In the art of origami, a single piece of paper can be transformed into different creations. At Origami Innovations, New Haven’s first student-founded not-for-profit health care innovation hub, ideas are similarly transformed and reiterated to improve upon them—not unlike the folding and refolding of paper from which the start-up takes its name.
In 2016, Yale School of Medicine (YSM) students Matt Erlendson and Kirthi Bellamkonda began collaborating on a concept that became Origami Innovations in 2018. Origami seeks to empower “students and community members to imagine, design, and co-create tangible, disruptive, and purpose-driven solutions to pressing issues,” according to its website.
Part of what led Erlendson and Bellamkonda to create Origami was the belief—based partially on Erlendson’s experience in leadership roles with Stanford Medicine X, a Stanford University healthcare innovation hub—that entrepreneurial ecosystems thrive when top-down university resources work in tandem with ground-up peer-to-peer organizations. Erlendson says “there are wonderful top-down resources available to students at Yale that are doing incredible work, such as TSAI City, the Center for Biomedical Innovation and Technology (CBIT), the Center for Engineering Innovation & Design (CEID), and Innovate Health Yale,” adding that Origami “hopes to contribute to the existing innovation pipeline and engage the broader New Haven community.”
Erlendson and Bellamkonda believe that when faced with a question or challenge, there are many ways to address it. Bellamkonda explains that “Origami draws inspiration from initiatives at Stanford, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, and other peer institutions using human-centered design-thinking, and looks to shape those concepts and grow them to best fit the needs of New Haven, especially in uniting problem-solving efforts by patients, family members, caregivers, and interdisciplinary teams.”
Also central to Origami is the idea of “yes, and even better if.” This approach, as the Origami website explains, allows all involved to “take an idea to extremes, explore opposites, question assumptions, and encourage rapid fire acquisition of data from diverse perspectives. Potential problems are opportunities for brainstorming not for shutting down–by the end of an ideation session, solutions often present themselves.”
Erlendson and Bellamkonda think design-thinking adds an important, distinctive, approach to health care. “Investment in staff and provider engagement through problem-solving and internal innovation in health systems is associated with reductions in burnout,” according to Bellamkonda.
Erlendson points out that when trying to improve health outcomes, it is important to consider the numerous factors that impact the health of individuals external to a doctor’s office or hospital. Origami’s Patient-Partnership-Program (led by YSM student Lina Vadlamani) is based on the premise that design-thinking can have a significant positive impact in this “external” space. The 10-week course pairs interdisciplinary students and health care providers with patients and family members to co-create solutions for better management of chronic disease. According to Erlendson, “this program aims to elevate the patient voice and support an equal partnership between patients and providers in health innovation.” Erlendson hopes that this program “can help individual patients and also provide insights into scalable solutions that may benefit the broader community.”
In December 2017, Origami organized a team, sponsored by HealthVentures, a start-up founded by two Yale School of Management (SOM) alumni, that used the Origami design-thinking approach in a US Department of Health and Human Services Code-a-thon focused on finding data-driven solutions to address the opioid crisis. The Origami-organized team was one of three winning teams, out of more than 50 entrants.
The day before the Code-a-thon, Erlendson, Bellamkonda, Vadlamani, Lan Duan (a Yale School of Public Health student), and Valentine Quadrat (a Yale SOM student), participated in a Stanford Medicine X interdisciplinary design workshop on the opioid epidemic. This session enabled them to gain valuable insights from stakeholders in attendance, such as family members, first responders, health care providers, and individuals in recovery. They shared these conversations with the Code-a-thon team, which consisted of Erlendson, Sachith Gullapalli (a 2017 Yale College graduate), two data scientists, and a physician. Erlendson believes that this inclusive approach helped them find a solution that actually could make a difference on the ground. “We asked, who are we designing for, and how will this help them,” he says.
Though the team had access to national data, they limited their focus to Connecticut data, believing the opioid crisis would differ by geography. Using information about Connecticut overdoses from 2012-2016, they created a machine learning model and tested it against where 2017 incidents occurred. This model was able to make accurate predictions about where and when overdoses would occur before they happened. Erlendson believes the predictive model has the capacity to save lives by enabling intelligent allocation of life-saving community resources like Narcan among first-responders and hospitals and by providing communities with lead-time to prepare. The project, characteristically, reflects one of the start-up’s stated values, “innovate with purpose: Focus on meaningful disruptive solutions.”
The composition of the team involved in the opioid competition reflects another key Origami tenet: collaborating across disciplines produces better ideas. Origami has recruited “Innovation Leads” from Yale’s Schools of Medicine, Public Health, Management, and Law, as well as the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and Yale College Computer Science Program, to engage students, staff, and faculty from those schools in projects and events.
In June 2018, Origami took a “transformational” step, according to Erlendson: it became one of three founding partners of Health Haven Hub (HHH), a health care innovation incubator. Donna Lecky and Sri Muthu, who both graduated from Yale SOM’s MBA for Executives Program in 2016, founded HHH. Muthu, a member of Origami’s advisory board, recruited Origami to be a founding partner, believing Origami would add great value. “The students are the best of the best, with a vision of the social needs of the community,” he says, adding that they are very tech savvy.
The other HHH founding partners are HealthVentures, Lecky’s and Muthu’s health care venture capital company, and Bridge Innovations, an accelerator for medical device start-ups. Oleg Shikhman is Bridge’s CEO, and David Pearlstone, MD, a surgical oncologist and also a graduate of the SOM Leadership in Healthcare MBA program, is HHH’s executive director.
While at SOM, Lecky and Muthu took the course “Creating and Launching Healthcare Ventures”, which brought together Yale business and medical school students, as well as practicing physicians. Lecky and Muthu greatly enjoyed the course, but wondered “then what?” They view HHH as a resource for converting academic learning and health care providers’ innovative ideas into tangible health care solutions, which can create new businesses and jobs and spur economic development in New Haven and Connecticut.
HHH is targeting three types of entrepreneurs to support with funding, expertise, industry connections, and office space: students, international businesses interested in relocating to the United States, and health care innovators trying to disrupt the industry with better medical devices, technology, or information sharing. As Shikhman emphasizes, HHH is not a traditional co-working space; the founding partners have strong networks that can support new projects and the intent is to create synergies between health-related start-ups, and the local entrepreneurial community more broadly.
Erlendson and Bellamkonda are grateful for how HHH expands Origami’s access to funding and mentorship, and provides space for meetings and events, enabling broader outreach across Yale, with other local colleges and universities, and with other members of the New Haven community. And he greatly appreciates “the strong support HHH is receiving from the state, through grant funding, the city government, and the community, reflecting the excitement around health care innovation in New Haven and Connecticut.”
Erlendson is glad Origami is contributing to the expanding entrepreneurship culture in the city; “the timing is perfect because there is lots of untapped potential in New Haven.” Lecky asserts that New Haven is on track to become the central point for health care, citing the confluence of YSM in New Haven and The Frank Netter MD School of Medicine in North Haven, and frequent train service to the University of Connecticut Medical School, as well as to Boston and New York City. She believes that because “the bookends of Boston and New York City are so saturated, it is very hard for small start-ups to break into the innovation ecosystem.” In contrast, HHH has space capacity, financing, and experience to provide necessary support. All the HHH partners believe health care innovation is critical to the economic future of New Haven and Connecticut.
Erlendson and Bellamkonda are both in the midst of full-time rotations at Yale New Haven Hospital and thinking of the future. Erlendson emphasizes that “we should rethink the ways in which providers can partner with patients and community members to advance health care. I hope to bring this philosophy into clinical practice and to encourage more health care students to start building tangible solutions to the issues that they are passionate about.”