Student Teams Win $50K from InnovateHealth Yale to Address Health, Education Issues

One student talked about a near-death experience after receiving counterfeit medication. Another recounted his life as a Rwandan refugee. A third spoke about an acquaintance who lost his leg and needed help getting a prosthetic device.

Students competing for two prestigious Yale prizes for social entrepreneurship drew on their life experiences and personal interactions as they pitched innovative solutions to real-world health and educational problems at the annual Thorne Prize for Social Innovation in Health or Education and this year’s inaugural Aetna Foundation Prize for Health Equity Innovation.

The winning teams on Friday (April 21) each received $25,000 that will be used to take their projects from the planning stages into development and implementation.

BridgeYear, led by Victoria Chen, SOM ’17 and Victoria Doan, won the Thorne Prize. Their venture seeks to deliver career exploration and support services to high school seniors. During a presentation to a panel of judges, Chen said students who aren’t bound for community college tend not to get the support offered to four-year-college applicants. Through “career test drives,” pathway mapping, and transitional advising, BridgeYear will help students navigate community college to gain employment or transfer to four-year colleges.

The winner of the Aetna Foundation Prize was MyHealthEd, which has developed a mobile app known as Real Talk that uses stories written by teenagers to engage middle school students on topics surrounding sexual health.

Team member Vichi Jagannathan, SOM ’17, said that winning the Aetna Foundation Prize was validation of all of the work her team has already put into developing Real Talk. The team will launch a beta version of the app this summer, and the money from the Aetna Foundation prize will help support an outcome evaluation. “We strongly believe in creating a product that our users love and that also has a positive impact on sexual health outcomes,” she said. Elizabeth Chen and Christina Leos are the team’s other two members.

Alyse Sabina, Aetna Foundation’s national program director, said the Aetna Foundation is delighted to be offering a prize for health equity and innovation for the first time this year. The Aetna Foundation prize is a way to “engage bright young minds to look at health equity issues in new and innovative ways,” she said. “They’re looking at needs in under-served low-income communities and designing solutions that help level the playing field in improving health outcomes.”

The Thorne and Aetna Foundation prizes are sponsored by InnovateHealth Yale, a program at the Yale School of Public Health that encourages students across Yale to use the principles of entrepreneurship and innovation to address problems in health and education in the United States and around the world. This marks the fourth year the Thorne Prize has been awarded.

They’re asking what are the needs in under-served low-income communities. It’s a way to help level the playing field.

Alyse Sabina

“Today we rightly focus on the winners of these competitions—and I am sure they will be highly successful, as have the previous ventures we supported,” said Martin Klein, IHY’s founder and director. “I am also proud that InnovateHealth Yale has engaged with over 600 students this past year, and encouraged them to think about creative and innovative solutions to pressing social challenges in health and in education.”

The other Thorne Prize finalists, from a field of 27 applicants, were Mosaic, which connects refugees to capital, marketplaces and a development infrastructure that can accelerate their socioeconomic advancement through education via vocational training; Penta, which collects used prosthetics in the United States and works with clinics and hospitals in Vietnam to repurpose the parts for disabled patients; and RxAll, which is fighting drug counterfeiting by providing a spectrometer and a digital procurement platform to pharmacies so they can authenticate medicines for their patients

The other teams competing for the Aetna Foundation prize were AlvaHealth, a real-time monitoring device to quantify the neurological symptoms of stroke; BetterCare, an application that teaches physicians about implicit bias and its effects on health care and social determinants of health; and NavigatER, a mobile application service that aims to improve the patient and caregiver experience during an emergency room visit by providing relevant clinical and logistical information.

“The quality of these innovative student health projects it truly inspiring,” said Sten Vermund, dean of the School of Public Health. “The winning teams and all of the competitors have ideas and products that can make great strides toward improving health and educational outcomes. This is what public health is all about.”

This year’s Thorne Prize judges were Margaret Yates Thorne, managing partner, Sociable Weavers; Shin Daimyo, senior advisor, Partners In Health; Raj Gorla, CEO, Contineo Health; Jay Rajda, chief clinical transformation officer and senior medical director of Aetna Health and Clinical Services; Rob Bettigole, founder and managing partner of Elm Street Ventures; and Kanya Balakrishna, co-founder and president of The Future Project.

The Aetna judges were Alyse Sabina, national program director, Aetna Foundation; Bobby Jefferson, chief technology officer, DAI Global Health; Tekisha Everette, executive director, Health Equity Solutions; Seth Feuerstein, Yale Department of Psychiatry; chief medical officer, medical and digital innovation, Magellan Healthcare; Vanessa Mason, CEO and founder, Riveted Partners and co-founder, P2Health Ventures; and Will Crawford, VP, engineering and head of the Boston office of Fitbit.

Previous Thorne Prize winners include Khushi Baby (2014), an inexpensive digital necklace and accompanying mobile app that streamlines the process of getting children in the developing world vaccinated; StoryTime (2015), an innovative cellular technology that promotes early literacy; and Spring (2016), a clinical tool that diagnoses patients with depression and matches them with the most effective treatment.

The event was held at the Yale School of Management as part of the university-wide StartUp Yale and at the neighboring New Haven Lawn Club, where the winning teams were announced.

To learn more about IHY, visit ihy.yale.edu.

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This article was submitted by Denise L Meyer on April 28, 2017.

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Martin Klein

Senior Advisor, Dean's Office

Sten H. Vermund

Dean and Anna M.R. Lauder Professor of Public Health