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Designers, Hackers, Healers, & Hustlers Tackle Employee Wellness in Innovation Challenge

Mon, 03/11/2013 - 4:50pm
Ryan Wynia, Founder|Design Visioneer, FIREBONE

Pictured in the photo (from L-R): Standing: Harveen Sethi, MBA, Andy Witt, Ziad Al Bawab, PhD, Denis Salins; Sitting: Daniel Lopez-Ferrer, PhD, Jaione Maiz, PhD, Ryan Wynia, Colin Maccannell, Lanny M. Turner MD, Peter Mulligan, Ron Turner, PhD; Not pictured: Rami Bailony, MDIn spite of the fact my design firm is in the "making" business, I’ve never had the desire (or maybe gumption?) to put myself through an intensive, weekend-long hackathon or design challenge.

Between various code-a-thons, hackathons, StartUp Weekends, the StartupBus competition, and Design Jams, you’ve probably come across the idea of an output-driven, time-limited challenge of some kind. Maybe you’ve even been a part of one — or even won one.

If it weren’t for the urging of an advisor, I probably would have stayed in the bleachers myself. But Kit Mueller, a zealous organizer of Startup Weekend Pittsburgh and Chicago himself, prodded me to apply to StartX Med/Stanford Hospital Innovation Challenge (StartXMedIC) because of its fit within our practice area and of course, the goal of the output: making.

I’ve changed my tune. If for no other reason — you don’t want to start a new company, you don’t want to win money, and/or you don’t want to get to know brilliant people in less time than in another context — the hackathon/challenge idea is just downright good practice. Even if you’re a “maker” by trade — making things, improving things, bringing life to new ideas and unrealized potential — you should still consider doing a design/innovation challenge or Startup Weekend. I’m glad I did.

I applied to StartXMedIC along with Firebone’s Assistant Director of Design, Andy Witt. Andy sent me an elated text informing me that we had both been invited to participate as I was on my way home from Duke University. I had just completed a two-day immersion in teamSTEPPS, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s approach to performance and patient safety. After navigating the teamSTEPPS material for 20 hours with with all types of clinicians from all over the country, I was dripping with ideas for innovation.

StartXMedIC was a 50-hour weekend event offering hands-on education in healthcare entrepreneurship through multi-disciplinary teams that ran from February 22 to 24, 2013 at Stanford University’s Li Ka Shing Center. The innovation challenge was a program of StartX Med, a part of StartX, a non-profit organization working to accelerate the development of Stanford's top entrepreneurs through experiential education. The even was sponsored by Stanford University Medical Center’s Corporate Partners Program.

The event got underway around 5:00 p.m. on Friday evening and began with a string of initial idea pitches that served as the basis for the participants — hackers, healers, designers, hustlers, and inventors, as we were called — to form teams. While StartX MedIC originally paired employee wellness with innovative solutions to help employees at prominent technology companies manage chronic diseases, improve nutrition and exercise, promote wellness and reduce stress, the majority of teams held quite loosely to the weekend’s innovation theme. Over the course of the weekend teams developed product ideas and business plans, created prototypes, and concluded with a final pitch to a panel of judges.

The 100 or so innovators selected to participate in StartX MedIC were unbelievable individuals. The participants included physicians, surgeons, physicists, electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, computer scientists, data scientists, computer programmers, industrial designers, interface designers, interaction designers, start-up founders, serial entrepreneurs, inventors, PhD students, medical students, and marketing executives from all types organizations and institutions.

On Friday night, we heard 62 initial pitches from participants with ideas to share. From those pitches, votes were cast to produce the top 15 vote getters, which became pitch contestants. If participants wanted to pursue another idea, ten “wildcard spots” were created for ad-hoc teams to bring the total to 25 pitch teams. In the initial pitch process I shared an idea I've been kicking around for an intelligent health dashboard that uses artificial intelligence to produce predictive health insights. The idea earned a spot as a top vote-getter and became a pitch contender. Before participants were released to choose and form teams, the purveyors of the top 15 pitches gave a final 60 second appeal to solicit the talent they thought they would need to develop the idea during the challenge.

The qualifications of the team that came around the idea were staggering. Their credentials read more like a scientific journal byline than what you might expect to see at a startup weekend or innovation hackathon. In hindsight, I may have been inclined to spend the weekend navel-gazing or entirely intimidated by the achievement around the table if it weren't for the tight timeline on our looming deliverable.

I was honored to develop our project alongside the likes of a Microsoft speech recognition expert with a PhD in electrical and computer engineering from Carnegie Mellon; a global marketing director for a leading medical device manufacturer; a patent-holding PhD in Proteomics; a former Fulbright Scholar with a Harvard PhD in linguistics; two accomplished physicians; a developer who translates Stanford's genetic research into computer code; and a PhD in neurobiology. My high-caliber team had its perks. Mostly: know-how, and the main challenge came down to the same. With so much knowledge and insight, we had a hard time not over-working the concept or aspects of the idea — building consensus and driving progress was more than difficult at times.

The project my team worked on was called Mantic. The concept derives its name from the word's meaning, "Of or relating to divination or prophecy." Mantic is a SaaS solution for the consumer market that consolidates and adaptively interprets health data to bring about better health management. Today, we asserted, all of our health information lives in different places. None of it talks to each other and each source must to be managed separately. Mantic delivers a place where all of a patient's healthcare information is intelligently fused with validated predictive models by an artificial intelligence algorithm to produce insight into your health that you can understand and use. Mantic can provide foresight into potential risk for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other chronic illness and offer tailored actions to reduce risk factors.

Pitches were adjudicated based on a number of criterion including target market definition, clear presentation of the value proposition, description of the product’s key activities, explanation of the revenue model, a clear cost structure, and cogent roll-out or go-to-market strategy.

Pitches were judged by a six-member panel composed of Morgenthaler Ventures’ Entrepreneur In Residence Missy Krasner; Dr. Bassam Kadry, Director of Tech Discovery at Stanford Medicine X, Dr. Simeon George, a partner at SR One; former CTO of Epocrates, Bob Quinn; and Stanford Hospital and Clinics’ CFO Daniel Morisette and Associate CMO for Strategy and Innovation, Dr. Sumbul Desai. The judges selected an overall winner and category winners for "most innovative," "best industry pivot," "best user experience," and "most audacious."

The weekend’s overall winner was Rockfish, a financial insights tool for long-term care individuals. The team behind the idea sought to make the tracking and budgeting of financial resources for the elderly more efficient and predictable. The Rockfish idea was representative of the big data theme that seemed to be a driver behind many concepts, including my group’s Mantic. Rockfish seemed to have aimed at a more exact customer base with a specific activity set than any of the other groups that proposed leveraging big data. As the StartX MedIC winner, Rockfish advances as a finalist for the StartX Med accelerator and will receive special mentorship from StartX Med and Stanford University Hospital & Clinics.

A team looking to make prosthetics more accessible in developing countries called The Beth Project earned the event’s "most audacious" award. The team reported that capitalizing on advances in "jamming" technology developed at MIT and innovations in manufacturing could bring increased mobility to the developing world.

The team behind Eyego earned the "best industry pivot," moniker, also largely targeting the marketplace of the developing world. Eyego is a remote solution to provide a complete eye exam using a smart phone's built in camera and a lens capable of taking pictures of the back of the eye. Asserting that 80% of blindness is preventable if detected early, the Eyego aims to disrupt a $1 billion market, making eye screenings more accessible by producing the device at a fraction of the cost of current technology. The Eyego team revealed photos of the prototype and the early product iteration in action, along with actual photos it took of the human eye.

The "most innovative" and the project with the "best user experience" both went to mobile applications. Acuity captured "most innovative" with its use of a simple iPad app using illustrations and voice-recognition software that allows doctors to better detect more advanced brain degeneration that’s often overlooked. Patients are presented with an illustration on an iPad and prompted to orally recite what they see. The voice recognition software records their responses and analyzes the sentence structures and numbers and types of nouns and adjectives used.

Kids in Kitchens was the only solution to target kids in hopes of developing effective wellness habits early in life and garnered "best user experience," from the judges. Team Kids In Kitchens presented the idea as an iPad app capable of assisting parents with a means of presenting healthier food options by empowering kids to cook their own healthy meals. The Kids In Kitchens concept was demoed for the judges with a fully-functioning prototype and even revealed footage of a youngster whipping up simple and healthy recipes with the help of the interactive tablet app.

In the end, only a few of the deserving concepts can be recognized with top honors. I thought the team that worked on an idea called Smart Ankle tackled decades stagnancy in the orthopedic, physical therapy, and sports medicine space. Team Smart Ankle presented a working prototype that prevents muscle strain through a sensor embedded in a brace that monitors motion and keeps muscles from expanding too quickly and reduces the risk of hyperextension.

Behavior Design was another popular theme in the weekend’s projects, emerging as a key element in several pitches. The gamification of employee health in the workplace was a major storyline in the value proposition of projects like HealthUp, StandTogether, and Game Break, which intended to reduce healthcare costs for employers. Nudge, a diabetes management app was also in the behavior modification category, relying on collaboration with physicians to send treatment reminders to their patients.

I hear Cigna is sponsoring a Design Challenge at the Healthcare Experience Design Conference later this month in Boston. Maybe I’ll see you there?

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