Hacking for Healing
“The costs are low, the talent and funding is here, and the competition is not.”
Through a new Technology Incubator within the Washington State University Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, Andrew Richards and his colleagues are taking an unprecedented opportunity to help build an integrated, 21st-century medical school from the ground up.
“About one in five people in Spokane work in healthcare,” says Richards, WSU’s College Technology Incubator Officer. “And right now, this is the perfect place for startups, research, clinical trials: the costs are low, the talent and funding is here, and the competition is not, compared to other cities. So as we build out this University District, we think it’s important to use these conditions to deploy cutting-edge health technologies for rural and underserved communities.”
For Richards, one step has been simply putting the right people in a room together. April 2019 will mark the second annual “Hackathon” Richards has organized, bringing together patients, students, faculty, developers, caregivers, and others for an intense few days (and nights) of innovation they call #WSUMedHack.
“The first year was a great success, and we’re excited to build on it in 2019,” he says. “It’s incredible what can happen when you have, for example, a caregiver in the room who shares about a problem they are seeing in their field. A med student gives a different perspective; a technologist or programmer offers some ways to overcome the issue; nurses and patients share what they’d like to see and the solutions they would actually use."
One can see how those work sessions can lead to real possibilities for an industry sector in need of cost-effective solutions. There are participants from last April who are still working together to start businesses around the ideas that surfaced. Working alongside groups like Startup Spokane and a related collaboration called Mind to Market, ideas that are incubated within WSU’s new medical school are more rapidly hatched into companies, helping build a critical mass that Richards and others are beginning to see in the medical technology sector.
“I travel a lot, and when people around the country hear what’s going on in Spokane, they want to be part of it,” he says.
Hackathon 2018 photos courtesy of Washington State University.