Dream It. Pitch It. Make It. This motto for the Carle Illinois College of Medicine’s Health Make-a-Thon captures the possibilities and opportunities for innovation afforded by the Health Maker Lab, an interconnected network of design and making facilities at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. For a month prior to the event, anyone from the Champaign County community was eligible to submit their ideas to enter the contest. The only guideline for the submission was that the idea should work to improve human health. From 140 entries received, 20 teams were invited as finalists to take the stage on April 13, 2019 at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Sciences and Technology, to pitch their ideas that might change the future of healthcare innovation. These teams comprised students, healthcare practitioners and citizen-scientists from the University of Illinois, Carle Foundation Hospital, and the broader Champaign County.

Yusi Gong, presenting her idea with teammate Gwendolyn Derk at the Health Make-a-Thon.
Yusi Gong, presenting her idea with teammate Gwendolyn Derk.

A standing-room only auditorium waited in anticipation for Saturday’s event to begin. Opening speakers included Ruby Mendenhall, assistant dean for diversity and democratization of health innovation and Dr. Martin Burke, associate dean for research. Then, it was time for the main event, where the finalists were introduced by Irfan Ahmad, assistant dean for research and executive director for the Health Maker Lab. The finalists pitched their ideas in a ‘dolphin tank’ style, which is similar to a shark tank format, but friendlier. Each team was given two minutes for their presentation and the judges of the ‘dolphin tank’ were given three minutes for questions. Sitting on the panel of judges were individuals from the University of Illinois and Carle Hospital, organizations around the Champaign-Urbana community, and even Illinois alumni with health-focused startups. After each pitch, the judges and audience members voted on each team’s idea and pitch via a customized voting app. The judges and audience had difficult decisions to make, as the ideas presented ranged from products like modular prosthetics and portable breastfeeding stations to a wellness playground at a local school. In each presentation, the finalists’ talent, ingenuity, and passion in their ideas were evident.

As scores were being tallied, several speakers made closing remarks including the founders of IntelliWheels, PSYONIC, MakerGirl and HealthConcierge, who mostly touched on the start-up and innovation opportunities they were able to take advantage of at Illinois and the impact of the Health Maker Lab networks. Finally, it was time for the ten winning teams to be announced. On the line were 10 Health Maker Lab coins, each being symbolic of the $10,000 in idea support the winners would receive from the Health Maker Lab network, in terms of resources, materials, and mentorship. This would help the teams take their ideas to the next level by completing research, building prototypes, and even getting guidance on bringing the product to market. The 10 winning teams were:

Compression Stocking by Jay Anderson, Judith Yasunaga

One Health Make-a-Thon winner, Sarah Nixon, receiving her Health Maker Lab coin.
One Health Make-a-Thon winner, Sarah Nixon, receiving her Health Maker Lab coin.

Mobile Phototherapy Suit by Siddiqua Haswaey-Shari’ati, Yusef Shari’ati

Programmable Pill Bottle by Dena Strong

Preemie Pod by Amanda Henderson

Heart Health Wearable Device by Katherine Chou

Miniature Horse Power by Sarah Nixon

Smart Toilet by Gwendolyn Derk, Yusi Gong

ALICE Sensors by Mikaela Frechette, Thierry Guigma, Widya Ramadhani

4-in-1 Vital Sign Reader by Maaz Imam, Haajar Amin Mansour, Kabir Fakoya

Nouvo: The Smart Pacifier by Amaury Saulsberry, Akeem Kennedy, Trevor Sibby, Kevin  Yu, Siya Ai

These incredible ideas have the power to change the face of medicine, better human health, and leave a lasting impact. With the resources from the Health Maker Lab and the drive and dedication of the citizen-scientists, there is no limit to how far these ideas will go.

Following the event, Carle Illinois hosted a reception for all participants and attendees, which was an opportunity for everyone to mingle, share future ideas, make meaningful connections, and share in their passion for science and health care. Carle Illinois is planning to make this event an annual tradition. An annual Health Make-a-Thon is an important step towards the democratization of health innovation and stays true to the Carle Illinois College of Medicine’s vision of improving the human condition at the intersection of engineering and medicine.