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Women in MedTech: Andrea Ippolito of MIT’s Hacking Medicine

Ippolito speaks to an audience at the March 2014 Healthcare Grand Hackfest. Photos and video provided by MIT Hacking Medicine.

Ippolito speaks to an audience at the March 2014 Healthcare Grand Hackfest. Photo by Lina Collucci.

Andrea Ippolito is embedded deeply in the healthcare ecosystem. While pursuing her Ph.D. in the Engineering Systems division at MIT, she also co-leads MIT’s Hacking Medicine, an organization created to energize and connect the best minds at MIT and within the health ecosystem. Ippolito hopes that through Hacking Medicine, people can teach, learn, and launch the next generation of healthcare solutions to solve healthcare’s biggest challenges at home and abroad.

If you think that sounds busy, just wait. Ippolito also co-founded Smart Scheduling, a health IT start-up that takes the guesswork out of patient scheduling by using algorithms that turn data into actionable insights. This week, MedTech Boston chatted with Ippolito about navigating the sometimes-amorphous landscape of digital healthcare.

What keeps you busy these days?

I’m working towards my Ph.D. at MIT, and co-leading MIT’s Hacking Medicine. Hacking Med is definitely gaining momentum, bringing together diverse stakeholders across the ecosystem to build the next generation of health tech solutions. I’m also an Innovation Specialist at Brigham & Women’s Hospital Innovation Hub. I’m excited that my co-founded start-up, Smart Scheduling, has linked with Athena Health as well.

Tell us more about MIT’s Hacking Medicine.

MIT Hacking Medicine is a student organization based out the Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship. One of main ways we engage people is through events called healthcare hackathons, which are focused innovation springs that take place over the course of a weekend.  At MIT, ‘hacking’ is a really positive term. It means developing and fixing problems in a really short timeframe. Our hackathons bring together forward-thinkers, engineers, clinicians and other stakeholders to create disruptive solutions in healthcare. Our goal is to provide budding entrepreneurs with a platform for collaboration that they might otherwise not have access to, and to plant seeds for innovative solutions. These events also provide connections, company sponsorships, motivation and opportunities for further growth.

We’ve organized 17 hackathons globally with over 2,000 participants. I am proud to say that over a dozen start-up companies have emerged from these events. Most notably, MGH’s Consortium for Affordable Medical Technologies and Hacking Medicine helped to launch the Augmented Infant Resuscitator (AIR) project led by Ugandan pediatrician Data Santorino. That team included an automotive engineer and a doctor, and together they brainstormed a device that monitors and improves infant resuscitation techniques. Our hackathon helped bring together a clinician and an automotive engineer – that’s what excites me!

What lessons have you learned from working at these two startups?

For start-ups and entrepreneurs, their idea is their baby, and rightfully so. But I’ve learned that we shouldn’t chase after a “perfect solution.” Instead, just put something out there. Showcase different versions of your product, seek feedback from all your stakeholders and let them guide you towards improvement.

Also, I’ve learned that if you want to make your ideas known, you should embed yourself in the healthcare ecosystem so you know the players in your field. Try to pivot your product through a healthcare incubator for feedback and established pathways. There are many of these incubators in Boston (like Healthbox) and in the Silicon Valley area (like Rock Health). Most importantly, I’ve learned that you should determine how your customers will pay for your product and address any hurdles here. Customer access should be our highest priority, and we must understand our stakeholder’s needs.

What’s it like to be a female in the medical technology field?

Actually, biomedical engineering is equal in gender representation; the challenge is to make healthcare sexy in other sectors of engineering. I find being a biomedical engineer very empowering because there’s creativity, job security and high pay demand. We need to do a better job conveying this to young girls.

It is important for females entering this field to find mentors and create a support system that can guide them along. I consider myself lucky because my mom is an electrical engineer and I found a great professional role model in her. Also, we shouldn’t wait for permission – we should ask for it! I’ve done that since my undergraduate days at Cornell, and it helped me succeed. One of my goals is to create an environment that encourages females to keep at it and persevere.

There’s a real thirst for solutions to America’s healthcare problems. What are your thoughts on this issue? 

I find digital health solutions to be very attractive. It provides noninvasive diagnoses, removes monitoring and allows for the convergence of healthcare data from around the world. The pathway is still not defined, which is exciting for entrepreneurs lured by challenge, innovation and disruption. The regulations are still being developed, and I find the possibilities in healthcare IT endless.

To see Ippolito talk more about her passion for hacking medicine, check out this video of the 2014 Healthcare Grand Hackfest in Boston:

This interview is part of our fall series on women in medtech. Check back in for weekly interviews with women in the medical technology field. Do you know someone who’d be a good fit for this series? Let us know – email jenni@medtechboston.com. 

Shreya Iyer

Shreya Iyer

    Shreya specializes in health communications and is a copywriter for an advertising agency. She was previously at Bayer Healthcare, Janssen Pharmaceuticals and Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide

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