Gone virtual by necessity, OHSU Invent-a-thon spreads Oregon’s entrepreneurial support globally
Three OHSU faculty competed as members of the eight startup teams at the OHSU Invent-a-thon Post-hack. Each of the startups were finalists at the 2020 inaugural OHSU Invent-a-thon, where 49 teams spent an intensive weekend developing an innovative device or software solution that could improve health care or quality of life for patients.
The 2020 Invent-a-thon, held in October, and the follow-up Invent-a-thon “Post-hack” in late April were opportunities for experts and lay people to see the future of digital health and med-tech first hand.
Winners of the Post-hack — Smart Socket, DiaCare, and Phase Zero — shared $40,000 in cash prizes plus in-kind support from eight partnering investment firms.
Top three startups
Invent-a-thon introduced the all-Oregon members of the winning startup, Smart Socket, which includes Greg Landry, M.D., head of the division of vascular surgery at the OHSU Knight Cardiovascular Institute. Invent-a-thon also provided mentorship. The team is developing a novel lower-limb prosthetic that can adjust its fit in real-time, improving comfort and outcome for patients. The team, which received $20,000 in winnings, includes Landry, medical and industrial designers, and a researcher from Reed College.
“Everyone on our team came with a different background and different perspective,” said Landry. “There were many points where we seemed to hit a wall, but someone would come up with an idea to keep the conversation going — we really did become larger than the sum of our parts. That is when I really understood that innovation does not happen in a vacuum; it happens with collaboration.”
A team of three women who met for the first time at the October Invent-a-thon took second prize and $15,000. The three, each from a different region in India, founded DiaCare and are developing a Bluetooth-connected insole to detect peripheral neuropathy in diabetic patients. This condition, which can lead to serious complications including amputation, is the most common complication of diabetes.
Third prize winner Phase Zero aims to make clinical trials both faster and cheaper by connecting potential participants with researchers conducting clinical trials. A double-sided database replaces the need for recruitment campaigns for each study. The core team members — from Switzerland, Colombia, and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, CA — took lessons learned at October’s Invent-a-thon and made adjustments to their original concept.
Patient empowerment and nutritional disparities
The Health Disparities Prize Winners at Invent-a-thon, the CommuNutri team, met for the first time that weekend. The intensive 48 hours and skilled mentoring gave rise to CommuNutri, which is the team’s solution to the lack of continuity of nutritional support for patients with diabetes.
“Sustainable and tailored nutritional care for patients with diabetes is crucial for managing diabetes but is seldom achieved,” said physician-scientist Samuel Tassi Yunga M.D., Ph.D., CEDAR, Knight Cancer Institute, OHSU School of Medicine. “Our diagnosis-driven, nutritionist-backed health innovation is integrated with electronic health records. The digital platform helps patients connect, after discharge from the hospital, to providers, nutritionists, support groups, and to healthy but culturally-appropriate food sources.”
Improved patient communication for better health outcomes
Poor patient engagement leads to poor patient outcomes, and the DocTalk team decided to address the critical consequences of communication failures. Patients with complex chronic conditions don’t always have accessible means of staying in contact with clinics. The team, including Jonathan Sachs, M.D., M.P.H., Pediatrics and Department of Medical Informatics and Clinical Epidemiology, School of Medicine, developed a voice interface to facilitate communications between patients and their care teams.
“No one in our group had ever participated in a hackathon or pitch competition before we met at the Invent-a-thon,” said Sachs. “I’m a pediatrician and my teammates are an entrepreneurial high school senior, a product manager and a healthcare design strategist. We’d all come with the common vision of helping patients with chronic conditions. We stayed up late into the night and were elated when our device placed second.”
Taking Oregon’s entrepreneurial infrastructure global
The finalist and winning teams exhibit the geographic diversity made possible by a fully virtual event and show the power of Oregon’s entrepreneurial infrastructure to empower grass roots health care innovation and collaboration around the world. All the teams received intensive pre-pitch training and guidance from investors, and the three winners will also receive thousands of dollars’ worth of in-kind support from eight partnering investment firms.
“Initiatives like this are important because they elevate the discourse and opportunities for regional entrepreneurs and researchers and help grow our startup ecosystem,” said Angela Jackson, co-founder and managing director of the Portland Seed Fund. “I’m thrilled by the quality and diversity of teams that have emerged from the Invent-a-thon.”
The other six investor sponsors, providing in-kind and/or financial support, were Angel Capital Association, AngelMD, Aventurine, Elevate Capital, Oregon Venture Fund, Oregon Bioscience Association and Stoel Rives LLP.
The Post-hack concludes the inaugural OHSU Invent-a-thon cycle, but it is just the beginning of the program’s work.
“We were delighted to see in our post-event survey that the top motivating factor for the hundreds of participants was connecting with fellow health care innovators,” said Sarah Biber, head of the OHSU Invent-a-thon. “These events have been successful in stimulating impactful innovation and facilitating valuable connections and diverse participation in healthcare entrepreneurship. We look forward to building upon this further.”