All things being unequal, Hofstra’s Challenge lives on

Futures past: Michael Lai (center), one of the champions of the 2019 Healthcare Entrepreneuriship Community Challenge, with Hofstra University President Stuart Rabinowitz (left) and Executive Dean of Entrepreneurship and Business Development Stacey Sikes.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

Health equity – a concept freshly redefined by our times – takes center stage in this year’s Healthcare Entrepreneurship Community Challenge.

Hofstra University’s long-running entrepreneurship competition is offering $50,000-plus in cash and business-resource prizes to early-stage enterprises addressing socialized healthcare problems in underserved Long Island, New York City and Hudson Valley communities.

This year’s “challenge topic” is “advancing health equity,” focused on innovative products and services that “improve the total health outcomes of individuals and their communities,” according to Ram Raju, senior vice president and community health investment officer at Northwell Health, a 2020 Community Challenge cosponsor.

“Addressing the underlying factors that contribute to health disparities in so many communities throughout the metropolitan area requires us to engage differently – and think differently,” Raju noted. “Given the level of talent that exists throughout the region, I’m confident that we can identify innovative solutions.”

The competition is a descendant of the Hofstra-Digital Remedy Venture Challenge, a business-plan competition launched by Hofstra University graduate Mike Seiman, founder and CEO of New York City-based digital media company Digital Remedy.

Ram Raju: Region’s got talent.

Digital Remedy and Seiman, now a member of the Hofstra Board of Trustees, remain in the mix: The digital-marketing firm co-sponsors the competition’s cash prizes along with Northwell Health and multinational law firm Nixon Peabody, which maintains a thriving Jericho office.

Through the years, other private Long Island firms have also joined the Community Challenge cause – Hauppauge-based design ace Intelligent Product Solutions provides gratis prototype-consulting services to competition winners, for instance – and the competition has picked up several large-scale supporters.

In addition to “signature sponsor” Northwell Health and Northwell Ventures, the New Hyde Park-based health system’s commercialization arm, several Hofstra University schools are now listed as official program boosters, including the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell and the Frank G. Zarb School of Business.

Also stepping up is Hofstra’s Center for Entrepreneurship, home base of Executive Dean of Entrepreneurship and Business Development Stacey Sikes, who applauded the competition’s rapid growth.

“Over the past two years, Hofstra University and its partners have supported more than 60 early-stage companies with developing growth strategies so they can implement creative solutions to community-health challenges in our region’s underserved communities,” Sikes said. “We look forward to working with a new cohort of entrepreneurs in 2020 to support their efforts to advance health equity.”

Stacey Sikes: Creative solutions.

With hefty prize packages in play – $28,000 for first place, $10,000 for second and $8,000 for third, each combining cash and programmatic support, plus a $5,000 Community Impact Award from Hofstra’s National Center for Suburban Studies – organizers are collecting applications now.

New York residency is not required, but chosen competitors will be required to attend events on Hofstra’s Garden City campus – including an “intensive bootcamp” at the university’s ideaHUb incubator, slated for June – and conduct “customer discovery activities” throughout the competition target area.

An “expert panel of entrepreneurial instructors” is standing by to review applications, conduct the June bootcamp and ultimately select the 2020 champions, who are scheduled to be announced at Hofstra in October, during a Regional Symposium and Pitch Competition.

A March 20 informational webinar, originally listed as “mandatory” for all interested competitors, has been scrubbed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Entrepreneurs must instead complete an e-learning module and submit a letter of intent describing their objectives and demonstrating their commitment to health equity.

With the novel coronavirus literally altering the course of human society, the concept of “health equity” has been dramatically redefined – and the only way to keep up is through innovation, according to Anthony Santella, a Hofstra University associate professor of public health and co-chairman of the Community Challenge competition committee.

“The only way we are going to achieve a more equitable and healthy future is to fast-track innovative ideas that address the risk factors and social determinants of health that are keeping communities from achieving their full health potential,” Santella said in a statement. “This challenge will do just that by mentoring a cohort of entrepreneurs who are committed to advancing health equity.”