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Dartmouth Innovation Accelerator for Digital Health kicks off with two-day workshop

The Accelerator, a partnership between the Center for Technology and Behavioral Health and The Magnuson Center for Entrepreneurship, will help researchers bring their technology to market.

Karen L. Fortuna, PhD, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Geisel School of Medicine, knows that too often, scientific innovations don’t reach the people that could benefit from them the most.

“Science has an implementation problem—we know it takes 17 years for research  interventions to reach clinical practice, with only about 10% of them actually get disseminated into the real world,” Fortuna says.

With that in mind, Fortuna enrolled in the first cohort of The Dartmouth Innovation Accelerator for Digital Health (DIADH). DIADH launched programming earlier this month with a two-day intensive workshop designed to introduce research teams to the tenants of entrepreneurship in the digital health and therapeutics industry.

Teams left the workshop with greater clarity of the problem they are seeking to address, the relevant market opportunity, the resources needed for success and their strategy to create competitive advantage, as well as increased enthusiasm to move their innovation forward, says Lisa A. Marsch, Ph.D., director of the Center for Technology and Behavioral Health (CTBH) and co-leader of DIADH.

“Our teams came a long, long way from having a loosely defined idea to being able to present a very professional pitch,” says Henrik Scheel, Founder and CEO at Startup Experience, an entrepreneurial training organization that will provide the curriculum for DIADH.

For Fortuna, who is working on AI technology that could identify dementia before patients begin to notice symptoms, the weekend provided much-needed confirmation that she can approach business with the same empiricism and integrity that she approaches her science.

“I very much learned this was possible,” she says. “In doing so, we can scale evidence-based products to the real-world; rather than having them just sit on a shelf somewhere and collect dust.”

Building teams around digital innovation

Digital therapeutics include any software used to prevent, treat, or manage a medical disorder or disease. It’s a growing area of health care that has the potential to impact millions of people. DIADH aims to bring together innovators from the Dartmouth community—ranging from undergraduates to doctors and faculty—and help them translate their work into the marketplace.

Fourteen teams are participating in the first cohort. Some, like Fortuna, have a well-developed idea already. Others, including Chris Doyle, MD, MPH candidate TDI ’24, are starting with the problem that they want to address.

During his medical residency, Doyle struggled to help patients with chronic fatigue. The symptom was prevalent and had a huge impact on patients’ lives, but there was not a good option for managing it medically. Doyle would like to change that.

“DIADH seemed like a good opportunity to meet like-minded problem solvers to create a solution,” he says.

During the workshop, Doyle learned that entrepreneurship presents its own challenges. Yet, he also saw the potential impact that digital health solutions could have for patients, including those with chronic fatigue.

“Digital health addresses large, meaningful problems with a tech-focused mindset you don’t often find in the hospital,” he says. “Embracing this perspective is important for providers if they seek to drive change.”

Accessible experts in digital health

One of the powers of DIADH is that the program brings together a group of people with diverse experiences and expertise. The experts at the workshop had backgrounds in pharmaceuticals, consulting, medical devices, digital health, venture capital, software/app development, clinical experience, and patient perspectives.

“It really was a one-stop-shop for all healthcare and entrepreneurial advice,” Doyle says.

Those skill sets will also be reflected in the External Advisory Panel, which provides feedback to the teams in the Accelerator.

“I am especially excited about the superb group of expert mentors and External Advisory Panel members who are generously bringing their extensive experience and expertise to help participants be successful,” Marsch says.

For undergrad DIADH participant Mia Steinberg D’25, having access to that caliber of professionals was amazing.

“The doctors were asking me questions, really listening to my answers and trying to help me,” says Steinberg, who is developing an app to help people have healthier relationships with their smartphones.

“There are a lot of places I know that my knowledge and skill set stops, so to have that support and help from people who are also passionate about digital health was very impactful,” she says.

A semester of programming

The remainder of the DIADH programming, which runs through May, will take participants deeper into the concepts introduced during the two-day intensive, says Barry Schweitzer, Ph.D., D’82, Associate Director for Strategic Initiatives at the Magnuson Center for Entrepreneurship and co-leader of DIADH. Teams will leave the Accelerator with a better understanding of challenges specific to bringing technology to market in the digital health space.

During subsequent programming, Scheel has already introduced participants to issues like co-founder agreements and the idea of idea ownership versus execution. He’s keen to build on the foundation that the workshop set.

“I’m eager to see how far we can take them between now and May,” Scheel says. “I’m very excited about every one of the projects.”