Logo: University of Southern California

A USC Lab For Digital Health Innovators

D-Health will provide a rapid prototyping and testing environment for USC student-entrepreneurs focused on healthcare information technology
By: Marc Ballon
March 03, 2015 —

D-Health co-founders, from left to right, Prashant Samant, Jared Goodner and Hugh Gordon
D-Health, a digital innovation lab created by USC’s Health, Technology and Engineering program (HTE@USC), held its official launch Feb. 26 before an overflowing and enthusiastic crowd in Ronald Tutor Hall.

D-Health aims to provide a rapid prototyping and testing environment for the USC entrepreneurship community focused on healthcare information technology. A major goal: reduce the cost, time and complexity of developing healthcare platforms and applications that would improve overall medical care.

By bringing together engineers, medical researchers, hospital executives and other industry players, the lab will foster healthcare innovation at “the intersection of engineering, entrepreneurship and medicine,” USC Viterbi Dean Yannis C. Yortsos said.

At the launch event, a red ribbon – in a loop with a twist – was cut to create two interconnecting rings, one symbolizing medicine and the other engineering.

D-Health Removes Obstacles
The interdisciplinary D-Health teams will have access to mentors, workshops, hospital administrators, consultants, data sets, and simulated hospital IT environments to help them take their ideas from conception to real-world testing, said Prashant Samant, one of the lab’s co-founders. Members will interact at HTE facilities and partnering spaces throughout campus.

“We want to remove obstacles to creating effective solutions and companies that can solve some of the biggest challenges in healthcare,” Samant said.

Critics have long characterized the American healthcare system as overly complex, slow to embrace change and highly bureaucratic. The absence of easily accessible electronic medical records that would allow entrepreneurs to create better medical applications and platforms represents just one of the many problems plaguing the industry.

D-Health will help break down some of those barriers, said Sanjit Mahanti, executive administrator for hospital performance at Keck Hospital of USC.

“To assume that the [healthcare] industry that was forced to modernize with the adoption of electronic medical records could be the same industry to make meaningful use of this data is unrealistic,” he said. “D-Health allows us to tap into a different talent pool to solve the problems we want to solve.”

Among those potential problem-solvers are Dinesh Seemakurty and Michael Maylahn, co-founders of Stasis Labs. The six-month-old startup, which just joined D-Health, plans to build health-monitoring technologies for developing countries to track heart rates, blood oxygen levels and other functions.

Dinesh Seemakurty and Michael Maylahn of Stasis Labs
Through D-Health, Stasis executives will have the opportunity to shadow physicians at partnering hospitals such as Keck Hospital of USC and Children's Hospital Los Angeles, giving them invaluable insights about existing technologies and doctor needs, CEO Seemakurty said. That kind of information will allow the young company to build and design a better system.

“We’re trying to bring the quality of first-world healthcare to the world’s emerging markets,” said Seemakurty, a USC Viterbi biomedical engineering student pursuing a joint bachelor’s-master’s degree.

At present, D-Health has about 20 students working on five projects. The lab is open to all USC students and not just HTE participants, which “widens the circle,” said George Tolomiczenko, HTE@USC director.

Samant and two former HTE students, USC Viterbi’s Jared Goodner and Keck’s Hugh Gordon, founded D-Health. In a pre-launch test conducted last year, D-Health rapidly prototyped four apps in less than half the time that it typically takes for healthcare information technology software, Samant said.

USC Viterbi and Innovation
D-Health is just the latest example of USC Viterbi’s commitment to innovation.

Two years ago, the school launched the Viterbi Startup Garage, the only regional technology incubator focused on supporting companies that are led or co-led by engineers. Five companies from the Garage’s first class have raised more than $6 million in follow-on funding. The Maseeh Entrepreneurship Prize Competition, a business plan competition, has spawned several promising companies. Among them is the sports analytics firm, Second Spectrum, which counts the Los Angeles Clippers as a client.

Recently, USC became the home to a new hub of innovation, one of only seven in the nation, aimed at helping high-tech startups succeed. A three-year, $3.5-million grant from the National Science Foundation will help create an I-Corps Node at USC, to unite USC Viterbi and USC Marshall with partners at UCLA and the California Institute of Technology.

"We encourage innovation and entrepreneurship across the board," Dean Yortsos said.