On April 25, 2016 nearly 450 students, investors, and entrepreneurs gathered at the Cambridge Innovation Center’s St. Louis location for a unique sort of Demo Day. The event was hosted by IDEA Labs, a student-run startup incubator founded at Washington University in St. Louis (WUSTL) in 2013. The group is financed through donations from WUSTL, BJC Healthcare, and the CIC, prizes from VentureWell and the Missouri Foundation for Health, and event sponsorships from Third Rock Ventures, PhRMA, J&J Innovation, Husch Blackwell, and several others. Though founded in St. Louis, it currently has branches in Boston (Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Philadelphia (University of Pennsylvania), Minneapolis (University of Minnesota), Ann Arbor (University of Michigan), and New Orleans (Tulane and Louisiana State University).

As healthcare organizations increase in size and scope, IDEA Labs seeks to “bring together students, faculty, staff, and local entrepreneurs to tackle unmet needs in healthcare delivery and clinical medicine.” Groups of students from various disciplines, including medicine, business, and engineering use their combined efforts to solve issues brought up by practicing healthcare professionals from around the nation. IDEA Labs hopes that fostering this sort of interdisciplinary collaboration under the guidance of practicing clinicians, engineers, and entrepreneurs will equip future healthcare professionals and other allied practitioners with the skills necessary to solve the problems of the future.

Stephen Linderman, MD-PhD student in Biomedical Engineering and Orthopedic Surgery at WUSTL and President of IDEA Labs nationally emphasizes the importance of “students and professionals from different backgrounds working together to tackle pressing clinical problems. IDEA Labs not only provides the resources to develop and commercialize new solutions, but also provides the training to continue identifying and solving medical problems throughout our whole careers.”

This year, Demo Day brought together top teams, investors, and strategic companies from around the country to showcase accomplishments and work toward investments and commercialization deals. Demo Day’s pitch competition was won by SnapPEAS, a startup focused on improving nutrition by providing app users with a “nutritionist in their pocket” that creates custom meal plans and grocery lists based on dietary requirements and local grocer supply. The poster competition was won by SpideySense, a team that uses motion sensors and haptic (touch) feedback to warn football players of impending impact from behind with just enough time to prevent concussions and reduce chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

In addition to winning the “best entrepreneurship training program” nationally at VentureWell’s Open 2016 conference, the Spirit of St. Louis Arcus Award for advancing the city as an innovation hub, and the St. Louis Business Journal’s 2016 Innovation Award for education, the AMA recently announced a collaboration with IDEA Labs. In a news release honoring the new collaboration, AMA CEO and Executive Vice President James L. Madara, M.D. emphasized that: “Innovation is a key driver in making the health system work better for everyone. The AMA looks forward to working together with IDEA Labs to help young entrepreneurs identify and understand key challenges in modern medicine and inspire innovation that will deliver meaningful solutions for patients and physicians.”

Entrepreneurship and interdisciplinary collaboration offer an untapped source of disruption in medical field and new possibilities to provide patients of the future with the care they deserve. With healthcare delivery becoming increasingly corporate, IDEA Labs and other startup incubators around the country provide the next generation of healthcare providers the skills necessary to solve the healthcare issues of the future.

I think a variety of communities where I work and where fabulous projects are being undertaken could learn a great deal from what has been started in St. Louis.

Craig Yugawa for Progress Through Business

IDEA LabsTM is a student-run biotechnology incubator.  Check out their website  Act Now