Yale hacks for global health

On Friday, InnovateHealth Yale hosted its first ever “Global Health Hackathon,” bringing together fifty students from across the University to brainstorm and pitch ideas for health-related social enterprises.

The event, which was held at the Center for Engineering Innovation and Design (CEID) — featured a keynote speaker, brainstorming sessions, presentations and award ceremony. Event Director and CEO of ideaX Michael Mossoba said there were three main goals in hosting the hackathon: to encourage social entrepreneurship on campus, to promote interdisciplinary collaboration across schools and to raise awareness about the Thorn Prize for Social Innovation in Health, a $25,000 cash prize awarded through InnovateHealth Yale each spring to the best student-led venture focused on enterprise or innovations focused on health.

“Today is less about ideas generated in a few hours,” Mossoba said. “Rather, we hope to open minds up to ambitious possibilities.”

The event began with a keynote speaker, Cubby Graham, from the New York-based non-profit organization, charity: water. Graham told the crowd that health-related solutions require creative approaches, whether shaving a beard for a grassroots charity campaign or working with local populations to address unhealthy cultural norms. When students work in collaboration and bring fresh perspectives, there is the potential to unlock greater possibilities in creativity, Graham said.

Following the keynote lecture, students were sorted into different brainstorming sessions, in which representatives from the CEID and Center for Business and the Environment at Yale (CBEY) led the groups in discussion about critical health issues and came up with possible responses.

Martin Klein ’86 SPH, Founder of InnovateHealth Yale and associate dean for Development and External Affairs at the School of Public Health, said that the hackathon aimed to synthesize the range of perspectives and backgrounds from the schools represented, including the School of Management, School of Medicine, School of Nursing, School of Forestry, School of Public Health and Yale College.

“At the end of the day, global health problems require interdisciplinary approaches,” Klein said. “It is important that people represent the different schools at Yale, addressing these issues through a mixture of new ideas.”

After a brief break for dinner, students were encouraged to break into groups based in shared interests and visions for a project. Teams were then given an hour to work together to design a social entrepreneurial “hack” to a health issue of their choice.

Following the hour of planning, teams presented the designs for their social entrepreneurial projects in front of a panel of judges that included industry experts and Yale educators. Awards presented ranged from “Best Mobile App Award” to “Best Innovation for Social Networking.” PatientPals — a social network that helps hospital patients without strong family support connect with one another — won the Connecticut Innovations Award for Long Pitches. The Connecticut Innovations Award for Short Pitches was presented to FitLock, a mobile app that tracks your physical activity and blocks certain phone features until fitness goals are met. The event was sponsored by Connecticut Innovations, an investment firm that specializes in tech companies.

“Working with other students has helped me think outside the nursing bubble,” said Lizzie Edwards YSN ’15, adding that she enjoyed connecting with people who share a similar passion for global health from across the University.

Some students interviewed voiced interest in using the event to generate ideas and network with other students for the Thorn Prize, which will be awarded on April 26. Risa Wong MED ’15 said she was interested in hearing the pitches because she hopes to find like-minded people to work with for the prize.

Neha Anand ’17, one of the hackers at the event, said she had heard of computer hacks before, but never one that addressed global health issues.

“It is not far from reality that some of the students today could create an idea that becomes a Gates Grand Challenge Award or the next Unite for Sight,” Klein said. “It has happened before [at Yale] and there’s no reason it can’t happen again.”

Mossoba said that due to the displayed interest in the event — nearly one hundred students were on the waiting list — InnovateHealth Yale will likely host the event again next year.

InnovateHealth Yale was created in Fall 2013 to promote public health advances using social entrepreneurship.

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