Innovation does well at 2019 Healthcare Challenge

Here's to the winners: Hofstra University Executive Dean of Entrepreneurship and Business Developmet Stacey Sikes (bottom left) takes a bow with the winners and judges of the 2019 Healthcare Entrepreneurship Community Challenge. (Photo: Philip Hinds, Hofstra)
By GREGORY ZELLER //

Healthcare was the challenge and the entire community was the winner – though really, a cutting-edge app that helps users make more nutritious food selections was the actual winner.

The in-development CATSCAN app captured first place at this year’s Healthcare Entrepreneurship Community Challenge, Hofstra University’s annual pitch contest designed to inspire market-based community-health solutions by downstate entrepreneurs.

The competition, part of a larger 2019 Community Health Symposium held Tuesday at the Hempstead university, spotlighted 15 early-stage companies from around the Greater New York region, each pushing products that up the wellness game for patients and users.

As part of the Community Challenge, the competitors – hailing mostly from Long Island, New York City and the Hudson Valley – participated in an entrepreneurial “boot camp,” complete with professional mentoring and “customer discovery” protocols, at the ideaHUb, the 4,800-square-foot, New York State-certified business incubator fueling Hofstra’s Center for Entrepreneurship.

That business-smarts educational angle is one of the key components of the Healthcare Entrepreneurship Community Challenge, which was created by Hofstra in 2017 with funding from the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s i6 Challenge Grant program.

With a steering committee of healthcare and economic-development experts from Hofstra, Northwell Health and other regional institutions selecting an annual theme (“Community Wellness” for 2019), the program focuses on early-stage entrepreneurs with next-level, practical ideas, particularly those benefitting constituents in traditionally underserved communities.

Inside job: CATSCAN creator Cat Andersen pulls back the nutritional curtain. (Photo: Philip Hinds, Hofstra)

On Tuesday, after a keynote address by psychiatrist and Professor Wizdom Powell of UConn Health’s Health Disparities Institute, 15 finalists took the stage before a live audience and a judging panel of seven industry experts, whittled down from the 26 teams – including competitors from Massachusetts and Florida – that threw their hat into the Community Challenge’s 2019 ring.

Rating the finalists were Jove Equity Partners CEO David Calone, Northwell Ventures Investment Director Eric Feinstein, Women’s Diversity Network founder Shanequa Levin and Hunter College Interim Associate Dean for Research Liz Cohn.

Also serving as judges were Noel Goddard of the Accelerate NY Seed Fund, Ethan Wergelis-Isaacson of Dreamit Ventures and Golden Seeds Managing Director Rob Delman.

The seven judges deemed CATSCAN, an early-stage mobile app by creator Cat Andersen, worthy of the competition’s top prize package, including $25,000 in business-formation capital and services.

Recognizing products through a smartphone’s camera, CATSCAN is designed to help patients with particular nutritional needs – including those who must avoid or consume specific foods to combat serious medical conditions – make the best real-time wellness decisions.

The app rates foods on an easy-to-follow color code (red is bad, green is good, with shades in between) and offers more detailed chemical and nutritional breakdowns on tons of products at the touch of a button, all based on an in-house “medical panel” that vets ingredients and other nutritional facts, according to Andersen

“How is it that we can put Pokémon all over the planet, but we can’t put something on people’s phones that would help them choose the best food and products … to help them fight these diseases?” the innovator said. “I wanted a way to show people instantly – without even having to pick up the product – what is inside that product, just like a CAT scan looks inside.”

Second place, and an $18,000 biz-building package, went to Cress Health, founded by Hofstra biology major Michael Lai. The startup, which leverages mobile technologies to help post-rehab addicts fight off addiction, is no stranger to pitch-a-thons (or runner-up prizes): Lai reached the finals of the 2019 New York Business Plan Competition and also took third place in the 2019 Hofstra-Digital Remedy Challenge.

Narrative Nation, which promotes national healthcare equality “by democratizing how the story of health disparities is told,” according to its website, captured both third place (a $14,500 package) and the annual Healthcare Entrepreneurship Community Impact Award ($5,000).

Other competitors in Tuesday’s final round included startups offering a personal medication sorting/dispensing device; an enterprising ride-share transportation system across the care continuum; and a program for pairing physically challenged individuals with the right assistive technologies.