Pitfalls of Undergraduate Health Innovation Education

More and more universities are setting up entrepreneurship centers for undergraduate students. While the idea is laudable, those who invest time and money in such centers need to have realistic expectations.

The sick care and disease prevention innovation bug is spreading, and is now infecting college campuses and pre-professional schools. Examples include those that have launched undergraduate innovation and entrepreneurship centers, degrees in health and wellness innovation, and student-led groups, like one at Georgetown. While this is encouraging and higher education administrators, students, and faculty champions should be applauded, they should also be aware of some gotchas lurking in the background:

1. New does not mean valuable. The process of creating something new or using something old in a new way that creates a significant user-defined multiple of value when compared to the competitive offering or status quo requires a lot more than just education and training.

2. There is a difference between an idea, an invention, and an innovation

3. Very few technical specialists, like nurses, doctors, engineers, or public health professionals have an entrepreneurial mindset. In addition, despite the hype, millennials are not creating businesses at a significant rate.

4. Innovation is, in many manifestations, a fad. Whether it can be engrafted on to cultures that are highly resistant to change, ie, sick care and higher education, is a hypothesis that still needs to be validated.

5. The sustainability of sick-care innovation will require a different business model. In most instances, the programs cannot be supported by tuition only and putting butts in the seats.

6. Student-led initiatives tend to have a limited life span due to the failure of leadership succession planning, lack of ongoing institutional support and faculty sponsors, and the lack of follow-on champions.

7. Money is the mother's milk of innovation. Without money to move ideas forward, they will wither on the vine.

8. Incomplete organizational structures and processes, or those that fail to deliver on their value propositions, are cruel and unusual punishment and merely serve to tease students or trick them into thinking that their student loans will yield fruit. Innovative universities are not necessarily entrepreneurial ones.

9. Many programs persist in creating innovation knowledge technicians, instead of those that have market-based competencies like team building, emotional intelligence, data science, leadership, and project management skills and attitudes. They ignore practical and international issues.

10. Creating programs that only include education will fail. The whole product solution needs to also have networks, mentors, experiential learning, resources, and knowledge exchange for other elements of the surrounding regional ecosystems.

Here are some things to expect when you try to teach biomedical or clinical innovation and entrepreneurship to students:

1. Assume they don't know what they don't know.

2. Most will not have the DNA to successfully see a venture through to completion.

3. You cannot teach anyone anything. The most you can do is to create an environment that supports those willing and able to teach themselves.

4. Expect a very high attrition rate, but don't be discouraged. It only takes one truly formative idea to make a difference.

5. Never underestimate how chance favors the prepared.

Intuitively, the sooner we can engage students in the processes of innovation, even if at the K-12 level, the better. However, like merely pouring more money into NIH funding with the expectation that there will be a correlation to eventual impact, creating more and more undergraduate programs using a spray an pray approach with the expectation that there will be more significant sick-care innovation, is faulty thinking. Program directors need to do it right and go after big problems, or don't do it at all. Now there's an innovative idea.