Launch for Healthcare Entrepreneurs | MIT News

Launch for Healthcare Entrepreneurs |  MIT News

When Elvira Kinzina, a doctoral student in computer science and systems biology, was diagnosed with Lyme disease during her freshman year at MIT, she struggled to find a doctor who specialized in the disease — even though Boston is renowned for its thriving healthcare community. She quickly discovered it was common for Lyme patients, with many specialists booked for months, years or indefinitely. Now she’s involved in a new Independent Activities Period (IAP) program focused on healthcare entrepreneurship and developing an app to help Lyme patients find doctors and answers faster.

“I saw how people suffer when they have to wait, and I wanted to do something about it,” Kinzina says.

Patient advocacy has become a recurring theme for students like Kinzina involved in A Deep Dive into Healthcare Entrepreneurship. This unique IAP offering aims to pivot some of the school’s bold thinkers into becoming the greatest healthcare problem solvers to meet the needs of underserved medical communities struggling with the long Covid, the disease Lyme disease, inflammatory bowel disease and Down syndrome. Over three quick weeks, 52 participants formed 13 teams via Zoom and Slack to develop highly sought-after healthcare solutions. For them, IAP was a whirlwind of brainstorming, discovery and ideation, attending expert talks while connecting with medical providers, patients and potential customers to explore new industry terrain. .

The IAP program is part of MIT DHIVE: Dive into healthcare innovation and business exploration (pronounced “diving”), led by Mahnaz Maddah PhD ’08, Electrical and Computer Engineering (EECS) graduate and serial entrepreneur. Maddah had returned to MIT to serve as program director at MIT sandbox after more than 13 years in industry and Silicon Valley startups developing impactful products. “For me, it’s a way to give back to the MIT community and share what I’ve learned in the industry by launching products in the life sciences,” Maddah says.

MIT Sandbox was launched in 2016, providing support for student entrepreneurs through seed funding, mentorship, and entrepreneurship education.

Jinane Abounadi, the executive director of MIT Sandbox, observed that a good number of students interested in entrepreneurship were looking for good problems to solve. Emily Fairbairn, a member of the Sandbox Funding Board, had the opportunity to observe the talent and hard work of MIT’s student teams. Together they saw an opportunity to support the ideation phase and help students identify meaningful areas.

After Maddah met Abounadi and Fairbairn, she joined MIT Sandbox to explore ways to engage student entrepreneurs in solving health issues. Soon after, Sandbox launched a summer pilot program that encouraged students to explore problem areas in the long Covid and Lyme. Emily and Malcolm Fairbairn have generously supported research and entrepreneurial activities in this area at MIT. The summer pilot was a success and led to great learning and four teams continuing into Sandbox with strong ideas.

The summer pilot led to the design of DHIVE. Since its launch, in just a few short months, DHIVE has gained new partners, expanded to support new patient populations, and continued to fuel entrepreneurship, with programs offered in Fall 2021 and IAP welcoming students from diverse backgrounds. Many students come without an idea or a team member and leave the program with both an idea and a team – and opportunities to continue their entrepreneurial journey.

“I applied to DHIVE to challenge myself in an area where I had no previous experience: healthcare entrepreneurship,” says Patrick Stewart, a graduate student from the Sloan School of Management, who joined DHIVE via IAP. “To best identify my blind spots as an entrepreneur and leader, I wanted to build something from scratch in an interdisciplinary framework.”

Maddah says now is the right time to connect MIT students from different backgrounds, such as engineering, business, chemistry and biology, because there is more data than ever to inform gap-based solutions. care faced by growing patient groups.

During IAP, students joined teams along three tracks with growing patient pools: long Covid and Lyme, Down syndrome, and inflammatory bowel disease. It’s still unclear how many people nationwide are facing long Covid, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says it’s likely a significant number. The CDC also reports that 35,000 people contract Lyme disease each year, the number of patients with inflammatory bowel disease is rapidly increasing, and Down syndrome has become the most common chromosomal disorder, affecting 6,000 new -born every year.

In partnership with the MIT Deshpande Center for Technology Innovationthe MIT Center for Microbiome Informatics and Therapeutics (CMIT)the Massachusetts Congress on Down Syndromethe Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation New England Chapterand the National Science Foundation Innovation Corps (I-Corps) Program at MIT, DHIVE drives student healthcare entrepreneurship by connecting students to the network, infrastructure, and funding resources needed to bring big ideas that can transform patients’ lives to life.

During IAP, Kinzina served as a teaching assistant and supported incoming students who were primarily assembling new teams or joining existing DHIVE teams from the summer or fall programs.

There are also DHIVE teams that come from industry. John BA Okello is a Sloan Fellows MBA student. He started DHIVE in the fall and continued with IAP. With an extensive background as a medical researcher and healthcare innovator, Okello led his Nurenyx team for three years before joining DHIVE, exploring the drug development process. At that time, he realized through interviews with experts and customers that what he needed most was a decentralized clinical trial platform that would remotely connect drug researchers to patients. .

He and his team had started discovering clients, so when he found DHIVE, Okello felt the program was a “perfect match”. Participating in the fall and IAP, his team is currently pursuing the discovery and study of how to build this dream decentralized clinical trial platform to serve long-time Covid and Lyme patients, whose experiences often overlap.

After the IAP ends, teams can continue the Sandbox program in the spring. This is the case of Alisa Y. Hathaway, an undergraduate student at EECS, who had limited knowledge of Down syndrome before joining DHIVE. After hearing from patients and doctors, his team responded by developing an app to help patients with Down syndrome organize their records. This spring, his team intends to continue by focusing on learning the logistics of pooling medical records. “After the interviews, I couldn’t stop working on my project – it was very inspiring and emotional for me,” Hathaway said.

Students also have a range of options to continue. After applying, they are accepted into Sandbox to receive mentorship and financial support to continue working on their ideas. Depending on the stage of their ideas, DHIVE teams can also apply to the I-Corps Spark program, reach out to partners at Deshpande and CMIT, or join summer accelerators such as MIT’s delta v. Just as DHIVE teams focus on the entire process from ideation to product development, DHIVE focuses on supporting teams from start to finish by equipping them with the tools they will need to keep imagining and eventually bring their ideas to market.

For Maddah, DHIVE has become an opportunity to share with students how rewarding healthcare innovation can be as a career path. “I’m passionate about healthcare entrepreneurship: identifying unmet needs in life sciences, finding solutions, and turning an idea or concept into a product that people can benefit from,” says Maddah.

Abounadi says it’s also a chance to engage more students, who can realize their potential as healthcare innovators through DHIVE, and then act on life-changing ideas through Sandbox.

“DHIVE has proven to be a great way to provide a meaningful framework for students to ideate and collaborate on important issues before committing to an idea as part of the regular Sandbox program,” says Abounadi. “For many of our students, having this opportunity is essential to their engagement in entrepreneurship education at MIT. We are excited to see emerging teams continue their journey.