Innovators share ideas at latest Disruptivate! conference
How to make health care costs more transparent, provide students with a good education from anywhere in the country, and better connect students and businesses in the Merrimack Valley were among the myriad themes explored at the semiannual Disruptivate! Goes Vertical conference on Tuesday.
About 150 people -- including entrepreneurs, educators, technologists and venture capitalists -- attended the daylong conference, which was hosted by the New Hampshire Innovation Commercialization Center and held at the Wentworth by the Sea Resort in New Castle.
The conference was a follow-up to the first Disruptivate! in April, which explored the practice of disruptive innovation, which refers to any innovation that disrupts an existing market and often displaces an incumbent (think, for example, of Netflix, which turned the video-rental store industry on its head).
The Oct. 9 conference homed in on disruptive innovators in the verticals of health care and education, featuring 12 "Vital Vertical Ventures" -- six innovators in each industry -- half of whom presented in the morning session and the other half presenting in afternoon breakout sessions.
The morning wrapped up with a panel, "Should Universities Be Univenturous?"
During the morning, the top three presenters in each vertical presented to the entire conference, fielding questions from a panel of experts in their industry.
Among those presenters was Dr. Ali Rafieymehr, the new dean of UNH-Manchester, who talked about the school's recent 20,000-square-foot expansion into the Pandora Mill and its plans for the new space to host an Emerging Technology Center, where students will have the opportunity to work hands-on with area businesses on projects that the business has identified as a need.
The center will "provide an environment where students work in collaboration with your company on real projects," whether it's working on mobile app development, software development, "as well as any other projects that come our way," he said.
The goal is for students to gain real-world experience, making them better prepared for the workforce. The space will also host a couple of micro-incubators, which will collaborate with the abi Innovation Hub to ensure they're not duplicating resources, he said.
The school is "hoping someday to take over the whole building," said Rafieymehr, who said he personally committed money for the center, along with Dyn Inc., which committed money for over three years to build the center. The center dovetails with the school's new offering of a computer science major, and will also offer free classes to high school students interested in computer science.
Need for place
Another education presenter was Dr. Steve Kossakoski, CEO of the Virtual Learning Academy, an Exeter-based charter school that is one of the largest virtual learning schools in the country.
The nonprofit school is funded by the state, not by local school districts, and allows all New Hampshire students to attend free of charge. Since it was founded in 2008, its enrollment has grown from 700 students to more than 15,000.
In the reaction panel, UNH President Huddleston asked about the role of place in a virtual learning academy and whether it matters that the school is in New Hampshire.
There's "always going to be a need for place," said Kossakoski. "Virtual education isn't a panacea, it has its place. It's a big part of standard education for a lot of reasons. We know as we look across New Hampshire, there are some schools that can't afford all the programs of some larger or more affluent schools... I think there's the potential for having these huge, huge (virtual) schools that could serve the needs but I think human nature is they want someone in the region to be part of their child's education."
On the health care side, State Rep. Marilinda Garcia, R-Salem, discussed the Price Disclosure Act, legislation she intends to introduce in the 2013 session if she is re-elected.
The bill would require institutions that provide health care services to disclose the estimated cost of a procedure upon the request of an uninsured or prospective patient, which Garcia said would ensure all citizens would be charged the same amount for procedure, regardless of whether they have insurance or not.
She acknowledged some of the complaints she heard about the legislation from health care providers, namely that they don't know their own prices, because everything is done by coding, and that there is no way to judge what complications may arise and therefore no way to reasonably predetermine cost.
Nick Toumpas, commissioner of the state department of Health and Human Services, said it was important to improve cost transparency, adding that there are websites "around exactly the thing you're trying to get at," but pointed out that quality of care also needs to be considered in making health care choices.
Garcia acknowledged that "the link between cost and quality I think is a whole other kettle of fish."
Other innovators that spoke at the conference were:
• Mike Mazzola, Lamprey, CEO of Lamprey Networks, which makes software that can be embedded in sensors and gives access to cloud-based personal medical information
• Kyle Pribilski, CEO of Chicago-based Formation Human Dynamics, a social network that engages employees more fully in wellness initiatives
• Eric Braun, co-founder of 30hands.com, a student-centric and teacher-friendly platform for online and blended learning that engages students through social media interaction with course materials
• Michael Muldoon, CEO of Ustabilize, a balance and stability game for the iPhone and iPod Touch that challenges players to enhance their stability
• Amit Mathew, CEO of Uprise Medical, an app that allows physicians to better explain a medical condition to patients that can be emailed to them for later reference
• Michaeline Daboul, CEO of MediSpend, a software-as-a-service solution that enables pharmaceutical and medical device companies to comply with compulsory state and federal disclosure requirements
• Justin Ballou, teacher and co-founder of NH EduTech, an emerging startup with a focus in virtual and technological systems that aims to provide rigorous, personalized learning opportunities to all children
• Monica Chandra, co-founder of TurnRight Advice Solutions, a career advice network that connects college students, alumni, and professionals to guide college choices and provide internship opportunities
• Steve Marchand, co-founder of Jumpstart Mobile Application Bootcamp Program, which provides high school students in the state an opportunity to learn how to program mobile apps
Event sponsors include University of New Hampshire Information Technology, Pierce Atwood, UNH Office for Research Partnerships & Commercialization, Borealis Granite Fund, Great Bay Community College, Comcast Business Class, Atlantic Plastic Surgery, Optima Bank and Trust, Unified Office, the abi Innovation Hub, the New Hampshire High Tech Council and NHBR. - KATHLEEN CALLAHAN/NEW HAMPSHIRE BUSINESS REVIEW