TAMPA – Nearly a year ago, two USF pharmacy students pitched the life-changing potential of Janus AI to a panel of healthcare and business experts. The AI-powered tool aids in the early detection of Alzheimer’s disease and was the innovative idea that won the $15,000 top prize in the 2022 Florida Blue Health Innovation Challenge.
That win opened entrepreneurial doors for Janus AI Co-founders Siegrid Pregartner and Laura Borgerding. They were selected into the USF Connect Student Innovation Incubator program which helps student entrepreneurs turn product ideas into scalable business plans.
“Winning the challenge not only helped us develop our business, but it also made us realize that this could be a genuine business that could change lives,” Pregartner said. “Our tool will be able to diagnose patients early to give people extra years to their lives when they are comfortable and in control.”
The next life-changing innovative idea may be just around the corner and the cash prizes are even bigger this year.
Applications are open for the 10th annual Florida Blue Health Innovation Challenge. The competition invites college students from across the state to pitch an innovative idea or disruptive technology that addresses a healthcare problem. Winners could receive up to $20,000.
Each year, organizers provide a list of healthcare challenge topics that applicants should address.
The 2023 topics are: mental health and stress, the high cost of hospitals, the siloing of data, rural accessibility, transparency pricing, maternal/infant care, and any open topic in healthcare.
“We’re excited to find the next big healthcare idea,” said Dirk Libaers, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at the USF Muma College of Business. “This year marks a decade of encouraging student innovators to tackle Florida’s pressing healthcare concerns.”
Applications are due April 3. Applicants must be enrolled in a college in Florida. The competition is open to students in any major, not just business students.
Applicants who are named finalists will make their pitches in-person on April 28 at the Pitch Competition Day before a panel of healthcare and business experts. The pitch competition will be at the USF Health Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation in downtown Tampa.
The first-place winners receive $20,000. Second and third place winners get $10,000 and $5,000, respectively. A special award, worth $2,000, will be given to an entrant on an open healthcare topic.
In the past 10 years, more than 300 students from more than 20 different colleges and universities have competed for cash awards provided by Florida Blue.
Previous competition-winning ideas have included software to better manage patient records, an app that uses machine learning to track dietary habits for pre-diabetics, AI software that helps doctors identify sex trafficking victims, and a screening tool that uses machine learning to analyze heart sounds recorded from a stethoscope.
Pregartner, the prior winner, said the Florida Blue Health Innovation Challenge was the first time they had pitched their company and product.
She’s grateful for the opportunities that came their way after the competition and believes the contest was a life-changing experience.
“The goal of the software is to make it easy for physicians to use. Identifying patients who are at a higher risk for developing Alzheimer’s gives doctors more time to prescribe the correct medications that slow the disease’s progression,” she said.