Advancing the Science

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December 15, 2020

Competitive alligators chomp at the bit to showcase health care innovations

By Advancing the Science contributor
live screenshot of Dr. Urban in her office, presenting on the virtual, split view showing her presentation as well, 104 viewers noted.
Dr. Erben led one of the three winning projects in the Alligator Tank 2020.

It was a spinoff of the popular “Shark Tank” television show — virtual style. The amended format of the 2020 Alligator Tank health care innovation competition at Mayo Clinic in Florida allowed teams two minutes to pitch their projects to a panel of judges during an event hosted online. More than 100 Mayo Clinic staff across all campuses logged on to watch the event November 17, with nine teams selected to present innovative technologies and medical solutions that have the potential to improve health care.

Keeping with tradition, Charles Bruce, M.D., chief innovation officer at Mayo Clinic in Florida, provided commentary and emceed the event.

Competitors were instructed to answer several questions during their presentations:

  • What is the problem/opportunity you’re addressing?
  • What is the solution?
  • Why you?
  • Why now?
  • Why is it a business?
Image of participant laptop with screen open to virtual conference room, with tables set up for Alligator Tank 2020. Several faces or initial icons surrounding each of about 20 tables.

Judges also asked questions about each innovation following the pitches. The panel of judges included Jared Mueller, director, Mayo Clinic Innovation Exchange; Michelle Freeman, M.D., pulmonologist, critical care specialist and director, Mayo Clinic in Florida’s Research in Space Medicine Program; Sunil Krishnan, M.D., professor of radiation oncology; Nathan Wiedenman, Ph.D., director, Office of Translation to Practice; and Julie Henry, director of operations, Mayo Clinic Ventures.

"Innovation is a hallmark of Mayo’s culture,” says Dr. Bruce. "The Alligator Tank encourages our staff to work together across disciplines for the free-flowing of ideas that can truly change the health care landscape for our patients.”

The nine Alligator Tank projects and their teams included:

The projects ranged from imaging solutions for circulating tumor cells, a device to increase patient safety by preventing access to IV catheters in the hospital setting, to leveraging artificial intelligence to help medical personnel determine which patients with atherosclerotic plaque in their carotid arteries should have further, targeted procedures.

“Our investment in entrepreneurship can pay off in dividends for our patients,” says Tushar Patel, M.B., Ch.B., dean for research at Mayo Clinic in Florida. "These health care innovations begin as a simple idea, fostered by collaboration and team science, but they have the potential to greatly improve patient care on a global scale."

When the final pitches concluded, the event paused for a short period of time while the judges made their top picks for winning health care innovations. The top three projects announced by Dr. Bruce were IV Safe Lock, ImmunoPro, and AI-PlaX. New this year was recognition of the “crowd favorite,” Vision, which event participants had the opportunity to vote for while seated at their virtual tables.

The Alligator Tank, organized by the Office of Entrepreneurship, which is part of the Mayo Clinic Center for Clinical and Translational Science, is open to all roles, including researchers, consultants, residents, fellows, students and allied health employees. The goal of the event is to promote Mayo's entrepreneurial community and develop solutions for unmet patient needs.

“We continue to receive incredibly unique, forward-thinking inventions and solutions as this event continues to grow and gain popularity,” says Maarten Rotman, Ph.D., who leads the Office of Entrepreneurship at Mayo Clinic in Florida. “This year was no different. Although we had to move to an online format using a newer technology platform, we still had a great turnout, along with strong potential for commercialization of these projects.”

The next step for the winning teams is to either move to another level of competition: Walleye Tank, a nationally open contest on Mayo's Rochester campus (held virtually this year on Dec. 11), or receive additional funding or support from the Office of Entrepreneurship to develop a prototype of their health care innovation.

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Tags: Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa, Alligator Tank, Alvaro Moreno Aspitia, Aziza Nassar, Center for Clinical and Translational Science, Charles Bruce, Daniel Trifiletti, entrepreneurship, Ernest Bouras, Ian Makey, James Meschia, Johnny Sandhu, Kaisorn Chaichana, Lina Marenco-Hillembrand, Matthew Hall, medical innovation, Michael Albus, Michelle Freeman, Nathan Wiedenman, News, Office of Entrepreneurship, Rickey Carter, Sunil Krishnan, Thien Huynh, Walleye Tank, Young Erben, Yuguang Liu

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