New HealthLab Accelerator program supports student social impact ventures

An illustration representing people brainstorming

September 13, 2022—This year, students at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health have a new opportunity to turn their ideas into startups with the potential for real-world impact. The HealthLab Accelerator program will bring together entrepreneurial teams focused on solving challenges in public and planetary health, and provide them with funding and opportunities for mentoring, networking, and collaboration. The program will culminate with a pitching competition in the spring, and the opportunity to win one of three $20,000 grand prizes.

HealthLab is a joint venture of Harvard Chan School and Harvard College’s Lemann Program on Creativity and Entrepreneurship (LPCE). Organizers aim to promote collaboration between graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and undergraduates from across the University, and encourage teams to draw on multidisciplinary expertise. Over the course of the year, teams will receive mentorship from experienced entrepreneurs, guidance from staff, and access to skill-building workshops.

A kickoff party to learn about the accelerator and application process will be held September 14 from 5:00-7:00 pm in the West Lobby of the Science and Engineering Complex in Allston. On October 12, a Pitch-to-Match session will take place from 4:00-6:00 pm at Harvard Chan School where students can deliver a two-minute pitch on their concept and also find partners for their venture.

Each year, the program will pose a challenge prompt to help teams hone their ideas. This year’s challenge focuses on how to measure social impact.

That is a key question for students who want to make change, said Lumas Helaire, assistant dean for population health management and health equity education at Harvard Chan School. Helaire helps guide HealthLab with Sam Magee, the director on creativity and entrepreneurship for the LPCE. “People who want to make an impact can probably speak about their work in very clear ways, but not necessarily measurable ways,” Helaire said. “But if we can’t measure the work, how do we know that we’ve had the impact we’ve intended?”

Magee describes HealthLab as a pioneering accelerator. “We are positioned as a hub that connects Harvard students across degrees and disciplines. We provide hands-on resources to enable our student teams to launch profitable real-world ventures that aim to make the world a better place.”

LCPE had been running social impact competitions for two years, and partnering with Harvard Chan School was an ideal fit for growing the program, Helaire said, noting that just about any social impact project touches public health in some way.

HealthLab’s focus on social impact and public health solutions is what makes the program different from the entrepreneurial opportunities at Harvard innovation Labs, Helaire said. The programs aren’t competing, and that students could potentially be involved with both.

Helaire started at the School about a year ago and is charged with fostering collaborations that support students and faculty, and that promote health equity.

He is particularly enthusiastic about HealthLab’s focus on building interdisciplinary teams, and the potential synergy that can happen when people from different disciplines and stages in their careers come together.

“I think one of the is the most efficient and impactful ways to learn is to learn by doing, to take an idea and see if you can turn it into something concrete,” he said. “Then, it’s been my experience that when I take an idea and I share it with someone who has a completely different perspective, they take that idea, they stretch it, and they grow it.”

HealthLab is also working to encourage the next generation of social impact entrepreneurs through outreach to local high school students. Helaire and his HealthLab colleagues are partnering with organizations like The Boys & Girls Club in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood to develop workshops tailored towards issues that students care about. Helaire said that the goal is to empower students to see that they can have a voice in solving problems that affect their lives.

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