On April 3 through April 5, AbelsonTaylor participated in the MIT COVID-19 Challenge. The 48-hour virtual event hosted 1,500 hackers and created 238 teams to address COVID-19 challenges within 10 focus tracks. Participants came from more than 96 countries and 49 states, each dealing with different stages of COVID-19 in their communities and made for a richly diverse array of proposed solutions. Partners, sponsors and over 250 volunteer mentors worked the weekend to provide research and development resources to teams throughout.

“The spirit of a healthcare hack is about democratizing innovation,” says Freddy Nguyen, M.D., Ph.D., co-director MIT COVID-19 Challenge. “We realize the potential of design thinking and distributive problem solving as a way to incite entrepreneurship. We want to help bring new approaches to some of the hardest human challenges.”

AbelsonTaylor and Dose Studios partnered with MIT COVID-19 Challenge after years of experience with healthcare hackathons. What started as a healthcare hacking seminar at SXSW developed into a mutually fulfilling relationship. “In MIT’s design thinking approach and the productive outcomes from these healthcare hackathons, we have gained great practical benefits and deep inspiration for our organization,” says Lynnette Hunter, executive VP, AbelsonTaylor. “We have even brought this kind of thinking and hacking to some clients and their benefits.”

According to Mitch Apley, VP and director of broadcast/print production at AbelsonTaylor, “For me, covering and reporting on the MIT Health Hackathons over the years has been very rewarding. I wasn’t sure how a virtual version would work, and there was a lot of discussion about it ahead of time. But the organizers did a great job of making the experience operate like an in-person hackathon despite whatever minor technical difficulties they had to overcome. And, some great ideas were generated, which is what it’s all about.”

The hackathon started with a massive conference call outlining the challenge and the 10 tracks. Teams of up to seven people quickly formed. Teams comprised students, medical researchers, data scientists, systems designers, industry experts, clinicians and process improvement specialists, all in different stages of professional life. Most had never met one another, but they banded together online and across multiple time zones to address and develop a product or system that solves a pandemic problem. Mentors assisted the process, aiding in brainstorming, research sources, prototype pressure testing, business modeling, and crafting pitch presentations.

The culmination of the weekend was a series of 238 3-minute product pitches. The top four teams in each track split $20,000 in prize money and Amazon Web Service credits to help bring their ideas to life.

As a resident at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, Nguyen is on the front lines of the global health pandemic. With only three weeks to plan, he and co-organizers Alfonso Martinez, Stephanie MacConnell, and Paul Cheek realized that there was a serious need to initiate a virtual hackathon to address the current crisis, and the idea for the MIT COVID-19 Challenge was born.

The team pivoted and hacked their own event, moving to a virtual space using Slack, Zoom, and other digital resources. They acquired sponsor and partner resources and wrestled event logistics and process, and drew more than 4,500 participant applications and over 500 mentor volunteers.

“What was exciting to see was how people from all over the globe came together to solve for the pandemic,” says Lisa Chengary, senior director engagement, AbelsonTaylor. “Focusing on two areas of health, ‘Protecting Vulnerable Patient Populations’ and ‘Helping Health Systems,’ the 10 tracks came up with hundreds of solutions. Many of the solutions, products and applications can be implemented immediately and will have long term value beyond the pandemic.”

According to Danielle Jamil, senior director engagement, AbelsonTaylor, “Mentoring the teams was truly an inspiring and uplifting experience amid this global crisis. It has invigorated my approach to working with internal teams and clients. The design thinking and hack approach are fast and efficient ways to ideate, test, and bring to life new ideas to address any problem. As an added bonus, there were even teams that I could see partnering with some of our clients to benefit their brands and patients!”
For the full list of participants go to: https://covid19challenge.mit.edu