Miami Tech & Startup News

StartUP FIU students develop innovative strategies to tackle healthcare disparities for pharmaceutical giant GSK

StartUP FIU students develop innovative strategies to tackle healthcare disparities for pharmaceutical giant GSK

By Irene Ferradaz / StartUP FIU

What can a large pharmaceutical company do to encourage minority community members to engage in preventative healthcare activities?

If you are GSK, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, you partner with StartUP FIU, the innovation hub at Florida International University (FIU) to create the GSK Innovation Challenge.

This experiential, hands-on challenge leveraged the lived experiences and diverse backgrounds of 34 FIU undergraduate students, 96% of whom hail from minority communities. Students with Hispanic, African American and Asian backgrounds are often able to offer personal perspectives into health disparities.  In this case, the program addressed the low rates of vaccines in marginalized communities.

Named the nation’s fastest-rising public university by U.S. News & World Report, FIU has the distinct advantage of being located in the heart of the culturally rich Miami community.

“These students really rose to the challenge with compelling and creative solutions and all the program mentors deserve a big thank you for their guidance” said Maya Martinez-Davis, GSK US President. “Some of these students learned about health disparities for the first time while others brought their shared experiences. Our goal is to close the gap in underserved communities by developing the next generation of innovators. The partnership between GSK and StartUP FIU is just one of many steps towards achieving that.” 

FIU’s unique status as the country’s largest Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) with more than 32,000 students who identify as Hispanic or Latino, makes it an ideal place for global companies like GSK to get ‘on the ground’ perspectives from the communities they want to serve. Educating students across campus, many from different parts of the world, StartUP FIU offers a vibrant array of diverse outlooks, life experiences and cultural values that help organizations better understand their customer base and plan for a dynamic future.

Throughout the GSK Innovation Challenge, students from a variety of majors were guided by public health and entrepreneurship mentors to delve deeper into how minority communities make health care decisions, what sources they trust, who they listen to for medical information and how their lifestyles either facilitate or impede positive healthcare decisions.

“This unique Challenge offered our students the opportunity to creatively explore a serious population health issue and brainstorm innovative ways to drive communities towards making healthy decisions,” said Emily Gresham, Assistant Vice President for Research, Innovation and Economic Development and Co-Founder of StartUP FIU.

At the end of the 12-week GSK Innovation Challenge, seven student groups pitched their solutions for increasing vaccination rates to GSK leadership.  The Pitch Day event – held Friday, April 14 – showcased the creativity and novel thinking that can occur when students are empowered with the tools of innovation and supported by expert mentors in the industry.

Pitch Day winners

                            1st Place

Vinai Sewaliah, Akerke Parmbek, Christian Castellanos & MaAngelica Subido

Winning Idea: Collaborate with companies that have large Hispanic workforces to include at-work vaccination events and other healthcare programs to streamline the patient experience

                            2nd Place

Daniella Diaz, Emily Gresham, Lina Henriquez & Yasha Hasan (not pictured Chloe Posthuma-Coelho)

Winning Idea: Targeted advertising campaign focused on influencing mothers, who usually make healthcare decisions for the entire family.

TIED for 3rd Place

Devin Shanahan, Owethu Phekani, Itzel Castellon (not pictured Yomaira Ayala Daboin)

Winning Idea: Utilize interactive simulation ads to provide a virtual representation of how shingles affects the body to increase awareness and encourage action.

Bob Hacker, Al Thompson, Emily Gresham, Aditi Mishra, Katherine Mejia, Simone Ware, Pattie Shieh-Lance and Gustavo Grande

Winning Idea: Work with faith-based organizations to educate congregations about shingles and prevention.

The GSK Innovation Challenge is just one example of how StartUP FIU uses hands-on, experiential learning opportunities to help students implement the core concepts of innovation and entrepreneurship towards solving real-world challenges.

“By adapting what they’ve learned in the classroom to help companies solve some of their toughest problems, students gain confidence in their skillset and learn how to think critically,” said Robert H. Hacker, Director and Co-Founder of StartUP FIU and one of the Challenge’s entrepreneurial mentors.