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Innovation Across Disciplines: Behind the Scenes at the Harvard i-Lab


Harvard students work in the collaborative i-lab space. Photo provided.

At the Harvard Innovation Lab (i-lab), this upcoming spring looks busy. The i-lab was created in November 2011 as resource for students and fellows across Harvard University, accelerating growth in both entrepreneurship and innovation; students are encouraged to explore interdisciplinary collaborations at Harvard and beyond, pursuing solutions that impact the world through sustainable ventures.

As the i-lab works to further it’s multidisciplinary programming, they’ll be sponsoring a few different Health and Sciences workshops this spring, all of which are open to the public (sign up now!). The first of these workshops will begin in mid-February and will focus on commercialization in health and life sciences. Specifically, the workshop will discuss the milestones researchers need to consider when thinking about whether or not a product is ready for commercialization in a more public sphere. At the end of March, the i-lab will host a workshop discussing reimbursement strategies for healthcare startups, considering ways that startup companies should think about reimbursement as it relates to building technologies and products for the medical field.

As the i-lab has grown, it’s started to act as an extension of the traditional classroom setting through mentorship programs and workshops. “Our mission is to help students learn and grow with the help of our programming,” says Alice Ly, Assistant Director, Health & Sciences at i-lab. “We’ve been able to capture a wider range of interests within the university through the lab, creating programs that interest the diverse range of the student population.”

Ly says that they’ve been successful so far with their annual challenges. The President’s Challenge invites teams to work in five different categories: affordable health, connected cities, education innovation, economic development and sustainable employment, and energy and the environment. The lab also hosts four Deans’ Challenges in the areas of Cultural Entrepreneurship, Food System, Innovation in Sports, and Health and Life Sciences. The Health and Life Sciences challenge encourages teams to develop, plan, test and execute unique solutions that will improve the many healthcare issues we face today.

Finalists for each of the challenges receive $5,000 of seed money to continue working on their ideas through the spring, ultimately competing for $100,000 and $50,000 prizes, respectively.

Teams for both the President’s and Deans’ Challenges are led by Harvard students and fellows, although other contributors often include alumni and members the community, too.

In the realm of health, sciences and engineering, the i-lab team hopes to continue facilitating encounters between technical inventors and market strategists, accelerating innovation at Harvard in 2015. A reflection of this growing engagement is the increase in the number of health and science teams in the Venture Incubation Program, which has increased from ten percent to twenty-five percent in just two years. Ly says that some of these teams are working toward integration within healthcare, understanding how their products could fit into existing infrastructures; others hope to fundamentally change how healthcare is delivered.

“We’re helping students discover new opportunities across all fields,” Ly says. “A lot of it is about educating and introducing the entrepreneurship principles and helping students take their ideas as far as they can go.”

Soniya Shah

Soniya Shah

    Soniya Shah is an on-staff contributing writer at MedTech Boston. She's a senior at Carnegie Mellon University pursuing a BS in technical writing. She has experience as a ghost writer and medical writer, and in developing software documentation.

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