McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

McMaster students compete in global contest to help urban slums

Published: March 13, 2014
Hult prize competitors: Ceilidh MacPhail, Tyler Vaivada, Katherine Liston, Elisabeth Huang and Christina Oh
Hult prize competitors (from left): Ceilidh MacPhail, Tyler Vaivada, Katherine Liston, Elisabeth Huang and Christina Oh

A five-member team of students in McMaster University's Master of Science in Global Health program are returning home after competing in San Francisco in regional finals for the international Hult Prize, the world's largest student competition for creating a business solution to a global problem.

Now in its fifth year, the competition brings teams together in six global locations — Boston, San Francisco, London, Dubai, Shanghai and Sao Paulo — to pitch their start-up business ideas. The theme of this year's challenge is to design a business solution for non-communicable (chronic) disease in urban slums, because a quarter of the roughly one billion slum dwellers in the world suffer from chronic disease.

McMaster's team — Ceilidh MacPhail, Elisabeth Huang, Katherine Liston, Tyler Vaivada and Christina Oh — pitched their innovative idea before a panel of judges from business, industry, large corporations, small start-up companies and management at the Hult International Business School, competing against 54 teams on the weekend. A team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology won and will continue to the final competition which has a $1M prize to implement their project.

Using the slums in Chennai, India, as a case study, McMaster's team proposed the development of a mobile health app that brings together the prevention aspect of health with an intervention, such as lifestyle changes.

"The app is targeting lifestyle from a slum dweller's accessibility to cheaper prices for food and drugs to having a community platform where they share their views on different services they've found," said Liston. "Healthy lifestyle tips can also be spread through the app."

The app serves as a platform for public health messages as well as an avenue for crowdsourcing data, such as reviews of specific health services, with the opportunity to upload best prices for healthy food and drugs.

"Accountability is something we want to make a key part of the app — holding health care providers accountable," Vaivada said. "If people can upload views about certain health care providers, and share that information with others, it puts pressure on health care services (to provide better care)."

"The hope is that this lifestyle app, with its consumer focus, could be a starting point for dialogue about healthy lifestyles and what people can do to lead healthier lives," said Liston. Financially, it could be supported through advertising from large companies, retailers and private clinics.

The biggest challenge faced by the team, as Master of Science in Global Health candidates, was to reorient their thinking. Coming from a scientific background, they were unfamiliar with acceptable language and style in making a business pitch.

Andrea Baumann, associate vice-president, global health, said the students' participation in the Hult challenge is "a unique opportunity to represent McMaster University to a broader world at a major international event."

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