In early March, COVID-19 was just starting to etch its way into our daily reality as Americans. A few short weeks later, many of us were under stay-at-home order and having serious concerns about public health and the impending economic crisis. RIoT, like other organizations, was not only learning to adjust to the constraints the pandemic presented, but wondering what we could do to help. At RIoT, we have a “bias towards action” motto. So we immediately put our heads together and launched a new and exciting initiative called MISSION-R.
MISSION-R was an initiative designed to support innovation for public and economic health in the aftermath of COVID-19. Inspired by themes from Mission Impossible, MISSION-R was RIoT’s moonshot response to COVID-19. We started by reaching out to our community with a call for solutions. Project ideas were submitted that could support population health initiatives, sustain small businesses during economic recession, boost the economy and otherwise address the reality of living in a pandemic.
Six teams were chosen for a six-week project sprint, during which RIoT, along with MISSION-R sponsors NC IDEA, Cisco, Aeva Labs, Klarrio, Soto IP and Ubidots, were able to provide important resources like funding, technology, a prototyping lab, mentorship and network introductions. (Read more about each team here.)
According to Rachael Newberry, RIoT’s Program Director, each of these teams brought a special sense of urgency and energy to their projects, creating a supportive, action-oriented community. Over the course of the project sprint, there was a lot of exciting forward movement and success. Here are a few highlights!
Jack Twiddy, a PhD candidate under the UNC-NCSU Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering, had been working closely with healthcare professionals as the pandemic hit. Through his first-hand witness of conversations and contingency plans on how NC hospital systems planned to mitigate the anticipated shortage of ventilators, Jack got to work on a better feedback system for manual ventilation. Bag valve masks were the manual ventilation devices that hospitals were prepared to widely deploy, but Jack identified a critical problem in the system; healthcare providers manually ventilating a patient did not have a clear understanding of whether they were applying pressure accurately to meet each individual patient’s needs. Through MISSION-R, Jack worked tirelessly to prototype a feedback system that could display critical data on the performance of bag valve masks, of which RIoT was able to support prototyping costs and provide mentors for design reviews.
Socialize leveraged MISSION-R for active prototyping of their networking platform which aims to simulate the real-time spontaneous conversations that happen at in-person events. RIoT facilitated a beta-test of the networking tool, which provided the opportunity for the largest simultaneous audience to test the technology to date.
Acta Solutions and Trilliott each used MISSION-R to drive expansions to their existing startup product offerings. RIoT helped connect Trilliott and their partners Emblem and Alfred Williams & Company to hospital systems to help review their asset management platform for fast and efficient deployment of field hospitals and distribution of test kits. Similarly, RIoT connected Acta to municipal government to explore how their natural language processing algorithms could be used to analyze public comments and inquiries and help prioritize how government serves citizen needs during a crisis.
MISSION-R was a grand experiment in a time of crisis. Not every project has moved forward. Two of the teams discovered organizations with alternative, stronger solutions to theirs and decided it did not make sense to compete with them. But every team made progress. One team, Acta Solutions, has even advanced into the RIoT Accelerator to explore putting a sustainable business model around their solution.
RIoT learned that it is possible to crowdsource entrepreneurial solutions to really hard problems, even with the constraints imposed by COVID-19. We are now talking internally about what our next MISSION-R challenge should be. Imagine what might come out when those constraints are removed.