Community wellness wins in Hofstra’s 2019 ‘Challenge’

And the winner was: Hofstra University President Stuart Rabinowitz congratulates Elnaz Sarabchian for winning the 2018 Healthcare Entrepreneurship Community Challenge. Hofstra's 2019 health-and-wellness entrepreneurship competition is now underway. (Photo: Philip Hinds/Hofstra University)
By GREGORY ZELLER //

Roughly $60,000 in cash and prizes is up for grabs in an ambitious Hofstra University competition designed to improve health, wellness and socioeconomic conditions in underserved communities throughout Greater New York.

The 2019 Healthcare Entrepreneurship Community Challenge is now accepting innovative proposals for “market-based products or services” that can improve wellness in communities stretching from Long Island to New York City to the Hudson Valley, according to Hofstra.

The theme for the annual competition is “creating wellness,” with all proposals – each targeting a single healthcare issue – required to be filed through the competition website by March 15.

The entrepreneurial-development competition is presented jointly by multiple Hofstra University entities: the Center for Entrepreneurship, the School of Health Professions and Human Services, the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell and the Frank G. Zarb School of Business.

The Healthcare Entrepreneurship Community Challenge – which is funded in part by a $485,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration – is also presented by Northwell Ventures, the Northwell Health system’s investment division.

In challenging community members to come up with creative solutions to common healthcare challenges, the partners are actually cranking up a host of regional socioeconomic benefits, according to Stacey Sikes, Hofstra University’s executive dean of entrepreneurship and business development.

Stacey Sikes: Healthy economics.

“By encouraging entrepreneurs to focus their talents and energy on creating wellness, we can improve healthcare outcomes and make significant contributions to the future of our regional economy,” Sikes added.

Northwell Health, New York State’s largest healthcare provider by number of providers and patients and the state’s largest private employer, is the “signature sponsor” of the 2019 competition, providing “programmatic support” to program participants “and the majority of the cash prizes,” according to Hofstra University (including cash and services valued at $26,000 for first place, $18,000 for second place and $13,000 for third place).

Meanwhile, Hofstra’s National Center for Suburban Studies is making a side bet, of sorts: The center is offering a $5,000 Community Impact Award “for diverse entrepreneurs to seek solutions to the problems of providing healthcare in underserved suburbs,” according to the university.

Competition sponsors include Digital Remedy, a New York City-based digital marketing firm founded by Hofstra University Board of Trustees member Mike Seiman; accounting giant Ernst & Young; Jericho law firm Nixon Peabody; and the NuHealth Foundation, which supports East Meadow-based NuHealth’s delivery of healthcare services to thousands of underserved and uninsured Long Islanders, among others.

Further program support is provided by Hauppauge-based product design specialist Intelligent Product Solutions, which is providing prototyping consulting services.

Competition submissions will be reviewed by an “expert panel of entrepreneurial instructors,” according to the university, some of whom will also lead a May bootcamp for “selected entrepreneurs” at ideaHUb, Hofstra’s state-of-the-art business incubator. Winners are slated to be announced during a Regional Symposium and Pitch Competition at Hofstra in September.

Although New York residency is not required to throw a hat into the ring, participants are required to attend program events scheduled at Hofstra and to conduct “customer discovery activities” in what the university called the “challenge target areas” of Long Island, NYC and the Hudson Valley. In 2018, the Healthcare Entrepreneurship Community Challenge attracted 40 teams from the United States and Canada, the university said.

Wherever the 2019 competitors hail from, the underserved challenge areas – and regional economies as a whole – are bound to reap the benefits, according to Ram Raju, Northwell Health senior vice president and chief community investment officer.

“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 said in a statement. “Given the level of talent that exists throughout the region, I’m confident that we can identify innovative solutions that will expand access to care and improve outcomes.”