New Polsky Center series fosters discussion on innovation

The Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation recently kicked off an innovative series of discussions that gathers influential experts each Friday to provide insights on emerging trends on a different industry or topic.

The Entrepreneurial Outlook breakfast series is inspired by the University of Chicago Booth School of Business’ world-renowned Economic Outlook event, a forum for thought leaders in economics to share their insights and analyses with a global audience. It is also part of an ongoing effort by the Polsky Center to engage with and support Chicago-area entrepreneurs to promote a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem.

The kickoff event on Jan. 18 featured five entrepreneurs and venture capitalists discussing emerging issues in the health care industry—and how technology will help solve them. Future discussions will focus on therapeutics, civtech, fintech, energy and artificial intelligence.

The health care discussion included Imran Ahmad, MBA’16, AB’06, a principal at OCA Ventures; Gary Conkright, MBA’82, CEO of physIQ; Jordan Dolin, founder of Furthur Fund; Stacy Lindau, AM‘02, founder of NowPow and a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Chicago; and Dipa Mehta, MBA’12, former managing director at Sandbox Industries and an adjunct professor at Chicago Booth. The session was moderated by Melissa Byrn, MS‘17, director of innovation programs at the Polsky Center.

Before the panel, six Chicago-area entrepreneurs pitched their business ideas—ranging from the development of novel biomedical monitoring technologies to health visualization software. Many of their businesses were born at the Polsky Center, which since 1996 has helped launch more than 230 startup companies and is home to the top university accelerator program in the country—the Edward L. Kaplan, ‘71, New Venture Challenge.

Former Chicago Booth students Brian Bettenhausen, AB’06, and Nate Pelzer, MBA’15, were the two of the startup founders who pitched their company to the panelists and packed audience. Their company Clinify leverages data to support providers and improve the health of patients. In the past year, they frequented the Polsky Center to brainstorm and work on their product.

“We have been members of the Polsky Center since the ideation phase of our startup for the last six months,” said Pelzer. “Both of us are Booth alums, and we learned about Polsky from our time there. Once we decided that we wanted to launch our product, this event was the first step we made.”

Making health care more cost-effective

Many of the panelists said that they saw great potential in technology to solve some of the biggest challenges in health care, namely increased out-of-pocket costs and less accessibility to quality health care.  

“The trajectory of cost for health care is unsustainable—this has to be changed, and the only way to do that is with technology,” said Conkright. “How to drive technology into health care to make the cost more effective is the challenge of the day.”

For Lindau, a practicing physician, her passion for health care also stemmed from her care for patients. “I am less passionate about health tech than about health and about people. However tech creates transparency, connecting people to the right resources, and to the community,” Lindau said.

The panelists noted the slow adoption of technology in the health care industry. Lindau said that government regulations such as HIPAA laws make it difficult for patients to have control over their own medical information, and can prevent health data from being integrated together. Therefore, many health care providers are not able to leverage advanced data management platforms to provide better care for patients.

However, Dolin pointed out the possibility for improvement. “Health care tech is hard because we allow it to be too hard. But the FDA is embracing technology. They’ve made changes in the last few years to embrace innovation.”

Similarly, Conkright felt very hopeful about a future of tech-enabled health care. “Six years ago, we proposed the idea to use AI on physiological data. Nobody we talked to trusted it or else they were very negative about it. It got to the point that we had to start saying ‘machine learning’ instead of ‘AI’ because at that time, no one really understood what machine learning was.”

The panelists felt that the success of the event showcases the burgeoning entrepreneurial scene at the University of Chicago and Hyde Park.

“The Polsky Center has prepared incredibly high-quality events, and they clearly are nurturing entrepreneurial talents at the University of Chicago,” Ahmad said. “Having been an undergrad and grad student at the University, I can see how the focus and initiatives of the Polsky Center have really helped to drive the entrepreneurial scene in Chicago.”