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Supporting Entrepreneurs at the Frontlines of Health

a Q&A with Dr. Corinna Lathan

MIT Solve is a marketplace for social impact innovation. In order to yield the results we strive for–finding and supporting the most promising innovations within our four challenges–it’s critical that we have guidance from those who have first-hand social entrepreneurship experience. To that end, we jump at the chance to connect with members of our Challenge Leadership Group. We most recently sat down with Dr. Corinna Lathan, CEO, Co-Founder, and Board Chair of AnthroTronix, Inc., a biomedical engineering research and development company creating diverse products in robotics, digital health, wearable technology, and augmented reality. As part of Solve’s Challenge Leadership Group, Dr. Lathan was a judge for our Chronic Diseases challenge and Brain Health challenge. (You can submit a solution here for our new Frontlines of Health challenge between now and July 1!)

We discussed a variety of topics with Dr. Lathan, including the importance of mentorship and ‘paying it forward’ when young startups ask for advice, her favorite aspect of working with the Brain Health Solver class–and why help identifying pain points is the most important value-add to an entrepreneur.

  1. In addition to supporting the Brain Health Solver class, you’re a serial entrepreneur yourself; what new trends are exciting you today?

Right now, I’m looking at the broader field of digital health and functional assessment, in order to answer the question, how can we find more ways to ‘quantify wellness?’ With wearables, we have an incredible amount of data around daily health, but we need to take it a step further and figure out how we go from diagnostic and treatment to wellness and prevention. Ultimately it’s about how we can keep ourselves healthy so we can do the things we love, (for some of us it’s work!), longer. There’s a lot of interesting studies about how caregivers for sick family members are at high health risk due to the lack of sleep and other factors; so we need to get ahead of that by quantifying wellness and keeping people healthier longer.

  1. What has been your favorite aspect of working with Solve?

Solve has done a great job at finding an ethnically and culturally diverse cross-section of entrepreneurs. This includes academics, mom and pop shops and everything in between; it’s great to see how far the net has been cast–and how truly global this initiative has become. From a Challenge Leadership Group perspective, we’ve been very open to saying “this is a great idea, even if this Solver has little background or credentials–let’s give them a shot,” which is refreshing. A traditional Venture Capital (VC) firm wouldn’t be as inclined to take those risks, so the model sets us up for acknowledging great business plans and ideas–and pushing or supporting that Solver to keep the momentum going. There’s much less of the fear of failure you find in the VC world.

  1. You’ve advised Solve for two cycles now; what are some lessons learned in terms of what a Solver really needs to get a startup launched?

I’ve always subscribed to the “pay it forward” philosophy. One Solver from last year’s Brain Health challenge had come to my office to pitch an idea prior to joining Solve, and when I saw her at an event on MIT’s campus, she was so grateful that I had met with her team–and even said that it inspired them to keep going when startup challenges felt insurmountable. From my perspective, of course I was going to meet with them, but it’s that generosity of time and advice that budding entrepreneurs really respond to in a positive way.

Building this community and finding ways to reinforce it–like each Solver having access to the rest of the Solver class–is going to be hugely helpful for these social impact companies moving forward. Help identifying pain points is another crucial area. Every Solver will have a different set of pain points; can we provide a venue where those pain points are articulated as they shift every year, month, or even day? Solving for pain points is really where MIT Solve’s work comes into focus.

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