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OHSU Invent-a-thon attracts hundreds of innovators worldwide

In a time of pandemic-related quarantines and shutdowns, online event coaxes entrepreneurs, health care professionals and other innovators to come together to collaborate on new ideas, technologies to address health care disparities, other pressing health care challenges
Invent-a-thon infographic showing a world map with attendees' countries shaded; the top 5 countries (USA, India, Canada, Brazil, Indonesia) are noted in a text box with percentages (76%, 18%, 1.5%, .7%, .5% respectively)..
Developed in partnership with MIT Hacking Medicine and with the support of more than 50 academic and industry partners, the OHSU Invent-a-thon convened innovators from industry and health care, chasing solutions to pressing health care challenges. (OHSU/Sarah Biber)

Coffee shops are closed, huddle rooms shuttered, and Silicon Valley garages hold unused cars. But collaborative innovation continues as Oregon Health & Science University hosted its inaugural Invent-a-thon, a health care hackathon, Oct. 23-25.

Over the weekend, more than 600 people from 32 states and 200 cities worldwide formed interdisciplinary teams, bringing together different backgrounds, universities and fields to identify the biggest problems in delivering health care and think outside traditionally siloed research facilities and industries to develop innovative solutions.

Developed in partnership with MIT Hacking Medicine and with the support of more than 50 academic and industry partners, the OHSU Invent-a-thon convened innovators from industry and health care, chasing solutions to pressing health care challenges in the following tracks:

  • Surgical care
  • Early disease detection
  • Rural health
  • Management of chronic conditions

Reducing disparities in health care outcomes for communities of color was a common thread throughout the weekend, starting with introductory remarks by OHSU President Danny Jacobs, M.D., M.P.H., FACS.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated these health care disparities and created an even more urgent need to develop solutions to advance health equity,” Jacobs said.

Attendees included health care professionals, designers, software developers, researchers, engineers and entrepreneurs who formed teams virtually and received expert guidance from mentors to develop solutions over the course of the weekend.

“My message of hope is that innovation can come from anywhere, whether you’re on the frontlines of care delivery, the person born with a chronic health condition or you developed one throughout the course of your life. I’m here to encourage you to pursue your ideas to make health care better,” said Kistein Monkhouse, M.P.A., a documentary filmmaker and founder of digital health startup, Patient Orator, who is focused on dismantling systemic inequalities in health care.

New ideas created

The event was conceived and led by Sarah Biber, Ph.D., Department of Surgery, who collaborated with MIT Hacking Medicine, and 50 people from 12 departments and offices at OHSU, to develop and implement the event. OHSU ITG played an instrumental role in building the virtual environment for the event in MS Teams.

Ultimately, 49 teams pitched their solutions to a panel of mostly investor judges to compete for $28,000 in cash prizes. Teams will be connected with follow-on support from partners at OHSU and beyond, and all event participants have the opportunity to compete for additional funding ($40,000) at the OHSU Invent-a-thon post-hack event on April, 21, 2021.

“We were all blown away by what teams had been able to accomplish in just 48 hours and can’t wait to see where these projects lead,” said event founder Sarah Biber, Ph.D.

Each of the four tracks had four prizes, 1st ($3,000), 2nd ($1,500), 3rd ($500), and a special prize ($2,000) for the team that developed the most impactful solution for addressing health care disparities.

CathPort from the Surgical Care Track walked away with $5,000 from the event, winning 1st place and the health care disparities prize for their track. The team comprised Sarah Hecht, M.D., assistant professor of urology and Albert Lwin, M.D., department of surgery resident, both in the OHSU School of Medicine. CathPort is focused on developing a novel device to make cumbersome, complication-prone catheters obsolete while increasing patient autonomy.

In addition, another OHSU-led team earned first place in the Early Disease Detection track along with an in-kind $35,000 package from ONAMI for market research and customer delivery. OHSU team members included Erik Burlingame, a Ph.D. candidate in biomedical engineering, Anneka Owens, a computer user support specialist, Zeynep Sayar, a Ph.D. candidate in biomedical engineering, and Brian Walsh, a senior research software engineer at OHSU.

Learn more about the other winning teams here:

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