Innovation Challenge Seeks Health Solutions and Offers $300,000

Issue Date: 
February 3, 2014

In a creative, community-wide competition to spark fresh ideas that engage people in their own health care, the University of Pittsburgh is offering $300,000 in funding to three winners in its first Pitt Innovation Challenge, or PInCh. The deadline for submissions is March 2, 2014.

The University of Pittsburgh Clinical and Translational Science Institute, in collaboration with the University’s Office of the Provost and the Innovation Institute, will also provide the winning teams with project managers to implement the best ideas. Top awards of $100,000 each will be given to help execute three winning solutions.

The contest is open to anyone, including all Pitt faculty, staff, and students as well as the broader Pittsburgh community—but at least one team member must be a Pitt faculty member. If needed, PInCh organizers will help community members connect with a faculty member. Teams that bring together collaborators from different perspectives, institutions, and disciplines are encouraged. The solution could be a device, a software application, an intervention strategy, or any other approach that could address the health problem identified by the team.

Just as a TV reality show provides contestants with an opportunity to share their inventions, PInCh will give scientists and other community members a venue to be creative and develop new ideas, said Steven Reis, director of the Clinical and Translational Science Institute. PInCh’s inaugural question is: How do we empower individuals to take control of their own health outcomes?

“Instead of trying to figure out the molecular mechanisms of hypertension, for example, the team might try to figure out how to reduce the rate of high blood pressure in a specific region,” said Reis, who also is an associate vice chancellor for clinical research, health sciences, and a professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. “We want to encourage researchers to approach their work in a different way. Rather than conducting experiments focused on scientific details, they must look at the big picture to try to solve a problem that has public health or clinical importance.”

To enter, contestants must submit between Feb. 15 and March 2 a two-minute video that introduces their team, defines the health problem being tackled, and briefly outlines the creative solution. According to PInCh Program Director John Maier, early-round winners will be invited to a final round of judging in May at a public event during which teams will make short presentations to a panel of judges.

“This will be a great opportunity to get new or risky ideas in front of judges who have experience in science, business, technology, and other fields, so participation itself should be rewarding and fun,” said Maier, who is also director of research and development and assistant professor, Department of Family Medicine, Pitt School of Medicine. “We plan to have a ‘People’s Choice’ award, too, so everyone will have a chance to vote for projects that appeal to them.”

“We hope to de-risk wild ideas to solve clinical or public health problems by providing funding and project management to take them to the next level,” Reis said. “We think some amazing ideas will come out of this process, and we hope the PInCh model can be used in future competitions to stimulate innovative solutions to challenging issues.”

For more information and to register a team, visit