Students tackle public health problems in SPH innovation competition


Hospitals have become more sophisticated about keeping families of surgical patients informed of what is going on in the operating room, but what if such updates could be shared in real time?

How about if the same application that provides O.R. status reports could offer to patients and families demonstrations of important pre- and post-operative care, potentially reducing infection and other complications? As a bonus, the same app could entertain family members while they wait during the surgery.

This is the concept behind My Waiting Room, one of 11 student innovations that soon will be narrowed to five for participation in the School of Public Health Innovation in Action: Solutions to Public Health Challenges student competition, to be held from 3-5 p.m. Friday at the School of Public Health Building II, M1020.

The event, which will include a special presentation by Sekou Andrews, poet, actor, musician and voiceover artist, is an inaugural student competition for the newly formed SPH Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship initiative, led by Vic Strecher, professor of health behavior and health education.

“Many of our students now come into the School of Public Health with an interest in social entrepreneurship. They understand that innovative new businesses and products can help others while also helping to develop economies,” said Strecher. “Through strong interactions with other schools at the U-M, we’re stimulating innovation and entrepreneurial thinking in these future health professionals.”

Multidisciplinary teams have proposed solutions to public health problems under three themes: Detecting disease and risk control, empowering the underserved, and technology-enabled health and wellness.

One winning proposal will be chosen for each of the themes, with the teams receiving $2,500. A single innovation will be picked as the grand-prize winner, and that team will get to present its concept a day later at the TEDxUofM Labs event at the Power Center.

Student teams have tackled such topics as healthy eating, sleep disorders, anxiety and depression, breastfeeding and youth violence. Other projects focus on consumer-owned health insurance, designed to help business owners manage adverse life events; a mobile app that encourages people to earn money for a non-profit by completing fitness challenges; and a product that helps patients get all their questions answered by the doctor.

“These pathways to innovation were not always obvious to our students,” said Ann Verhey-Henke, associate director of innovation and entrepreneurship at SPH. “This represents a yearlong opportunity for students to go from the seed of an idea to an incubated concept that may have potential to continue its development into the marketplace in the future.

“These cross-unit, multidisciplinary teams reflect the students future careers where they will utilize talent and work with teammates from multiple sectors to accomplish change in the world,” Verhey-Henke said.

These include SPH, the School of Information, LSA, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, Medical School, School of Nursing, College of Engineering, Stephen M. Ross School of Business, School of Natural Resources and Environment, Stamps School of Art & Design, as well as the International Institute, and the Center for Russian, Eastern European and Eurasian Studies.

The final five entries will be judged by an external team of experts, including Steve Bloom, Tallwoods Partners, an investment firm from White Plains, N.Y.; Jan Garfinkle, founder and managing partner at Arboretum Ventures; Edward Lanphier, Sangamo Biosciences; and Sam Shekar, Northrop Grumman’s chief medical officer.

Guest artist Andrews is the winner of two National Poetry Slams. He has performed for numerous dignitaries and celebrities, including President Barack Obama, and has been featured in various media. recently referred to him as the “de facto poet laureate of corporate America.”

The Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship initiative also works with faculty at SPH to develop ideas and share research that can impact public health across the world.



  1. Jerry Walden
    on March 11, 2014 at 10:43 am

    I am interested in youth violence. Can you tell me what the team working on this has done?

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