HSC Innovation Challenge grows with new partnerships

Thursday, May 12, 2022

The HSC Next Innovation Challenge is expanding to include employees in the JPS Health Network, and is partnering with Heartland Forward and Builders + Backers, national organizations that will manage and provide additional support and funding to the idea accelerator.

Heartland Forward and Builders + Backers will continue The University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth’s tradition of shepherding the innovative ideas of students, faculty and staff from concept to reality.

The project was created by HSC Next, the innovation and entrepreneurship department at HSC that provides resources for innovators, inventors and entrepreneurs.

Until now, the accelerator has been open to HSC participants. For the first time, organizers of the project also will allow submissions from providers, employees and residents within the JPS Health Network.

“We’re very excited to expand our audience,” said Dr. Robert McClain, HSC Associate Vice President, Division of Research and Innovation. “Our ultimate long-term goal is to get to a point where we’re running challenges that are open to the whole city of Fort Worth. This is a good step in that direction by including JPS.”

This iteration of the Innovation Challenge also marks the first time the program will be supported and funded by outside organizations. Builders + Backers, a remote-based hybrid venture capital accelerator firm, will offer coaching and guidance to the program’s participants. Heartland Forward, an Arkansas-based nonprofit spearheaded by members of the Walton family — whose mission is to improve economic performance in the center of the country — will match HSC’s funding by a 2-to-1 ratio. Owners of the 10 most viable ideas will be given a $5,000 Pebble Grant and attend a 45-day Builder Bootcamp and other related workshops and programs.

“One of our core values is to be visionary,” said Amber Yourman, HSC Next Senior Program Manager. “That’s what we’re calling people to do with these innovation challenges. How can you be visionary in solving problems in health care?

“Our mission as a university is to create solutions for a healthier community. What better way to do that than through innovating, entrepreneurship and creating products and services that solve real problems in health care?”

The Innovation Challenge program launched in May 2021. The scope of each challenge previously was limited to a few select topics such as health literacy, medication safety and animal research.

During the inaugural challenge last summer, Apple Sims, HSC Lab Animal Medicine supervisor, submitted her idea for a metabolic cage that aimed to make life less stressful for the animals. Thanks to the mentorship of HSC Next and community partners, she is now on the verge of creating a prototype for her idea.

“This is the first place I’ve ever worked that actually has a program in place that helps you develop your ideas into something more tangible,” she said. “They give you the opportunity to present your ideas, and, in some cases like mine, they even provide funding and resources so that you can actually see your idea come to fruition.”

Dr. Melissa Acosta, who directs the JPS office of clinical research, said her organization is eager to collaborate once again with HSC. In 2017, the two entities created the North Texas Regional Institutional Review Board, and collaborative research projects have increased by fivefold as a result.

“JPS Health Network is excited to join the Innovation Challenge with HSC,” she said. “Community collaboration is key for building an innovation ecosystem where ideas spark technologies leading to new and better health care solutions for residents of Tarrant County.”

The HSC & JPS Innovation Challenge is one of eight national cohorts throughout the central U.S. supported by Builders + Backers and Heartland Forward. James Atkin, Builders + Backer’s head of community engagement, said innovation cohorts from each participating city will have the opportunity to foster creative relationships with each other.

“Is there an area more in need of innovation experimentation than the American health care system?” Atkin said. “I think if we learned anything during the last two years of COVID, it’s how critical innovation is in health care.

“Who better to take what they’re seeing in their classrooms, in their practice and in the overall health care space than people who are new or studying and learning about these models and share their ideas on how to make it better? That could be huge.”

Applications are now open and can be found at hscnext.com. Applications close May 30.