It all began on August 26 and 27. The Breaking Boundaries: Collaboration Challenge launched the 2021 Veterans Health Administration (VHA) Innovation Experience (iEX) Virtual Series with amazing success. Over 425 participants tuned in over the two days to see 19 external health care innovators, entrepreneurs and start-ups pitch their early-stage solutions for the chance to collaborate with VA, present at the 2021 iEX Marquee Event in October, and most importantly, impact Veteran lives by forging a healthier future.
The competition resulted in 10 companies being selected to join with VHA Innovators Network (iNET) sites to further the design and develop their innovative solutions.
The event, co-hosted by the Founder Institute and VHA Innovation Ecosystem, also included an exciting keynote speaker and energizing fireside chat and panel.
Torrey Smith, CEO, Endiatx, gave an engaging look at how companies can collaborate to move their innovation forward and demonstrated his incredible technology – a camera in a pill that allows doctors to remotely explore a patient’s stomach. Dr. Ryan Vega, chief officer, Office of Healthcare Innovation and Learning, spoke candidly with Dr. Carolyn Clancy, VHA deputy under secretary for health for the Office of Discovery, Education and Affiliate Networks, about how innovation and collaboration are at the core of everything VA does.
“VA has been breaking boundaries for decades,” said Dr. Clancy. “That includes our 95-year-old research program… to the Innovation Ecosystem. In the past year, this has served us well. VA was way ahead of the curve with telehealth. Breaking boundaries is clearly part of our fabric.”
Allison Amrhein, director of Operations, iNET, followed this up by leading an in-depth panel on how the VHA Innovation Ecosystem is helping VA and outside organizations co-design innovative health care solutions for tomorrow. The panel featured multiple experts, including Ryan Micheletti of Founder Institute, Gina Adams from Wareologie, Dr. Sergio Garcia Vergara of RIF Robotics, and Kathryn Beckner, innovation specialist from the Central Virginia VA Health Care System.
“Collaboration is so important to VA, because just like no patient is the same, no concept is the same. No idea would be fully formed, and no solution fully thought-out without diverse perspectives and collaboration,” said Beckner. “That leads to the best solution for the health care environment and also for the Veteran.”
Braze Mobility Inc. is developing a terrain analysis system to help wheelchair users navigate outdoor environments more safely and independently using their proprietary machine learning algorithms that identify hazards.
Lead Site: VA Palo Alto Health Care System.
Other Sites: Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital, Tuscaloosa VA Medical Center, Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System, Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System, VA Western Colorado Health Care System, and Milwaukee VA Medical Center.
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Dr. Pooja Viswanathan is used to being the only woman in the room. She studied computer science, artificial intelligence and robotics at the University of Toronto, University of Waterloo and UBC.
“I think I was probably the only woman getting a PhD in robotics at UBC at the time,” Dr. Viswanathan recalls.
When she transformed the learnings from her PhD dissertation – navigation assistance and sensor technologies for power wheelchair users – into a startup called Braze Mobility Inc., Dr. Viswanathan says the all-male, mostly all-white boardrooms she encountered as she met with potential funders and business partners were no surprise. “If I went into a room that had a lot of women, that would be an anomaly for me,” she says.
Dr. Viswanathan says that she stood out at nearly every conference and industry expo she attended. “I could probably go as far as saying I’m the only female CEO, let alone female CEO of colour in the [complex rehab technology] manufacturing industry,” she says.Read More
AGE-WELL nurtures startups through funding, competitions, mentorship, access to expert services and other supports, helping companies commercialize and bring their products to markets around the world.
Dr. Pooja Viswanathan, co-founder and CEO of Braze Mobility, says that as a first-time entrepreneur, it can be challenging to become established and get the word out.
“AGE-WELL was really critical in not only providing financial support but also in offering mentorship and connections, as well as visibility through their events and workshops,” she says. “Through all of these different resources, we were able to be very cost-efficient early on and actually get to market much faster than we otherwise would have.”
Dr. Viswanathan will share her experiences with growing a startup as one of more than 50 speakers at AgeTech Innovation Week, a free virtual event hosted by AGE-WELL from October 4 to 8, 2021.
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