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Colleges Picking Up Slack on Spotlighting Young Healthcare Entrepreneurs

Brian O'Connell

The healthcare field has a problem of stark omission: it provides no meaningful incentive programs for promising young healthcare entrepreneurs.

It’s certainly not a problem in other industries. In myriad cases, philanthropists use cold, hard cash to lure smart, new entrepreneurs into the field. Consider these incentives:

Look at big industries like manufacturing, energy and financial services, and you’ll find similar incentives to lure new blood into those industries – with one exception.

Healthcare. You won’t find many examples of hospitals or health insurance companies offering incentives – neither the cash nor the knowledge currency kind – to budding healthcare superstars.

Fortunately, there is one U.S. institution that is coming out swinging on behalf of future – and in some cases, current – healthcare business owners. It’s America’s colleges and universities.

Schools like Bentley University, Babson College and the University of Pennsylvania have all stepped up with high-profile small-business incubator programs that cater to young entrepreneurs.

Clarkson University puts an interesting twist on the incubator theme – it offers young entrepreneurs free tuition in exchange for a stake in a new business venture launched by one of its students (one that Clarkson deems to have serious profit potential).

But while all those schools hold promise for fledgling healthcare business owners, it’s a contest at Wake Forest University that seems to have attracted a healthy dose of future healthcare start-up owners.

The contest – formally known as the Wake Forest University Schools of Business Elevator Competition – pits 35 teams from around the world to stand up and make two-minute elevator pitches about their businesses to a panel of university judges. If the judges like what they hear, the students earn seed money toward their new business ventures. Contestants come from business schools across the globe;four of the 35 teams pitching ideas were from outside the U.S.

This year, the 12th year that the elevator pitch competition has been in existence, a full line-up of young healthcare entrepreneurs walked away with some cash.

Among the winners were a biotech firm from Purdue University (Medtric Biotech) that “had developed a unique method of destroying bacteria for the prevention and treatment of infected wounds,” according to a university statement. The Medtric team won the $20,000 first prize.

First place rewards also included entrance into the Venture Labs Investment Competition last month at the University of Texas, where Piedmont Angel Network put up $500,000 in investment money for the best business idea.

The elevator pitch contest also had a social element. EYEChina from the University of Oklahoma took the top prize in the Wake Forest Social Entrepreneurship Track, winning not only $10,000 in seed money but also gaining entrance to the final screening round of the Echoing Green Foundation’s business plan competition. (EYEChina aims to provide one million residents of rural Sichuan with high-quality, accessible and affordable cataract surgeries by 2020.)

Healthcare business teams from Johns Hopkins University (Hermova Medical) and Duke University (Medici Medical Technologies) also finished in the money at the Wake Forest pitch-off.

This is exactly what the healthcare sector could use more of -- smart, talented, young entrepreneurs who get a high-profile platform to sell their business ideas. It’s good for Wake Forest, and it’s good for the winners of the contest.

Now if only more healthcare companies and non-profits got into the act, we’d really be on to something.

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