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Eye disease diagnosis, hand sanitation, and self-powered battery take top prizes in Florida Healthcare Innovation Pitch Competition

USF PhD student Gabriel Saffold pitches his self-harvesting battery

USF PhD student Gabriel Saffold pitches his self-harvesting battery.

University of South Florida PhD student Gabriel Saffold's idea for the next big thing in healthcare came from his young son's beloved toy.

When Jingly the Camel's battery died, electrical engineering student Saffold discovered the process was far more complicated than replacing the batteries in a remote control. He had to buy a specific battery, tear the stuffed animal apart, replace the battery, and sew Jingly back together.

The experience got him thinking about "what happens to something we love when the battery runs out," he said. And for many people with surgically implanted medical devices, such as pacemakers, batteries last between six to 15 years - far from a lifetime. So Saffold came up with a solution - a battery that would harvest energy from body heat to power itself.

That idea took third place in the most recent Florida Healthcare Innovation Pitch Competition on April 6 - a Shark Tank-style event sponsored by Florida Blue and hosted by the USF Center for Entrepreneurship. The competition gives students from universities across Florida a chance to compete for $20,000 in cash and prizes by pitching their idea for an innovation in healthcare.

"It's inspiring to see students from all across Florida with these ideas for revolutionizing the healthcare industry, both as an entrepreneur and an educator" said Michael Fountain, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and a serial entrepreneur in the healthcare field. "This year was particularly exciting because nearly every finalist had a working prototype or existing service."

 Michael Fountain and David Pizzo with competition winner Jae Kim

Michael Fountain and David Pizzo with competition winner Jae Kim

University of Central Florida medical student Jae Kim took first place with his platform that allows doctors to diagnose eye disease faster and more accurately than with currently available methods. His iSmart invention is a platform that uses photos of the eye and, using mathematical algorithms, amplifies the difference between healthy and unhealthy eye tissue. It would also allow those in remote areas without much access to modern medicine to get a diagnosis through telemedicine. Fifteen innovations were finalists, with students from eight universities and colleges statewide competing.

Kim, a former engineer, told the panel of judges that creating inventions such as iSmart was his lifelong dream.

"I came to medical school to do exactly what I'm doing here today," he said.

Kim won $10,000 and a one-year Executive Membership to the GuideWell Innovation CoRE (Collaborative Resource Ecosystem) valued at $2,499. GuideWell Innovation is Florida Blue's sister company providing incubation, acceleration and commercialization for health care entrepreneurs and start-ups. The GuideWell membership provides assistance turning ideas into health solutions, the ability to collaborate with innovation leaders, coworking space in the GuideWell UST Global Innovation Center, advance market intelligence and access to exclusive research and development insights.

Second place and $5,000 went to Florida Gulf Coast University students, including biomedical engineering undergraduate student presenter Allison Sundermeier, for their motion-activated "Illumitize" system that would flash red or green lights to promote hand sanitation in hospitals. Saffold won $2,500 for his battery idea.

Other ideas from presenters included a babysitting service for children with diabetes, a low-cost scanner to help fit prosthetic limbs, and an app that allows patients to videochat with pharmacists. The judging panel evaluating the presentations included GuideWell Senior Business Innovation Director Chris Hillier, along with local business professionals, judges from the National Academy of Inventors, and USF faculty.

Florida Blue Market President David Pizzo told competitors that innovations like theirs are a core part of what Florida Blue's mission in the healthcare field - finding solutions to the myriad problems present in the health industry today. This is the fourth year that Florida Blue has sponsored the competition.

"We're a health solutions company, not just a healthcare company," he said. "These ideas are the kind of health solutions we need to help transform how people and communities receive and experience healthcare in the future."