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Student Healthcare Innovators Do Battle 'Shark Tank' Style

Twelve teams of students from eight Florida universities recently faced off at the Second Annual State of Florida Healthcare Innovation Competition to determine whose medical technology reigned supreme -- and the winners walked away with $10,000.

"The competition brings together collegiate healthcare innovators from across the state, and allows them an opportunity to pitch their innovation ideas, concepts, and products before a panel of qualified judges," said Dr. Michael Fountain, director for event co-sponsor, the University of South Florida Center for Entrepreneurship. "In addition to winning cash prizes, these innovations gain insight from these world-class experts to help them move their technologies forward."

A wide variety of products and ideas was pitched, from a Google Glass application for people with cognitive and physical disabilities to a grocery store chain that sells healthy food in low-income neighborhoods.

"I think it speaks, very clearly, to the breadth of what can be done in healthcare innovation, whether it starts out with an application all the way to a small molecule," Fountain added.


Credit Mark Schreiner / WUSF 89.7 News
WUSF 89.7 News
USF students Andrea Little and Hector Angus pitch their 1 Apple Grocery chain at the State of Florida Healthcare Innovation Competition.

USF Information Technology student Hector Angus is operations and sales manager for 1 Apple Grocery. He and business partner, USF medical student Andrea Little, have opened two stores, one in Tampa's Sulphur Springs neighborhood and a new one in Plant City.

"Any award that we get is injected into the business, we’re here to serve the community of Tampa Bay, and by coming to these competitions, sometimes we win, sometimes we learn, and hopefully we’ll win this time and learn," Angus said before the competition.

USF Biomedical Engineering doctoral student Simon Antonio Bello presented an implantable device that helps glaucoma patients monitor the pressure in their eyes.

"Our device is a device that measures intraocular pressure, which is the main parameter that effects glaucoma 24/7, which is something that has not been done yet by current technology. And it also intends to control that pressure and take it to different levels in order to regulate and cease the progression of the disease," Bello said.

The other two USF teams were Morsani School of Medicine students Khalil Nasser and Hussain Basrawala, with "Sono Station," a table-mounted motorized surgical device that assists in back surgeries, and College of Public Health graduate student Ryan Ortega and engineering students, brothers Michael and Robert Bair, with "Sol Sterilis," a solar-powered autoclave that can be used to sterilize surgical tools in remote locations (Robert Bair is also member of "The Scientific League of Superheroes," a trio of engineering graduate students who don costumes to teach science, technology, engineering and math to middle school students).

Other presentations included:

  • A non-invasive device that measures parameters for heart failure (University of Florida);
  • A computer chip that measures levels cholesterol (Florida International University);
  • A female urinary device that enables women to stand while urinating (University of Central Florida);
  • A hexagonal nanoparticle system (University of Miami);
  • Google Glass applications for people with cognitive and physical disabilities (Nova Southeastern);
  • A mobile app that allows you to track your health information (Florida Atlantic University);
  • A dental cleaning device that delivers ultraviolet radiation via fiber optic cable and a diffuser (Nova Southeastern):
  • And a product that allows consumers to measure UV sun exposure (University of North Florida).

These "Shark Tank" style contests where students pitch their business plans to a panel of experts have proven popular at USF, which presents similar events at USF Health, the College of Business, and even for young inventors. There are also practice sessions offered to help students learn how to present their ideas.

"It’s absolutely imperative that we do that here at USF," Fountain said. "For us, at the Center for Entrepreneurship at USF, innovation and entrepreneurship are a central part of what we value in our university. And, for the community here in Tampa, it’s a central part of our core value as well."

Students in the Healthcare Innovation Competition had 10 minutes to present their creations and then took questions from a panel of 11 judges that included representatives of event co-sponsors, the National Academy of Inventors and insurance provider Florida Blue.

"It really has to do with innovation, how it’s going to make a difference, how it’s going to help people or how people are going to accept it and use it," said judge Dr. Barry Bercu, USF professor of pediatrics and president of the USF Chapter of the National Academy of Inventors

Fellow judge, Jason Fey from Florida Blue, was looking for something that could lower healthcare costs and improve outcomes. But he also likes the idea of what he calls “disruptive innovation.”

"Disruptive innovation is where you can really take and create a whole new concept; flip the industry on its head, upside-down, and create new revenue opportunities for the industry, as well as creating new efficiencies that don’t currently exist in the marketplace by leveraging new technologies," Fey said.

Bello’s intraocular pressure monitor took third place and $2,500.

Credit Mark Schreiner / WUSF 89.7 News
WUSF 89.7 News
USF Biomedical Systems PhD student Simon Antonio Bello took 3rd place in the competition with his implantable device that measures intraocular pressure for glaucoma patients. He poses with his prize check between , David Pizzo, Market President of West Florida Florida Blue and Michael Fountain with the USF Center for Entrepreneurship.

"It feels great. That’s what we came here for, show our work, and I’m so glad the judges like it. I’m really, really happy about it," Bello said.

Second place and $5,000 went to the heart monitor invented by University of Florida cardiovascular doctoral student Kaustubh Kale, while first place, along with $10,000, went to a pair of University of Central Florida seniors and their product, “Smartway.” It’s a disposable funnel-like product that gives women the ability to urinate standing up.

Nicole Enterlein and Taylor Cheeley say their interest in the device came about, in part, because of a high number of urinary tract and kidney infections among female military personnel serving overseas – infections believed to be caused by unsanitary bathroom facilities.

In addition, there are also not-so-clean public bathrooms and port-a-potties where "hovering" over a toilet seat may be a woman’s best -- or only -- option.

Credit Mark Schreiner / WUSF 89.7 News
WUSF 89.7 News
David Pizzo and Dr. Michael Fountain pose with UCF students Taylor Cheeley and Nicole Enterlein, who took first place with their Smartway product, a disposable funnel-like device which allows women to urinate standing up.

"So we wanted to provide a simple and easy way for girls to have the freedom to use the bathroom as well as people that have mobility [issues] due to age, pregnancy, and injury in general," Enterlein said.

The pair was thrilled about winning despite the fact that they didn’t have the medical backgrounds that most of the other contestants did – Cheeley's a senior studying psychology while Enterlein’s an advertising and public relations senior.

"It just says something about our presentation and the nature of our product," Cheeley said. "I think that the simplicity of it and the ability for it to be used by every woman, no matter what’s going on, really shows that our product has viability."

And some major retailers agree – they’re currently working on contracts that would put Smartway in over 16,000 Walgreens and CVS pharmacies, as well as similar deals with the U.S. Military. As Cheeley told UCF Today, "We’re saturating the market, one purse at a time.”

Mark Schreiner is the assistant news director and intern coordinator for WUSF News.
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