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InnovateHealth Yale Supercharges Public Health

Yale Public Health Magazine, Yale Public Health: Fall 2023
by Matt Kristoffersen


Since its inception in 2013, InnovateHealth Yale has coached over 200 students, funded 66 startups, and awarded over $400,000 in impact grants and internship funding to a broad array of student ventures.

Fatema Basrai knows how far an idea can go.

Basrai is the managing director of InnovateHealth Yale, Yale School of Public Health’s social entrepreneurship program, and the Sustainable Health Initiative (SHI), which strives to solve complex global health challenges through business-minded approaches, creative problem-solving, and international collaboration.

Since its inception in 2013, InnovateHealth Yale has coached over 200 students, funded 66 startups, and awarded over $400,000 in impact grants and internship funding to a broad array of student ventures. InnovateHealth Yale alumni have been funded and supported by Techstars, MIT Solve, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and leading venture capital firms.

InnovateHealth Yale partners with centers for innovation and entrepreneurship across Yale University. Yale Ventures is the central university entity for supporting innovators across the university and in New Haven with resources and opportunities as they translate their ideas and discoveries into new ventures that will positively impact the world’s greatest challenges.

Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale (Tsai CITY) is a hub that inspires students from diverse backgrounds and disciplines to seek innovative ways to solve real-world problems.

In a recent interview, Basrai discussed the importance of mentoring, supporting, and funding new ideas in public health to improve the lives of people in communities throughout the world.

Q: Why is innovation so important to public health and its mission of protecting and improving the health of people in their communities?

Basrai: Public health encompasses pretty much every area of our lives. Just like medical doctors are coming up with new therapeutics and new medications, when we are innovating in public health, we are finding new ways to solve old and new problems.

Innovation is a driving force that empowers public health to stay relevant, responsive, and effective in safeguarding and enhancing the well-being of individuals and communities. It enables the field to overcome challenges, embrace new opportunities, and continually improve the quality of health care and health outcomes for all. Through InnovateHealth Yale and SHI, we are committed to supporting students and alumni to become part of that driving force.

Q: How does InnovateHealth Yale decide which startups and nonprofits to fund?

Basrai: First of all, we ask: How does this funding particularly impact public health challenges, and what is the end goal for the startup or nonprofit? Then, we look at how much research and thought has gone into the problem, and if the students who are working on this have spent several years thinking about this problem. We also call in our advisors – people with different levels of expertise all around the university. If we have a specific question, we can ask one of our partners or advisors, and make sure that the student innovator gets connected to the right resources, whether it’s InnovateHealth Yale funding, SHI mentorship with our global mentors-in-residence, or another grant or mentorship opportunity.

Q: How does InnovateHealth Yale provide support to chosen innovations?

Basrai: We provide one-on-one mentorship, primarily with me or our faculty director, Kaveh Khoshnood, MPH ’89, PhD ‘95, and we connect students with other faculty members, mentors in our network, and the greater Yale network. We also give impact grants for student ventures in the spring and fall through Startup Yale, and provide funding for summer internships for students to work with organizations doing innovation work in the public health space. Everything we give out is a grant. We’re not taking equity for these startups. As students and founders become alumni and are successful, we hope that they will be interested in giving back.

Q: What are some of InnovateHealth Yale’s biggest success stories?

Basrai: Leslie Asanga, Advanced Professional MPH ‘20, founder and CEO of Pills2Me and the Thorne Prize winner in 2020, recently received a Google for Startups Black Founders Fund award that includes a cash prize and access to Google’s resources for entrepreneurs.

April Koh, YC ’16, started Spring Health when she was a 24-year-old Yale student, winning the Thorne Prize in 2016. In 2021, she and her partner used the $25,000 prize money to start their artificial intelligence-enabled mental health clinic. The company has really taken off and is now valued at over one billion dollars.

Khushi Baby, the winner of the inaugural Thorne Prize in 2014, founded by Ruchit Nagar, MPH ’15, developed a bracelet embedded with a silicon chip that can be worn by infants in rural India to record their vaccination history. A mobile phone app writes and reads the vaccination records on the bracelet and sends them to a database. The Khushi Baby team has signed a three-year contract as the Nodal Technical Support Partner to the Department of Health, and received $2.4 million in funding for the innovation from the Central Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

There are many other impressive startups, and that’s been really exciting to see!

Q: Tell us more about the Sustainable Health Initiative

Basrai: The other hat that I wear is the managing director of the Sustainable Health Initiative, which is a global health innovation program based at the Yale Institute for Global Health.

Since 2019, the Sustainable Health Initiative has invested in entrepreneurs who are dedicated to positively impacting health care in the world’s emerging economies. There are three core program components for students across the university: SHI Mentors in Residence, SHI Fellows, and the Venture Development Program.

Students work with SHI Fellows to create their ideal startup or hone their existing idea to maximize its impact on complex global health challenges. These peer coaches also serve as go-betweens with the student initiatives, program staff, and SHI Mentors in Residence, who are partners with robust experience in global health innovation and entrepreneurship.

We have some great success stories for SHI-funded initiatives: Metamagics, an India-based technology company, helps to make the organ transplant process more efficient and effective. Care providers can use their cloud-based, AI-enhanced platform to monitor and analyze their patient’s condition before and after transplant, maximizing the chance of success. Recently, thanks to mentorship and support from SHI, the company raised $360,000 and successfully piloted the software with Yale New Haven Hospital’s kidney transplant center.

Aero Therapeutics helps physicians in low-resource areas to treat neonatal respiratory issues with rugged and affordable devices. Through SHI, the company raised $580,000 and received one year of free office space in New Haven.

Recently we launched the Venture Development Program within SHI. The specialized initiative is embedded within Tsai CITY’s venture development programs and supported by expert coaching from the SHI core team, SHI Fellows, and SHI Mentors in Residence. Students who are selected for the program train with Tsai CITY in their venture development programs while receiving global health specific coaching and resources.

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