This past weekend, the Yale Center for Engineering Innovation and Design hosted HackPeds, a two-day hackathon focusing on solving pediatric health care challenges.
HackPeds was led by BulldogHacks, an undergraduate group that organizes hackathons each semester at Yale. According to founder Claudia See ’17, BulldogHacks — whose stated mission is to inspire students to think creatively, solve today’s pressing health challenges and transform ideas into tangible products — hosted their first hackathon this past February focusing on mental health.
According to See, HackPeds began on Friday night, when participants pitched “pain points” — problems they identified in pediatric health care. Then, they formed teams and started hacking with the guidance of seven mentors from a variety of backgrounds who helped teams develop their ideas. On Saturday evening, teams presented to a panel of judges, who scored their projects based on five categories: health impact, innovation, business model, product and presentation. Four monetary prizes were awarded, ranging in value from $100 to $500.
“I was especially excited by the investment participants put into their own ideas,” See said. “While we had few undergraduates and mostly graduate students and beyond, all the participants were really committed to taking part in the hackathon. While traditional hackathons are usually huge in size with hundreds of people, I think the uniqueness of our BulldogHacks events is that we provide an intimate and collaborative hacking environment that encourages quality over quantity.”
See first developed the idea for the conference during her sophomore year, when she joined the planning team of a Yale-wide hackathon that took place at the Yale School of Medicine. After helping to plan another hackathon her junior year, and realizing the potential for undergraduates to get more involved in health technology innovation, she decided to start BulldogHacks.
The nine teams’ projects represented potential solutions to a diverse set of pressing health care issues, from excessive ultraviolet exposure in children to skin cancer in Tanzania’s albino population. The winner of the $500 Grand Pediatrics Prize was Breathelet, a four-member team composed of Arsalan Ahmed SPH ’18, Natasha Dudzinski GRD ’20, Marcus Ihemdi SPH ’18 and Leo Liang, a visiting international student from Hong Kong. The team addressed the problem of underage drinking by creating the Breathelet, a reliable and inexpensive breathalyzer that can be discreetly worn around the wrist as a bracelet.
“Having a clearly defined problem is really important because sometimes if you don’t know what you’re trying to solve, if people have too broad of an idea, it prevents you from identifying a specific solution,” See said. “Having some sort of wow factor is always a plus. That can be a real video, a prototype, a campuswide survey — something that sets a team apart and makes them memorable.”
Jacob Fohtung, a visiting fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management, was one of the mentors for HackPeds and focused on the business side. Fohtung also helped to plan the hackathon with See during its early stages. He acknowledged to the News the impressive nature of the students’ ideas, but noted that there remained issues within the health care industry.
“It’s a very archaic system wherein the main players of the system are very comfortable in that model,” Fohtung said. Coming up with disruptive innovation is very challenging, because it’s hard to convince these main players that there’s something different that can work much more efficiently. In addition you have to go through [Food and Drug Administration] approval to get to the market. This by itself discourages people to be much more innovative.”
PremieBreathe, a low-cost infant respirator designed for use in low-resource settings and developed by Yale alumni, was the startup speaker at HackPeds. According to Madeleine Knapp SPH ’17, a member of PremieBreathe, the respirator is more economically feasible, culturally appropriate and sustainable for premature infants requiring respiratory support, particularly in their target country Ethiopia. Knapp added that she directs fundraising for PremieBreathe and has participated in the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute’s summer program in the past.
The Center for Engineering Innovation and Design opened in August 2012.