Posted on Nov 4, 2013 in , | 0 comments

TrialConnect won the top prize of $7,000 at UC Berkeley’s 3rd annual Hacking Health 2013 competition. Our team, made up of Pat Salber MD MBA, Tammy Tran, Jonathan Tsai, Zach Zeleznick, & myself, created a mobile app prototype, TrialConnect, for the Genentech challenge.

The app performs clinical trial source verification — to match patients with a clinical trial’s inclusion & exclusion criteria — as well as guide clinicians at the point of care for each patient to cut down on paperwork.

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The business problem that we proposed solving helps reduce the amount of errors and streamlines data collection with a secure app and an intuitive user interface. This makes clinical trials easier to conduct and more profitable for pharmaceutical companies and other organizations performing trials with patients.

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Assembling a winning team sans attitude

We formed our team well before the start of the event. Competitions like this tend to go much more smoothly when working with trustworthy, competent people, embodying the UC Berkeley-Haas School of Business spirit of “confidence without attitude” (well, at least the “without attitude” part). And my goal was to learn from great people and have fun along the way, without letting strong personalities get in the way. To kick-start this, I invited talented people to work together closely for the 40+ hours of the event.

It felt like a great combination. Pat Salber — a phenomenal emergency & internal medicine physician who did an enormous amount of work with the Institute of Medicine and at UCSF, the healthcare delivery industry & now the health tech industry, provided the strategy and the direction of the product. Zach Zeleznick brought fresh ideas, delivered intelligence from the myriad of mentors & pitch coaches, assembled the business model, and executed whenever tasks needed to be done. Tammy Tran coached the speech, crafted Google Docs slides (along with us), and also executed like Zach. Jonathan Tsai nearly pulled an all-nighter crafting a killer prototype demo with a working interface as our sole software engineer, which helped us win points with some of the more technically-minded judges.

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Listening at the Hacking Health Hack-a-thon

The absolute key to winning: listen, listen, listen.

Friday was devoted to networking over hors d’oeurves and listening to talks from industry veterans such as Jeff Tangney, founder of Doximity. Pomp and circumstance? Not quite: judges and sponsors were on hand clarifying the parameters of the challenges which were radically different from what was presented on the competition website. Attending these talks, then, absolutely helped our team win because we listened to what they wanted.

And we continued listening. All throughout Saturday, while I designed and Jonathan coded, Pat, Tammy, and Zach went from mentor to mentor and coach to coach soaking up knowledge about the industry. Pat even connected us with Dov Michaeli MD PhD, former CMO of Aphton Corporation & a former UCSF medical department chair, to learn more about how clinical trials are delivered (it involves tons and tons of paperwork and is prone to error). They did an enormous amount of legwork studying the industry, the competition, and the business.

Key: deliver what they want.

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From interface to prototype: putting together a winning demo

One of my contributions for our team was designing the app’s user experience and workflow, on both paper and Adobe Illustrator. I first sketched out as many user interfaces as I could in all out in my Moleskine Evernote notebook. Then, I rapidly converted them using a Wacom Graphire 4 tablet onto Adobe Illustrator, borrowing from Android’s user interface library. We also borrowed an interface paradigm of drag-and-drop Curriculum Vitae elements from Jonathan Tsai’s Talentral career management platform start-up, and used that to have drag-and-drop medical record elements for our patient.

Adobe Illustrator mock-ups split across 15+ artboards helped, because they were quickly modifiable. Illustrator’s Layers allowed us to modify and tweak elements. And Illustrator’s Symbols function allowed us to propagate and modify elements quite easily. We didn’t have to dabble converting back and forth between Omnigraffle or other programs.

Jonathan Tsai put put together a working, large-screen friendly HTML5 tablet interface demo based on Hacktoolkit. His prototype was faithful to Android design paradigms (even for an HTML5 app), using Javascript to drive the logic behind the switches, and allowed us to confidently demo on stage. One thing I failed to do early on was deliver the user interface to him earlier, so poor Jonathan was the last one working in the middle of the night!

One of the consistent comments we got from judges was that they felt like our product was finished and very attractive. One of them even asked us, “What did you build during this session?” and we were able to say that we did it all within 40 hours.

Key: user interface can make your product unique.

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Delivering a killer pitch in 3 minutes

Most hack-a-thons allow their contestants only 3 minutes to present.

We were able to communicate our problem; demo our solution; and our business model of customers, value proposition, and expected profit & revenue, all within 3 minutes.

As part of our exercise, we got support from Haas School of Business pitch coaches, such as Luke Johnson MBA (VP of Business Development at CHRISTUS Health), and learned that:

  • our pain point we’re solving had to be communicated in the first 30 seconds
  • 1/3 of our hack-a-thon’s presentation had to be focused on the business model. Interestingly, this particular hack-a-thon was sponsored by a business school with judges in management and venture capital. Thus, the emphasis was far less on actual code or product prototyping and more on concept.
  • the business model had to include (1) what we charge, (2) how we will charge it, (3) how much revenue in $x, and (4) demonstrating the return on investment to them: “this product reduces cost by $y to them.”

Another coach advised us:

  • to speak in the judges’ language. Knowing the industry lingo helps.
  • to have a roadmap for going to market (which we ended up leaving out of the presentation due to time).

Tammy manned the computer and her hand on a stopwatch, and she delivered brutally honest feedback on what to cut and things I did wrong. I drew from my experience lecturing to pre-meds at UC Berkeley, presentation drills at the UC Irvine Merage School of Business, and countless hours of rounding in the hospital at UC Davis Health, which enormously helped me — as an introvert — to reduce presentation nervousness. In the end, I made it barely over 3 minutes.

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What an experience

I’m grateful myself for having shared a fruitful weekend with such talented friends. But even more, I’m glad I got to meet passionate people at this event, people who want to change the world. One person I met started a non-profit to change the management of chronic conditions. Another was an MBA-MPH UC Berkeley student working on geriatrics care.

We’ll definitely do this again.

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