first half of the year, up from about $70.3 million for all of 2015. Medical devices led the field for the six-month period, with 26 firms raising $102.9 million.

The spike in interest for digital health is propped up by a quicker return on investment.

"This is a relatively new sector, but accompanying that are some really large exits," said Cheryl Matter, vice president for research and intelligence at Medical Alley. "For a burgeoning sector to have a number of notable large exits in the state really fuels investment and excitement."

There's been a rise in high-profile deals, such as the acquisition of Minneapolis-based Bloom Health by Empyrean Benefit Solutions, based in Houston, earlier this month, Donahue said. These acquisitions are not expected to slow down in the foreseeable future, as bigger firms look to diversify their offerings and capabilities.

"It's a different landscape in the post-Affordable Care Act era," Donahue said. "Providers are looking at things differently and looking at broader portfolios. … So mergers and acquisitions to broaden portfolios will continue to be active over the next couple of years to satisfy the needs of the market."

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