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Starting a Student Org to Solve Medical Problems

When I first started college at the University of Michigan, I had never expected to get involved in entrepreneurship, let alone lead and advise other students in their ventures. Yet here I am, seven years later, one of the founding presidents of Sling Health. Over the past two years of my time in medical school, as part of Sling Health, I’ve helped students from across the university form and develop multidisciplinary teams to address health care problems with innovation and entrepreneurship!

Here is a part of our executive board this year (from left to right): Ayush Arora, Allison Powell, (M2), Mario Russo, and Emily Dixon. Not pictured: Sudharsan Srinivasan (M1), Abhinav Appukutty (M2), and Phillip Yang (M1)

But how did I even get into entrepreneurship?

Oddly, almost overnight. During my senior year studying biomedical engineering at Michigan, I created an alternative communication device for people with ALS with another biomedical engineer. We didn’t want to leave it in the classroom, so I found myself plowing full speed ahead with the venture to hopefully get it to the people who needed it.

Leap ahead to getting into medical school. When I was looking at schools to apply, I had a driving biomedical engineering/design emphasis. Beyond just the medical school itself, would I be able to still pursue my interest in the collaboration of biomedical engineering and medicine?

Through my previous experience in entrepreneurship, I got connected with medical students looking into founding a chapter of Sling Health on campus. Sling Health is a student-run organization that brings together graduate and undergraduate students from multiple disciplines including medicine, engineering, law and business to collaborate and address medical problems. We created an incubator to support team formation, development and acceleration into health care solutions.

The University of Michigan as a whole was the perfect fit for Sling Health. Our task was to unite students with different perspectives but similar passions.

With extraordinary support from the University of Michigan Medical School, the Zell Lurie Institute, the AAMC, and our national Sling Health chapter in St. Louis, we were able to found our chapter and hit the ground running.

We are now in our third year as a Sling Health chapter, coming full circle to our first event of the year, Problem Day! During the last month, we had interested members apply, including team leaders interested in leading a project. Our team leaders, equipped with a couple of clinical problems they are interested in solving, pitched ideas to members. Members then mixed in with the leads, discussing backgrounds that align with one another to find a project they fit with.

Teams forming at Problem Day this year

Looking forward, teams will present their progress at a series of Design Reviews throughout the upcoming year and receive feedback from professors across campus. The faculty are extremely influential in ensuring student success both in and out of the classroom, and many of them take time from their weekends to guide our teams!

Our experiences both define and guide us towards where we want to be. I could not be happier with seeing teams learn, sometimes struggle, but flourish. I had many people who helped guide me through this process when I first started, and getting to be a guide and mentor for others has been such an incredible part of my first two years at the medical school.

Seven years ago, I never would have imagined I would be here today helping push the needle on medical innovation. As I start my clinical rotations, I look forward to seeing Sling Health grow and continue to have a positive impact on the medical entrepreneurship community at Michigan!

Allison Powell is a 2nd year medical student at the University of Michigan who did a T32 NIH research year in Otolaryngology over the past year. She previously finished her undergraduate and masters in Biomedical Engineering here at Michigan. When she isn’t doing Sling Health or research in biomedical device design, she is dancing contemporary and jazz in Biorhythms!