Six Questions with MIT Hacking Medicine’s Freddy Nguyen

March 3, 2020
Source Editors

MIT Hacking Medicine started small in 2011 but today its Grand Hack event in April attracts over 400 people from all over the world. What is it about this event and the Massachusetts digital health ecosystem that attracts so many people to Cambridge every year? We talked with MIT Hacking Medicine’s Freddy Nguyen to learn more about how this event started, how it has grown, and what we can expect at this year’s event in April.

1. How did MIT Hacking Medicine start?

MIT Hacking Medicine was started by a group of students at MIT that saw the value of bringing the hackathon model, especially the design thinking process, to focus on the problem, the end-user, and the patient to healthcare.  At the time, we saw a lot of good ideas that occurred in the silos of research labs and seemed to be getting stuck there. New technologies were being developed but had not been developed in the context of its ultimate application, the end-user, with an eye towards its viability and feasibility of being able to integrate into existing infrastructure, clinical workflows, user workflows, or patient daily living.

2. Over 50 companies have been created as a result of MIT Hacking Medicine events. What are some of the Massachusetts companies that formed as result of this event?

Most of our companies have had their roots in Massachusetts: PillPack, Podimetrics, Twiage, and Cake for example. Another company, Smart Scheduling, later became arsenal health and was acquired by athenahealth.

3. Last year over 400 people participated in the MIT Grand Hack. What is it about the Massachusetts digital health ecosystem that attracts so many to this event?

There are many reasons: this unique ecosystem across multiple sectors from universities to institutes to hospitals and health systems to incubators and accelerators to private industry have not just a presence here in Boston, but are also global leaders in the digital health innovation space.

The second is the unparalleled caliber of the people here in the Massachusetts ecosystem.

Third, MIT Hacking Medicine has played such an integral part of the ecosystem here over the years that we know how to best help our hackathon teams navigate the ecosystem and figure out their trajectory towards being viable startups.

Lastly, the collegiality of the various ecosystem partners here in Massachusetts is equally unparalleled where we all work together to best help these burgeoning startups towards their next milestone.

 4. What are the four tracks for participants in this year’s MIT Grand Hack?

Although the specific tracks have not been finalized yet, cancer prevention, digital health, precision medicine, and aging are just some of the overarching themes that are likely to be seen at the MIT Grand Hack. These themes are being sourced not just from our partners, but from the ecosystem, and also from the participant applications - a mixed top down and bottom up approach.

5. Do participants in this year’s MIT Grand Hack need to be part of a team or can they just show up on their own?

We highly discourage pre-formed teams. We highly encourage the teams to form on site. Even if they come in as teams, we often try to break them up and form new teams at the event itself. We have found the highest success with teams being built on site that come without pre-conceived ideas. This allows for the co-creation process to happen more organically in identification and definition of the problem and in the co-development of the solution from a very interdisciplinary and diverse team that cover clinicians, scientists, engineers, user designers, patients, payers, business, and legal backgrounds.

6.  Where can people find out more about the MIT Grand Hack?  or