New Program Will Identify Healthcare Challenges and Design Solutions

Nursing students on campus.
University Relations

Nursing students on campus.

 The U of A and regional healthcare leaders are teaming up to create an innovative new program that will focus on the challenges within the healthcare industry and create new solutions to bring to the marketplace.

The Northwest Arkansas Biodesign Sprints (NABS) program is a partnership with the university’s Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation (OEI), the U of A Department of Biomedical Engineering, HealthTech Arkansas and four major regional healthcare systems.

Housed at the Collaborative in Bentonville and inspired by the successful Byers Center for Biodesign at Stanford University, NABS will leverage existing partnerships to:

  • Build a community of people trained in innovation methodologies,
  • Expose clinical and healthcare system needs and
  • Yield early-stage ideas and prototypes for the marketplace.

“The NABS program was born out of our experiences working intensively with Arkansas Children’s Hospital and Research Institute over the last 18 months,” said Sarah Goforth, executive director of the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation. “With the benefit of partners at Arkansas Children’s who were willing to be out front in the creation of new ways of driving innovation, we learned that problems and ideas often lie dormant in the minds of busy clinicians who may not have avenues to advance them. This is fertile ground for innovation.”

NABS will initially partner with four hospitals and health systems: Arkansas Children’s, Washington Regional Medical Center, Mercy and Northwest Health.

Two types of sprints — brief, focused meetings designed to identify challenges and offer solutions — will be held within partner hospitals and led by administrators from HealthTech Arkansas. OEI, which has supported the development and success of multiple medical device and diagnostic startup companies over the last five years, will connect student talent from across business and engineering disciplines with the sprints, strengthening the capacity of the teams and deepening the healthcare innovation culture on the U of A campus. The Department of Biomedical Engineering will support the prototyping and testing of new innovations that emerge from the program.

“NABS will bring the infrastructure, resources and focus needed to help these four health systems develop innovative solutions to their own challenges and create their own intellectual property,” said Jeff Stinson, director of HealthTech Arkansas. “We’re very excited to leverage the relationships we’ve built with our state’s hospitals and health systems to build upon the good work we’re doing with them.”

The sprints that NABS programming will focus on are: (1) challenge sprints, which are department-level exercises to identify challenges and problems that lend themselves to new innovations, and (2) design sprints, which bring together internal and external subject matter experts to brainstorm solutions to known problems. For each, NABS administrators will bring post-sprint resources to continue developing the innovations towards commercialization.

“The programming content builds off our recent NIH grant focused on incorporating design, entrepreneurship and service learning within the biomedical engineering curriculum. The innovations developed by NABS teams will be directly informed by the needs of patients and clinicians, resulting in a greater likelihood they will improve clinical outcomes,” said Raj Rao, Head of the Department of Biomedical Engineering. “NABS will provide outsized value in the development of talent, market-ready innovations and scalable startups by creating a mechanism for clinicians, engineers and entrepreneurs to partner in an immersive context.”

NABS is funded by a $685,330 grant from the Walton Family Foundation and is the second of three verticals (the first being outdoor recreation and the third being software) planned for the Greenhouse, OEI’s product and business incubation facility at the Collaborative in Bentonville.

About the U of A Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation: The Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation creates and curates innovation and entrepreneurship experiences for students across all disciplines. Through the Brewer Family Entrepreneurship Hub, McMillon Innovation Studio, Startup Village, and Greenhouse at the Collaborative, OEI provides free workshops and programs — including social and corporate innovation design teams, venture internships, competitions and business incubation. A unit of the Sam M. Walton College of Business and Division of Economic Development, OEI also offers on-demand support for students who will be innovators within existing organizations and entrepreneurs who start something new.  

About the U of A Biomedical Engineering: The Department of Biomedical Engineering has established itself as one of the premier research departments on campus that is committed to training undergraduate and graduate students to become leaders in the field of biomedical engineering. More information can be found at biomedical-engineering.uark.edu .

About HealthTech Arkansas: HealthTech Arkansas is an accelerator and early-stage investment fund that recruits worldwide for the most accomplished startups in the areas of digital health, medical devices and diagnostic platforms. Those companies accepted into the program are guaranteed at least two pilot projects or clinical trials from among 12 leading hospitals, health systems and physician practices in Arkansas. HealthTech Arkansas is the only program in the U.S. to guarantee pilot projects and clinical trials with healthcare providers. More information can be found at HealthTechArkansas.com.

About the University of Arkansas: The University of Arkansas provides an internationally competitive education for undergraduate and graduate students in more than 200 academic programs. The university contributes new knowledge, economic development, basic and applied research, and creative activity while also providing service to academic and professional disciplines. The Carnegie Foundation classifies the University of Arkansas among the few colleges and universities in America that have the highest level of research activity. U.S. News & World Report ranks the U of A among its top American public research universities. Founded in 1871, the University of Arkansas comprises 10 colleges and schools and maintains a low student-to-faculty ratio that promotes personal attention and close mentoring.

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