Student entrepreneurs pitch early-stage innovations to improve health care

The Scholarly Concentration for Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Business encourages competitors to make the best ideas a reality

Move over Shark Tank.

Teams of aspiring entrepreneurs vying for prizes in the recent 2nd Annual USF Healthcare Innovation & Venture Student Competition were so impressive that the judges had difficulty choosing a first-place winner.

The March 19 event showcased innovations of enterprising students in the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine’s Scholarly Concentration for Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Business. For the first time this year, the competition was also opened to all USF Health and USF students.

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The students outlined the selling points of their inventions and answered tough questions from the panel of judges from private industry and academia.

“It was very close, less than a 10-point spread among the top three teams,” said William Marshall, Jr., MD, MBA, director of the Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Business scholarly concentration, which sponsors the competition.

“It’s not quite Shark Tank, but we’re getting there,” Dr. Marshall said, referring to the popular TV series featuring potential investors, called “sharks,” who consider pitches from aspiring entrepreneurs seeking investments for their businesses or products.

Ultimately, the panel of judges from private industry and academia awarded prizes to three of the six teams — seed money to help further develop or commercialize the students’ ideas to improve health care.  The awards were based on the judges’ overall rankings derived by adding each team’s scores in several categories, including creativity, innovation, feasibility (i.e., will the product or service work in the marketplace?), needs and market analyses, and presentation quality.

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The Public Health-Engineering team of Ryan Ortega (left), and Michael (right) and Robert Bair (not pictured), won the $2,000 first-place prize at the 2nd Annual Healthcare Innovation & Venture Student Competition.

An interdisciplinary team from Public Health and Engineering won the top prize for Sol Sterilis, a solar-powered portable autoclave designed to sterilize medical instruments in energy-scarce environments.  Ryan Ortega, a student in the USF College of Public Health studying global communicable diseases, and brothers Michael and Robert Bair, both engineers with expertise in medical devices and sanitation technologies, received the $2,000 first prize for their energy-saving product.

The $1,000 second-prize went to USF Health medical students Spencer Moreland and Chris Tufts for Colloquiomed, a medical student-run online forum of resources integrated to support medical student learning and collaboration – a site one judge described as “Wikipedia and Facebook meet medical school.”

Medical students Khalil Nasser and Hussain Basrawala took the $500 third prize for Sono Station, a table-mounted ultrasound machine designed to enable precision image-guided treatments for spinal cord injuries or disease.

The other teams, all comprised of medical students, including several with backgrounds in engineering, biomedicine or pharmacology:

-          Mayssan Muftah, Adel Elsayed and Peter Hanna presented Connecting Innovators, a website designed to match people with ideas to others with the skills to bring the ideas to fruition.

-          S. Nick Kovacs presented Complete IC, a comprehensive, user-friendly platform for physician management and documentation of patient-centered informed consents.

-          Andrew Hanna presented Change Card, his solution for “overflowing piggybanks” that entails converting coins into money on an electronic card.

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Student teams look ready to start the competition.

Judge Dennis Mihale, MD, MBA, chief medical officer of the Chelsea Management Group, was quick to point out that even those who didn’t win exhibited an outstanding grasp of the business side of medicine and have learned what it takes to move an idea to market — valuable skills that will help them build careers in a changing healthcare system.

“Their presentations were outstanding,” said Mihale, a physician who conducted biomedical research with NASA and IBM and has more than 20 years experience in health care, biomedicine, and healthcare business process. “To see all these teams with such creative ideas and enthusiasm was astounding.”

The idea for Sol Sterilis stemmed from the experiences that Ryan Ortega and his friends Michael and Robert Bair gained working and traveling in developing countries. They witnessed the havoc that a deficient energy infrastructure, including routine loss of electricity even in large cities, causes in the lives of poor people.  Their research indicated this lack of power interfered with medical equipment sterilization in urban as well as rural hospitals and clinics, contributing to healthcare-acquired infections.

They recognized an unmet need waiting to be filled.

“Most of the health-related technologies developed by Western society take energy for granted, which makes these technologies less appropriate for developing countries,” said Robert Bair. “Solar technology, both photo voltaics and solar thermal, allows energy to be provided even in remote locations… After taking a few courses on the subject here at USF, we felt well-equipped to use solar energy to help solve a health-related problem.  We redesigned the traditional autoclave so it could be operated with solar energy instead of electricity.”

“What makes our product unique is that it can be powered by any combustible biomass (like wood or leaves), or any combustible gas, as well as the sun,” Ortega said.

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Dr. William Marshall, Jr., (third from left) director of the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine’s Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Business scholarly concentration, chats with some of the judges.

The Sol Sterilis team developed an initial prototype and was recently issued a provisional patent for what they hope will eventually be the first commercially available solar autoclave on the market. They are now testing and refining the technology.

In addition to healthcare facilities in developing countries, they envision that the market for their product might encompass remote areas where U.S. military troops are based, dentist and surgical offices, and even fill a niche for home brewers who need to protect equipment against unwanted bacteria or wild yeast.

The judges for this year’s Healthcare Innovation/Venture Competition, in addition to Dr. Mihale, were Steve Budd, instructor, USF College of Business; Terri Hunter, PhD, senior licensing manager, USF Office of Patents and Licensing; USF senior medical student Andrea Little, co-founder and CEO of 1 Apple Grocery, who won first prize last year for the neighborhood grocery store catering to low-income families; Scott Lee, principal, HealthEdge Partners; Frank Morsani, chairman of the board and principal owner, Automotive Investments; JoAnn Strobbe, MsEd, chief financial officer and associate vice president for administration, finance and technology, USF Health Morsani College of Medicine; and Michael J. Sweeney, MD, MBA, assistant professor, Florida State University College of Medicine.

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Presenters from the first-place (Ryan Ortega and Michael Bair) and third-place winning teams (Khalil Nasser and Hussain Basrawala) in this year’s USF Health Healthcare Innovation competition will compete April 7 for the $10,000 first-place prize in the 2014 State of Florida Healthcare Innovation Competition, sponsored by Florida Blue, the USF Center for Entrepreneurship and The National Academy of Inventors.  Four USF student teams will be among the 12 finalists from Florida universities presenting inventions designed to meet a need in the healthcare industry.

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Photos by Rebekah Wright, USF Health Morsani College of Medicine