Innovation Acceleration Program: Looking Back and Moving Forward

In October 2010, Children’s Hospital Boston’s first Chief Innovation Officer, Naomi Fried, PhD, was busy preparing for the launch of two grant programs funded by the then-newly-founded Innovation Acceleration Program (IAP). The programs—the Innovestment Grant and the FIT Awards—were designed to supercharge innovation and entrepreneurial spirit among Children’s employees, by providing resources and support to empower them in developing and testing their novel ideas. At the time, Fried was just worried about getting enough applications to justify either grant’s existence. What a difference a year makes.

Under the leadership of Fried, and Pedro Del Nido, MD, Children’s chief of Cardiac Surgery, the IAP is preparing for their third round of Innovestment Grants, supporting and stimulating early prototypes and pilots of short duration projects—most completed in 6 months or less. Interdisciplinary collaboration is encouraged, and special consideration is offered for disruptive innovation.

In the program’s first year, they funded projects ranging from technology-enhanced toys to help children with severe emotional regulation disorders, to innovative new ways to close complex ventricular septal defects; from a remote monitoring program for kids on home ventilators, to elastic multi-electrode ECG strips. Originally concerned about not getting enough applicants, Fried now says they have more outstanding proposals than the IAP can fund. “Even the projects that don’t receive grants represent some amazing works,” she says. “We had one proposal that we had to turn down only because it was designed for field work, not the hospital. Thankfully, we were able to provide the applicant with guidance on other funding possibilities.”

The IAP in partnership with Dan Nigrin, MD, Chief Information Officer, presented two rounds of Fasttrack Innovation in Technology (FIT) Awards, which offer software development resources, including a team of experienced software developers, for innovative clinical software projects with innovators. True to their name, these awards are committed to rapid cycle development, with most projects completed in less than 3 months. Winners have ranged from Courtney Cannon, MBA, who developed an “electronic white-board,” that accurately reflects the patients on a given unit in real-time, providing essential clinical data and improved patient throughput, to Debra Weiner, MD, whose Bidirectional Electronic Alert Patient-centered Provider Encounter Record (BEAPPER) iPhone application notifies clinicians of a lab order’s progress and provides text message capabilities about their patient’s current status and needs.

Between grant cycles, the IAP keeps the buzz about innovation at Children’s flowing with their monthly Innovators’ Forum. Open to all employees the always-packed forum features guest speakers and innovators looking for input and feedback on their ideas. The presentations cover innovations from all corners of the hospital, whether it’s Pierre Dupont, PhD, presenting the next generation of miniature surgical robots, or Parking and Commuter Services Manager Jim Smith walking the audience through the process his team used to pinpoint and act on areas for improvement in the hospital’s valet parking program.

With the success of the Innovestment Grants and the FIT Awards, and the Innovators’ Forum continuing to draw a packed house every month, it should be no surprise that Fried has big plans for avoiding a sophomore slump in the IAP’s second year. So, what’s next?

After piloting for the past year, IAP is launching a social networking platform to help innovators collaborate and connect to resources. The platform is titled SPARC for Social Platform for Accelerating Resources and Connections.

In collaboration with Learning & Development and Environmental Health & Services, the IAP is developing an ongoing series on Innovation Workshops. “Our grants programs provide the funding to make your vision a reality, but we need to step back and create a platform to share valuable tools and resources that will hopefully inspire and encourage anyone to innovate,” says Fried. The IAP is designing two workshop formats—a two-hour “jumpstart in innovation” and longer session that will teach specific tools around process improvement. The jumpstart session is piloting this month with Nursing at Children’s, and Fried hopes to pilot the second workshop in early 2012.

Three new programs are in the development stage. One, tentatively named the FIT Catalyst Consulting Services, would be designed for the innovator who needs support around technology innovation from the Initiation phase to the optimization phase. Recipients will receive feedback and help with brainstorming and crafting a proposal. The IAP will also provide help in navigating the process of working with outside contractors and guidance on topics such as requirements gathering and analysis, contracts, build vs. buy issues, vendor proposals, time and cost estimates and system integration.

A second program, in collaboration with Mark Puder, MD, PhD, is a mentoring program for Junior Faculty. As a department the IAP is working to spot unmet needs in innovation and collaborate with others outside the department to provide a solution.

The third new initiative may center around an area that Fried expects the IAP to be focusing on heavily in their second year—and for years to come: Teleheath. In the next year, Fried expects to see Children’s break new ground in the areas of remote care delivery and virtual physician-to-physician consultation. “Because Children’s has a reputation as the best in pediatric care, families come here from all over the world, “ she says. “We have a number of projects in the works with the goal of flipping that around, and making our specialists and their expertise available at any time, anywhere in the world.”