Haas Hosts Third Annual Hacking Health Competition

Trial Connect, a team that designed software to reduce clinical trial costs, carried home the top prize at UC Berkeley’s third annual Hacking Health competition Oct. 18 to Oct. 20. Whistleblower, a team with two evening-and-weekend MBA students, was named the most innovative entry for an oxygen meter for asthma patients.

Held at SkyDeck, Berkeley’s startup accelerator, Hacking Health was organized by a team of dedicated MBA students in collaboration with the Haas School’s Lester Center for Entrepreneurship with challenges sponsored by Genentech and Novartis.

Participants included both professionals and students from UC Berkeley, UC San Francisco, and even UCLA with backgrounds in coding, marketing, medicine, and design. A judging panel of health care, technology, and entrepreneurship experts awarded a total of $11,000 in three prize categories.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” said weekend MBA student Elvina Kung, MBA 16, a member of the Whistleblower team, which also included evening student Henry Leung, MBA 15. Whistleblower impressed judges with a pitch that included a demonstration of its app. By breathing into a device that connected to their smartphone, asthma patients could measure how well oxygen was traveling through their lungs. The concept was a modernization of the hand-held peak flow meter.

“They showed just how simply you can re-create the core of that product,” says Liz Rockett, MBA/MPH 2010, founder of Hacking Health and one of this year’s five judges.

Part of Whistleblower’s success, Rockett adds, was that the team clearly approached building its product from the point of view of the patient.

Most Innovative: Whistleblower team members Elvina Kung, MBA 16; Raj Manickam; Jeffrey Yunes; Raphael Falk;  Henry Leung, MBA 15; and Merwan Benhabib.

Similar to Whistleblower, Novartis Challenge winner Breathe focused on helping asthma patients manage their condition. The team designed a product that would help patients share their moslizt recent results with their doctors, who could then refine treatment as needed in real time.

Top winner Trial Connect, which included Haas alumni TK, developed the concept for software that would reduce the cost of clinical trials. The program focused on source verification as a way to identify and eliminate data entry errors early in the trial process.

“We were surprised, definitely,” says Trial Connect team member Jonathan Tsai, BA 06 (Comp. Sci.), of winning. “We had a really close-knit team; everyone played their part.”

Overall, 18 teams made pitches for apps for the growing field of digital health care.

At the end of the day, Rockett noted, the hackathon is about the power of ideas and letting teams see how much progress can be made in a short period of time. She was encouraged by the way participants used the weekend to think big and collaborate with peers from different fields. “That is the beauty of the hackathon,” she said.