UNC Digital Health Innovation Sprint Kicks Off in the Triangle

Through a series of digital health innovation "sprints" this fall, UNC Health Care seeks to close the gap between health care providers and digital health entrepreneurs.

UNC Digital Health Innovation Sprint Kicks Off in the Triangle click to enlarge Sprint participants engage in design-thinking exercises to begin developing digital health ideas.
UNC Digital Health Innovation Sprint Kicks Off in the Triangle click to enlarge Michael Levy, Entrepreneur in Residence at the UNC Health Care and School of Medicine Center for Innovation, kicks off the Sprint sharing the importance of developing ideas to pressing healthcare challenges.

Innovation within health care is challenging. With stringent regulations and existing technologies in place that are difficult to integrate or build around, the barrier to entry for innovators outside of the industry is high. Startups and technology developers can create solutions, but may have limited knowledge of the true problem they are attempting to solve and lack access to test in clinical settings or prove efficacy in a way to convince healthcare systems to adopt their solution. 

In short, health care is difficult to navigate for startups who have the potential to develop the groundbreaking innovations needed to advance digital health. So how do we bridge this gap?

Enter the UNC Digital Health Innovation Sprint. Michael Levy, Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the UNC Health Care and School of Medicine Center for Innovation, created the Sprint as a way to source problems directly from health care providers and then connect those providers to entrepreneurs who can solve them with technology.

To launch the Sprint at UNC, Levy formed a partnership with The Institute of Healthcare Design Thinking and hosted the first of a series of events that make up the Sprint, a discovery workshop for providers to identify and define problem statements—creating the calls to action needed to bring in entrepreneurs and developers to ideate potential solutions. The problem statements identified four pressing areas in need of innovation within healthcare:

  • Aging in Place: the elderly want to remain in their own homes for as long as possible but require a higher degree of care
  • Care Coordination: atrial fibrillation patients need improved coordination of care across multiple settings and physicians
  • Medication Adherence: asthma patients struggle with dosage and adherence to their care plan while managing their condition
  • Readmission Reduction: heart failure patients need support before, during and after discharge to avoid hospital readmission

These four problem statements were presented as a reverse pitch from leading UNC Health Care clinicians to the Triangle’s booming entrepreneurial community on Thursday, Sept. 29 at American Underground in Durham, NC. As the clinicians each provided a case study from an actual patient, startups and developers were offered a rare and intimate insight into the implications of real issues.

Multidisciplinary teams containing a range of skill-sets were formed to develop potential solutions to these problems as a group, using design thinking exercises with the opportunity to ideate alongside clinicians.

“The turnout was incredible, and in true startup style, the energy of the room was palpable from the start,” said Levy. “Collaboration immediately took off and ideas began snowballing within teams. We are excited to see what kinds of solutions emerge over the coming weeks.”

Over the next two months, each team will complete Phase 1 of the UNC Digital Health Innovation Sprint, conducting a series of exercises each week to keep advancing their solutions from customer discovery through to business planning. UNC Health Care clinicians, industry mentors and subject matter experts will continue to offer their input and support to help these solutions progress, leading up to the conclusion of Phase 1 on Nov. 17, when teams will pitch their finalized ideas at Demo Day. Winners will receive cash prizes and the chance to further develop their solution in collaboration with local accelerator Groundworks Lab’s 8-week program, with a view to prototyping and testing their solution within UNC Health Care.