A Student’s Perspective: The Sanofi Open Innovation Challenge Discusses its Own Challenges (and Advantages) to Putting Together An Event of Its Magnitude

Stephanie Vatz is a student at Columbia’s School of Journalism. She is one of ten students providing on the ground coverage of SMWNYC- all from the student’s perspective. She is providing her report from How We Did It: The Sanofi Open Innovation Challenge. You can follow Stephanie on Twitter at @stephvatz.

Last year, French pharmaceutical company Sanofi partnered with Data Design Diabetes for the Sanofi Open Innovation Challenge. The Challenge took young entrepreneurial innovators and health experts alike to develop a way to improve the quality of life and care for the over 25.8 million Americans living with diabetes.

To explain how the Open Innovation Challenge came to be, Michele Polz, Senior Director of Patient Solutions at Sanofi, and Aman Bhandari, Senior Advisor to the CTO of Health & Human Services came together on Feb. 15, discussing their initial project and upcoming the 2012 competition.

Polz described her desire to move “beyond the drugs” as a diabetes franchise and look at new models for treating diabetes including new technologies and designs. From this, stemmed the challenge–a five-step process that gives away over $200,000 in prize money and grants health entrepreneurs the chance to raise seed money and get their name out.

This year’s process is as follows: first, Data Design Diabetes and Sanofi use online crowd-sourcing to figure out what areas of diabetes care need the most repairing. Next, everyone can submit ideas for designing a product that addresses what matters most to people living with diabetes in the United States. Five of these entries are picked to win $20,000 and to enter an intensive project mentorship program and design boot camp. From there two are selected and given an additional $10,000 to bring their projects to real communities and one winner is chosen.

Last year’s winner, Ginger.io also appeared at the Health and Wellness Hub talk to describe their behavior analytics company that uses a mobile sensing platform to change patient behavior depending on health conditions and symptoms.

For the 2012 Challenge, the crowd-sourcing online survey has just been closed and the company is selecting a focus for this year’s competition, but the team seems almost as excited for other company challenges that have been inspired by Sanofi.

“It’s great to see someone who’s an entrepreneur and innovator, up there on stage with someone who is a major player in their field,” said Bhandari. “We are very serious about spurring innovation and entrepreneurship, whether it be in the public sector or private sector…We just want to promote the best ideas.”