Interdisciplinary Teams Compete in Wharton Innovation & Design Club’s Coronavirus Innovation Challenge

A guest post by Saniya Waghray WG’21, Co-President of the Innovation & Design Club. The Mack Institute was a sponsor of this year’s healthcare innovation challenge.

On February 25 and 26, 40-plus students from across seven Penn graduate schools competed in the graduate Innovation & Design Club’s annual healthcare innovation challenge, aptly named the 2021 Coronavirus Innovation Challenge, sponsored and supported by Verizon, Independence Blue Cross, and Penn Center for Healthcare Innovation, and featuring keynote speakers Sanyogita Shamsunder (WG’08) and Joshua Ness from Verizon and Sohail Agha from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The challenge prompt this year asked: Given the impacts of COVID-19, how might we better connect groups with limited online presence to essential healthcare/vaccine services?

At the outset of the challenge, students are placed in multidisciplinary teams from graduate programs across Penn, including Engineering, Medicine, Nursing, Integrated Product Design, and Wharton. Through workshops led by world-renowned designers and innovation experts, students learn industry best practices for insight generation, ideation, prototyping, and storytelling. This year, teams participated in interactive workshops focusing on human-centered design principles including one on the ins and outs of primary research with Verizon 5G Labs, and another on generating strong insights with leading design consulting firm Fahrenheit 212. Mentors from Independence Blue Cross, Weitzman School of Design, Penn Engineering, and more also provided guidance to aid the teams in developing their solutions.

Congrats to our top three teams for winning $8K in total prize money, and to our top four teams for being invited to present again for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation!

Team HealthSwipe
Radhika Gupta (WG’21), Yixuan Jiang (Eng’22), David Mui (MD’23), Allison Hare (MD’22)

The Quaranteam
Nuoran Chen (IPD ’22), Dor Katz (SAS ’22), Genevieve Weikert (WG’22), Divya Seshadri (WG’22)

Team NetTap
Sally Nijim (MD’24), Oscar Wong (WG’21), Andrew Knopp (IPD’21)

Team Jigsaw
Sarah Chung (WG’22), Varun Bhave (WG’22), Lori Jia (MD’24), Ejiro Ojeni (IPD’21)

“It was really amazing to see how the students were thinking about using technology to help people,” said challenge sponsor Joshua Ness (5G Labs). “Sometimes it just takes some creative thinking to see how simple solutions can have a real impact — something that’s crucial right now as we’re trying to connect people to vital healthcare services like vaccines.”

Teams truly took this to heart, and uncovered unique tech-enabled opportunities through a combination of ethnographic research, insight generation, prototyping, and business modeling, creating solutions that simplified consumer-healthcare connectivity.

Student participants found this experience to be a valuable, unique addition to their academic experience. “The emphasis on design thinking broadened my perspective to that of the user when problem-solving, which has been directly relevant in my current internship,” said first place winning team member Allison Hare (MD’22). Dor Katz (SAS’22) added, “Working on an interdisciplinary team brought different skills, viewpoints, and perspectives to the table and allowed for a more balanced exploration of the issues.” Oscar Wong (WG’21) agreed, especially in times where virtual ways of working were most common: “In an uncertain COVID world, it was incredibly meaningful to collaborate with peers from diverse backgrounds and ideate around such a topical prompt — definitely a highlight of my Wharton/Penn experience!”

Ultimately, “Innovation is more than just a new product — oftentimes, it’s about creativity in the delivery of services or technology,” as keynote speaker and lead sponsor Sanyogita Shamsunder, VP of Product Innovation at Verizon, had to say. “Design challenges like these are crucial to uncovering new ways of applying existing technology, because they inspire students to question conventional ways of working — a curiosity we love to champion.”

Special thanks to Verizon 5G Labs, Independence Blue Cross, Fahrenheit 212, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Penn Center for Healthcare Innovation, and the Mack Institute for all of their support.

About Wharton’s Innovation & Design Club
Founded in 2012, Wharton I&D Club aims to make UPenn synonymous with innovation and design thinking by connecting club members to resources that will help them to develop core design thinking and innovation skills, industry professionals, and hands-on opportunities to apply design thinking to real world problems.

This year’s challenge planning team: Saniya Waghray (WG’21), Janet Acosta (WG’21), Breanne White (WG’22, Lauder ’22), Sanjit Dutta (WG’22), Tina Xu (WG’22), and Melissa Tovin (WG’22).