Yale Teams Compete for $25,000, Chance to Improve Public Health

Four teams of Yale students competed Saturday for a $25,000 prize and the chance to turn an idea for better health into reality.

The teams—Fluid Screen, FortiChai, Franchising Clean and Khushi Baby—pitched widely different proposals to a panel of seven judges during the afternoon competition at the Yale School of Management, but each shared a strong commitment to improving public health.

FortiChai’s venture would use fortified chai tea to improve the health of slum dwellers in India. Fluid Screen proposed creating a hand-held device to rapidly detect a variety of bacteria in blood and water. Franchising Clean, meanwhile, offered a system to expand access to potable water in Ecuador through a series of franchises. 

But in the end, Khushi Baby won the inaugural Thorne Prize sponsored by InnovateHealth Yale (IHY), a new program at the Yale School of Public Health. Dean Paul Cleary announced the winning team.

Khushi (which means “happy” in Hindi) Baby will use the funds to further develop a bracelet embedded with a silicone chip that can be worn by infants and records their vaccination history. A mobile phone app will write and read the vaccination records on the bracelet and send them to a database. The team wants to introduce the innovation in India and expand from there. 

“Our goal is to have happy and healthy babies around the world,” team members told the judges during their 30-minute presentation. “We don’t want to be stuck in the classroom. We really want to get out into the field.”

Some 1.5 million infants die worldwide each year from vaccine-preventable diseases. In many parts of the world, vaccine records are poorly kept, if at all.

Team Khushi Baby, consisting of Teja Padma, SOM ’14, Ruchit Nagar, Yale College ’15, M.P.H. ’15, Ifedolapo Omiwole, Yale College ’14, and Leen van Besien, Yale College ’14, envisions their vaccination bracelets becoming iconic in the way the red ribbon has for AIDS and the yellow Livestrong bracelet has for cancer survival.

They exhibited the technology to the judges, each of whom received a surprise message on their mobile devices that demonstrated how quickly and accurately information can be entered into a bracelet and shared with others.

With the prize money, the team members said they will travel to India and begin work to implement their health innovation. 

Dean Cleary said that Saturday’s competition is another indication of strong student interest across Yale in promoting better health.

“The insights, creativity and dedication devoted to solving major health problems apparent in all the Thorne Prize applications and especially in the presentations of the finalists was truly inspiring,” he said. “We hope that the Thorne Prize and the InnovateHealth Yale program in general will foster a culture and enrich the infrastructure that facilitates the development of innovative, effective ways to address some of our most intransigent health problems.”

IHY was created last year with a gift from Margaret and Nathan Thorne. The program seeks to promote health and prevent disease by encouraging social innovation through entrepreneurship. In addition to the annual Thorne Prize, IHY will begin sponsoring classes in social entrepreneurship next year and sponsor summer internships for Yale students. It also hosts lectures by successful innovators during the school year.

The four Yale teams that competed Saturday were drawn from 18 applicants. Martin Klein, IHY’s director and associate dean for development and external affairs for the School of Public Health, noted that he and the other judges had a tough time picking a winner from four very strong proposals.

“We couldn’t be more pleased and more thrilled,” Klein said.

This article was submitted by Denise L Meyer on April 28, 2014.

Team Khushi Baby, winner of the inaugural Thorne Prize, demonstrates the technology in its vaccination bracelet to a panel of judges.