Healthcare Innovations in the ‘Shark Tank’

Kelly Schumacher '14 (NUR) demonstrates a fetal monitoring device called 'Baby Beat' to the enthusiastic response of some of her team members and judges Christine Meehan and Kevin Bouley. (Sheila Foran/UConn Photo)

Kelly Schumacher ’14 (NUR) demonstrates a fetal monitoring device called ‘Baby Beat’ to the enthusiastic response of some of her team members and judges Christine Meehan and Kevin Bouley. (Sheila Foran/UConn Photo)

Seizguard, a detection device in a bracelet that alerts patients to oncoming seizures and Baby Beat, a wireless continuous external monitor in the form of a lightweight flexible abdominal binder that monitors fetal heart rate, fetal movement, and maternal contractions, were the judge’s top two choices in the School of Nursing’s inaugural version of ‘Shark Tank’.

The competition, on March 10, was modeled after the television reality show where up-and-coming entrepreneurs present their ideas to a panel of angel investors, also called “sharks”, in hopes of earning funding for their fledgling companies.

Michaela Morse '14 (NUR) was part of a team that developed a cleaning system for stethoscopes – Enhancing Health One Stethoscope at a Time. (Sheila Foran/UConn Photo)

Michaela Morse ’14 (NUR) was part of a team that developed a cleaning system for stethoscopes – Enhancing Health One Stethoscope at a Time. (Sheila Foran/UConn Photo)

The School of Nursing’s version of the competition is an outgrowth of a course in nursing leadership. Nearly 100 senior students taking the class were divided into 13 teams to present their healthcare innovations to a panel of judges representing research, pharmaceuticals, economic development, and health care.

Working in groups of six to 10, students were asked to identify a clinical problem that could be addressed with an innovative solution. They were challenged not only to understand the process of developing such a solution, but also to explore the role of nursing entrepreneurs in the health care system.

Dean of the School of Nursing Regina Cusson said, “This first innovation event, our version of ‘Shark Tank’, demonstrates how nursing students embrace the concept of becoming change agents to improve patient outcomes. Their presentations were creative, well researched, and innovative. I really believe this demonstrates that our students have the potential to change the way nursing care is delivered.”

Teams not only had to suggest ideas for new inventions, they were called upon to explain aspects of development, production, and marketing. (Sheila Foran/UConn Photo)

Teams not only had to suggest ideas for new inventions, they were called upon to explain aspects of development, production, and marketing. (Sheila Foran/UConn Photo)

Cusson explained that even though nurses are on the front lines of medicine, they are not typically educated on how to make improvements in the health care system and delivery of patient care. “We wanted our students to develop skills in this area,” she said, “and this event gives them a chance to turn their ideas into reality. It’s all about practicing good medicine and becoming change agents at the same time.”

One of the judges, Kevin Bouley ’80 (BUS), president and CEO of Nerac Inc., a research firm in Tolland, Conn., said he was impressed by the level of creativity and engagement from the teams. “What we saw here today,” he said, “are ideas that will have direct application to patient care in the future.”

Another judge, Christine Walsh Meehan ’74 (NUR), CEO and founder of CADImplant Inc., a minimally invasive alternative to dental implant surgery, said, “No one knows better than nurses how to improve our health care system, and the students here today have really shown us that they will help provide the answers to patient care that we’ll be facing in the future.”

Among the ideas presented was an Omniscope, a device that combines a penlight, a thermometer, and and both analog and digital clocks. (Sheila Foran/UConn Photo)

Among the ideas presented was an Omniscope, a device that combines a penlight, a thermometer, and and both analog and digital clocks. (Sheila Foran/UConn Photo)

In addition to the two devices that will compete for “best innovation” honors at the School of Nursing’s annual research conference in April, other ideas included a glucometer that measures blood glucose while people sleep; an advanced call bell that integrates pictures and language technology to assist patients in conveying specific needs to nursing staff; a voice-activated code cart that acts as a management system; and a stethoscope with an auditory recording device, among others.

Jessalyn Pennington ’14 (NUR), one of the team presenting Digicuff, a blood pressure cuff with a digital readout, appreciated the opportunity both to present her team’s ideas and to hear the presentations of her peers. “It was really interesting to see everyone’s presentations and to talk about our ideas,” she said. “Several people suggested that Digicuff could be used in a home environment, and our team had originally been thinking of using it only in a health care setting.”

Her teammate, Christine Ogonowski ’14 (NUR), added, “Even if our idea doesn’t get produced, this event has encouraged us to think about our futures in nursing. It’s great to have ideas about how we might be able to use our leadership and innovation skills on a different level once we begin our careers.”

Judges for the event included:

  • Kevin Bouley – president and CEO Nerac Inc. (Tolland, Conn.)
  • Ellen Crowe – regional director of clinical excellence and innovation for the eastern region of Hartford Healthcare
  • Cheryl Hoey – vice president of clinical nurse services, Connecticut Children’s Medical Center
  • Mary Holz-Clause – vice president for economic development, UConn
  • Christine Meehan – CEO and founder of CADImplant; investor in GoldenSeeds
  • Rosemary Scricca – Bristol-Myers Squibb protocol manager