Commentary

Psychiatry Innovation Lab nurtures young businesses


 

The future of mental health is in our own hands. As psychiatrists, we have a wealth of experience to fuel transformation in our field and improve care for our patients. What we lack is the space in which to share our ideas and turn them into tangible solutions like sustainable businesses, diagnostic devices, mobile apps, or prevention campaigns.

The Psychiatry Innovation Lab provides just that – it is an incubator nurturing early-stage ideas and ventures by investing in them through mentorship, education, funding, and collaboration opportunities within a community of mental health innovators.

Dr. Neha P. Chaudhary

Dr. Neha P. Chaudhary

Applications are open now for submissions. The American Psychiatry Association’s Workgroup on Psychiatry Innovation will review submissions and select the strongest based on several criteria, including value, viability, background, and impact. Finalists will receive expert mentorship from industry leaders in business, technology, medicine, investing, and government on how to improve the feasibility and effectiveness of the idea.

The lab’s main event is on Sunday, May 6, 2018, when leaders in psychiatry will gather alongside industry leaders at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City during the American Psychiatric Association meeting for this fourth annual live event . At the event, finalists will pitch ideas “Shark Tank” style to a panel of expert judges. Finalists will work closely with industry leaders and audience members to fine-tune their ideas before pitching their revisions to the judges as well as to a live, voting audience, who together select the winners of cash awards and other prizes.

Dr. Reza Hosseini Ghomi

Dr. Reza Hosseini Ghomi

“It was exhilarating being up there,” said Swathi Krishna, MD, the Audience Choice Award winner of the 2016 Psychiatry Innovation Lab. “Within a short amount of time, we learned how to fine-tune our business plan, get our product to market, and find the right partners to take our company to the next level. Winning a cash prize helped gain the funding necessary to get the idea off the ground. The best part was feeling plugged into a growing community of innovators. It’s hard to find that in mental health.”

The Psychiatry Innovation Lab was founded in 2015 by Nina Vasan, MD, a Stanford (Calif.) University psychiatrist and author of Do Good Well: Your Guide to Leadership, Action, and Social Innovation (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2013), with the purpose of catalyzing more entrepreneurship and innovation in mental health.


“The most meaningful part of the lab has been the impact that these ventures have had on the patients that we serve,” said Dr. Vasan, chair of the Psychiatry Innovation Lab and director of Brainstorm, the Stanford Laboratory for Brain Health Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “Year after year, psychiatrists come back and tell us that they are looking at their own patient care differently now. They’re looking for ways to be innovative, and we’re giving them the tools necessary to turn their clinical expertise into successful ventures.”

Applications are currently open online to pitch an idea in this year’s lab. Applications consist of brief answers to questions and a short YouTube video. The deadline for submissions is Friday, March 9, 2018. Anyone with innovative ideas, regardless of the stage, is invited to apply. The APA Workgroup on Psychiatry Innovation, which oversees the lab, welcomes ideas from people pitching for the first time to those working on their ideas full time. They noted that past finalists have come from all experience levels and a wide range of backgrounds, including students, CEOs, engineers, and psychiatrists.

Past winners and participants have come from a range of stages, from early start-ups to established companies, including NeuroLex Labs, which uses voice samples to detect behavioral health illness; Spring, which uses machine learning to determine the best depression treatment; Muse, which creates an EEG sensing headband to aid mindfulness practice; and Overdose Recovery Bracelet, which builds a wristband to deliver naloxone to people who have overdosed on opiates.

The diversity of ideas has been remarkable; ideas in the past have ranged from traditional for-profit businesses to nonprofits, educational and public health programs, and proposals for government reform. They address problems at all parts of the health care spectrum: prevention, diagnosis, treatment, systems, EMRs, and more.

“Many past ideas have revolved around technology such as artificial intelligence, social networking, or telemedicine,” Dr. Vasan said. “In addition to great ideas using technology, we encourage ideas in other domains like in education and human rights. Those ideas are especially important in solving the most pressing problems in our field today.”

In addition to those competing, anyone registered to attend the APA annual meeting can attend the event as an audience member or join a team and help as an innovation leader during the coaching portion of the program. Last year alone, more than 70% of the participants in the lab said that it was better than other educational events they have attended, 95% of participants found it useful, and participants made an average of six new contacts through the event.

“The Psychiatry Innovation Lab connected me to people who continue to inspire and educate me toward making a real impact with my own endeavors,” said Cody Rall, MD, founder of the YouTube channel Techforpsych and a 2016 semifinalist.

“The lab has grown dramatically. When we started we worked hard to find just one sponsor; last year we had 10 sponsors and over $25,000 in cash and prizes.” Dr. Vasan said. “We also had our first international finalist from Pakistan. The commitment to solving problems in mental health is taking off, and we want to ensure that psychiatrists are front and center in leading the change.”

For more information about joining the innovation lab or other ways to be involved, including sponsorship and judging, visit https://www.psychiatry.org/innovation or email Nina Taylor, APA deputy director of education, at ntaylor@psychiatry.org.

This article was updated January 23, 2018.

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