The Health Care Technology Ecosystem: Supporting Nursing Student Entrepreneurs in Your College – Part 2

By: Beth A. Brooks, PhD, RN, FACHE

In my earlier post on The Health Care Technology Ecosystem – Part 1, I introduced terms useful for budding entrepreneurs. The budding nurse entrepreneurs (NEs) in your college are clamoring for support, resources, and mentoring, which can be accessed from the ecosystem. Below I offer ideas to support NEs at the college of nursing (CON), curricula, and course levels.

College

Since NEs often need to go outside the CON for support, CONs can begin by creating a network of mentors, advisors, incubators/accelerators, and funders to support their entrepreneurs. Faculty can contribute by volunteering as mentors at incubators and accelerators, thereby involving more nurses in the ecosystem. Entrepreneurs tend to be uninformed and unclear on some of basic key concepts; for example, the importance of talking directly to patients, families, or care providers in order to understand their daily challenges, the roles and responsibilities of providing clinical care, and even that nursing care differs significantly from medical care. These entrepreneurs would be well served with faculty members on their advisory boards.

Faculty leaders should seriously consider building bridges between the CON and colleges of business, computer science, and/or engineering. Visiting innovators in colleges of engineering and bio-design can provide a means of discovering methods to collaborate across disciplines in order to solve clinical problems. Campus resources such as offices of technology commercialization and “makerspace” tours (See MakerNurse in order to learn more) are also beneficial for those NE needing such resources. Some NE receive valuable advice from law students related to nondisclosure agreements, intellectual property, and patents. Equally important is CON collaboration with colleges of medicine. Medical students quickly learn the value of having nurses at the table during “hack-a-thons” or problem-solving activities, thereby bringing a valuable additional perspective to the table. One CON dean attended a Shark Tank-like competition sponsored by her university’s business school to support one of her BSN students (the first and only nursing student entered), who actually won the competition! Based on that experience, the dean quickly connected with the business school dean to expand the CON’s participation in the competition.

Curricula

One doctoral student NE I spoke with believes it is critical that faculty become informed on developments in the health care technology ecosystem in order to better align curricula for the future. A new graduate program, a specialty track within an existing curriculum, electives, or a certificate in entrepreneurship are examples of potential solutions in this area. Offering joint courses with business schools or computer science, or engineering departments enables student NEs to broaden their knowledge and exposure to potential mentors and advisors. The Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science offers a week-long innovation immersion elective led by faculty from the Arizona State University College of Nursing and Health Innovation.

Course Activities and Assignments

Following are ideas appropriate for both undergraduate and graduate students.

  • Tour an area incubator and accelerator to learn about programs and services offered to entrepreneurs; for example, arrange to interview a start-up CEO/founder about the challenges encountered in starting a health care technology company.
  • Lists of incubators and accelerators are available on the web—here are 12 health care innovation incubators and accelerators, both not-for-profit and for-profit, in the US that bring together health care systems, industry executives, entrepreneurs, and investors to learn, connect and collaborate.
  • Select a start-up company, learn about the solution, and then delve into the literature to learn if the solution is solving a “real” problem or is supported by best-practice evidence. 
  • A hallmark of incubators and accelerators is the valuable feedback generated through mentoring programs, because such feedback can either make or break a start-up’s success. Have students serve as mentors (and yes, a senior BSN student can mentor a start-up!). Many large health care systems own or invest in a technology incubator, and other clinical partners may have an office of innovation that would welcome students to participate in focus groups, provide feedback about a new technology solution, or pilot test new apps, devices, or software.
  • Encourage students to attend webinars and listen to podcasts about ideation, innovation, entrepreneurship, adoption of technology in health care or the Internet of Things (IoT) or recommend attending and/or presenting at an innovation conference.

A new nursing association–Society of Nurse Scientists, Innovators, Entrepreneurs and Leaders (SONSIEL)–seeks to magnify, network, and elevate the expertise of nurse innovators as transformation agents. Students can subscribe to a health care technology innovation e-newsletter such as Politico’s Morning eHealth, which examines the latest news in politics and policy, or the StartUp Health Insider, a weekly e-newsletter about various health care moonshots. Both provide news about the growing and evolving world of health care technology. Finally, a pitch competition or hack-a-thon as a course capstone experience can be developed and convened. Investing in and building a NE ecosystem in your college will provide the necessary support, resources, and mentors to a new generation of NEs.

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