Health entrepreneurship lab opens at ASU

HEALab participant Erin Washbon meets with program director Rick Hall to model a business plan for her project on Sept. 6, 2017 in Phoenix, Ariz. (Anya Magnuson/ASU Now)

A new program which provides ASU health students with business development opportunities is coming to ASU’s Downtown Phoenix Campus.

Rick Hall, director of the Health Innovation Program and clinical professor for the nursing college at ASU, got the idea to start the Health Entrepreneurship Accelerator Lab after noticing students who wanted to further develop their ideas into businesses had to be referred to innovation-based labs on other campuses.

“There was kind of a vacuum on the ASU Downtown Campus for entrepreneurship, specifically relating to health,” Hall said.

One of the key components of the HEALab’s purpose is to connect bright students with the resources, investors and mentors they need to advance their startup plans. Hall has been a liaison for both current and former ASU students working to launch their ideas.

“We have students with very bright minds who are becoming subject matter experts in health-related topics who want to come up with solutions to healthcare problems,” Hall said.

One of these bright minds belongs to Wilman Vergara.

Vergara, an alumnus of ASU’s Health Innovation Program, met Hall on his graduation day. He reached out to Hall months later with an idea for a healthcare-related app.

His application, called Knosis, allows users to track themselves via an avatar that reflects their progress. The app offers rewards for completing fitness-based challenges and games to incentivize users. The rewards include discounts on healthcare premiums, vanishing deductibles similar to those in the car insurance industry, and waived co-pay programs.

Vergara cited data which showed over 50 percent user compliance with health-related activities when there was a financial incentive. He already has a few investors showing early interest in his prototype.

Vergara credits Hall for putting him in touch with key advisors and for offering him “free reign” of the HEALab space when available.

Hall pointed out other colleges offer their students a place to grow their ideas into businesses and that for a large organization like ASU, much of its reputation for innovation comes out of spaces like the lab.

Hall said he hopes to help students realize potential solutions by “helping them tap the entrepreneurial skill sets that are needed to take those ideas to market.”

Erin Washbon had the makings of a great business but lacked the savvy to get it running without Hall and his resources.

Washbon aims to set up a business that is part-food delivery service and part-educational tool.

Growing up in a family with a history of both Type I and Type II Diabetes, Washbon said her family members were not unwilling to comply with diabetic standards for food. The main issue was a lack of knowledge.

“Nutrition isn’t something typically taught in public education,” Washbon said.

She hopes to teach low-income individuals in the Phoenix area nutrition knowledge once she is ready to move forward with her plans.

Washbon looks forward to being able to better establish her selling skills in order to make this happen. The HEALab will offer ample opportunity to do so through the pitch competitions and special events they will be hosting.

Hall anticipates that aspiring entrepreneurs, guest speakers, community members and students will be able to gather in the space and share ideas.

People like Washbon and Vergara will make face-to-face connections with professionals in their interest areas, while the public can learn more about the latest innovations in healthcare.

Vergara said the hope is students and community members will drop by and add their input to the ongoing projects.

The lab is situated at the base of Taylor Place and is near the Health North and South buildings. Current students are already getting hands on involvement with projects like Vergara’s app and Washbon’s business.

Hall said the lab is first and foremost for the students at ASU. With a location downtown, there is no need to send them elsewhere with their curiosity and bright ideas.

“We want them to come and we want them to get engaged,” Hall said. “We want to be inclusive.”

Hall had a soft opening for the HEALab in early September and plans to host a grand opening on Nov. 8.

Contact the reporter at Sabine.Galvis@asu.edu.