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The Table Is Set for the Florida Blue Health Innovation Pitch Competition, Five from USF Among the Finalists

By Keith Morelli

Florida Blue Healthcare Innovation Pitch Competition

TAMPA (August 9, 2018) -- The table is set at the 2018 Florida Blue Health Innovation Pitch Competition.

Innovative ideas, presented by some of the USF entrants, range from apps and software to help those afflicted with mental illness cope with their conditions to programs that help ailing veterans to products that ease postpartum depression.

The field of competitors was culled from 59 applicants representing 17 universities from across the state of Florida. In all, 26 finalists were chosen, forming 12 teams. Besides the five finalists from the University of South Florida, pitch competitors come from a wide range of public universities, including Florida State, Florida Polytechnic, Florida Atlantic, Florida International, North Florida and Central Florida. Students from private institutions Gannon University and Nova Southeastern University also are signed up to take part in the competition.

A lot is at stake. Winners will be awarded prizes of $10,000 for first place, $5,000 for second place and $2,500 for third place.

"In the quickly evolving health care landscape, innovation and collaboration are imperative to find new ways to address health concerns," said David Pizzo, market president of Florida Blue's West Florida Region, which co-sponsors the pitch competition along with the USF Center for Entrepreneurship. "We see many of the growing health care trends of consumerism and increased use of personal technology integrated into the submissions of this year's finalists."

The finalists "offer a wide array of outside-the-box ideas to address the growing issue of depression and anxiety in America," he said. "We're eager to see how they are able to collaborate further with each other and their mentors over the next few months and present their innovations at the finals in October."

This is the seventh consecutive year the competition has been co-sponsored by Florida Blue and the USF Center for Entrepreneurship, said Michael Fountain, founder and director of the center.

"The event recognizes the top undergraduate and graduate health care innovators as they seek to develop solutions for one of the most pressing challenges facing health care today," he said, "addressing and managing anxiety and depression.

"This competitive program provides an opportunity, unique in the state of Florida, which actively encourages and promotes collaborations among students from different colleges and universities," he said. "This is accomplished through the development of active networks of teams of student innovators in the healthcare space. These student teams are mentored by health care and business leaders from across the state as they develop new products and services to solve the problems associated with anxiety and depression.

"Through the engagement of professional mentors, the student teams gain advanced insight into both the challenges faced by the health care professionals and insights in developing commercially viable products and services for the marketplace," Fountain said. "It is our hope that collaborations among business and health care professionals and students developed through this program will lead to meaningful solutions for our health care problems."

The finalists will pitch their ideas under the theme of anxiety and depression, a growing health problem many people face in today's rapidly changing and fast moving world. It's not a problem that discriminates, rather, it impacts all age groups, ethnicities, genders and professions.

The American Psychological Association estimates 40 million American adults, 18 and older, have some type of anxiety disorder.

It was a topic that drew a wide range of interest among young entrepreneurs with ideas about how to help people through difficult times.

The applicants were told to focus on certain clinical groups, such as military service men and women, their families and significant others; current students, grief management, worker and family stress, people managing chronic and terminal diseases; and those dealing with end-of-life issues, cultural displacement, peer-pressure (bullying), pet grief, social media impact and others.

Those interested in competing were asked to come up with possible interventions or support mechanisms such as personal or group mobile applications, support networks, electronic platforms, virtual and augmented reality; physical activities programs, relaxation programs, stress-relieving mechanical or electronic devices, personal electronic physiological monitoring devices and others.

The competition – open to all undergraduate and graduate students at any college or university in Florida – takes place on Oct. 10 when finalists present their innovations to a panel of health care experts and executive representatives including Florida Blue. The event will be held at the GuideWell Innovation Center in Orlando's Lake Nona Medical City.

Among the field of seven from the University of South Florida, two are students in the Muma College of Business. Here are USF's pitchers:

Megan Kogan

Megan Kogan is an undergraduate student seeking a bachelor's degree in business administration and management from the Muma College of Business. She is actively involved at USF, being a hall council senator, a resident hall advisor and a player on the university's rugby club.

She is a Daveler scholar, having finished in the top 20 at the Daveler Pitch Competition in April with an idea for an app used by students on long-distance trips. She currently is a sales and marketing intern at LeapCaller.

Her Florida Blue pitch: to develop a mobile application with features that include a daily checklist for those with severe and chronic depression. The app also can be used to record symptoms and provide patient/provider portals for electronic medical records and open communications lines. She is working with Aaron Klienert from Lynn University and Shelby Garner from Florida Polytechnic University.

Derek Austin

Derek Austin is an undergraduate student pursuing a double major in accounting and finance in the Muma College of Business. He is a U.S. Army veteran and founder and CEO of Nerkh Enterprises. He is part of USF's Student Innovation Incubator and was a Fintech case competition finalist in the spring. He is part of the USF I-Corps program.

He also was among the finalists at the Daveler Pitch Competition in April for his idea about developing technology to train soldiers to listen to their instincts in order to save lives on the battlefield.

His Florida Blue pitch: to create web-based educational courses that provide resources and teach veterans about mental illness management techniques and coping skills. He is working with Katie Vogel from the University of North Florida.

Brian EvansNiharika Baviriseaty

Brian Evans and Niharika Baviriseaty are second-year medical school students at the USF Morsani College of Medicine. Baviriseaty completed her undergraduate studies at USF and is the founder and CEO of Lila Creations, a notebook company that donates a portion of its proceeds to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and other diabetes non-profits.

Evans was driven to go into medicine by a nature to help others and has worked as a scribe – an assistant to a physician in the emergency room – in the college's emergency department. Previously, he attended Florida Atlantic University and majored in biology.

Their Florida Blue pitch: to come up with an app that compiles resources, proven anxiety management techniques and coping skills to provide users with all the information they need to conduct stress-free, rewarding lives.

Natasha Kurji

Natasha Kurji is a doctoral student in the USF College of Public Health. She is a graduate teaching and research assistant and received a master's degree in public health with a concentration in health care administration management from USF. She also is the vice president of the Hillsborough National Alliance on Mental Illness chapter.

She serves as the project coordinator for Depression Army, an international campaign that addresses the stigma surrounding mental illness and promotes a safe haven for those silently suffering. Her research interests center around access and quality of mental health care.

Her Florida Blue pitch: to develop awareness and education programs for teenagers, drawing from various resources at NAMI. Kurji is working with Jeffrey Sargent from Gannon University, who is president of the Hillsborough NAMI chapter.