On Friday, MedCity News received a tip that the 2017 HITLAB World Cup of Voice-Activated Technology in Diabetes contest was being conducted in a less-than-transparent fashion.
The contest launched in late August and is one to which Novo Nordisk has lent its heft. On Oct. 23, the five finalists were announced. The winner will be announced Nov. 29 in New York City after a round of pitches at the 2017 HITLAB Innovators Summit and stands to gain $50,000. The total prize money being awarded, including that amount, is $75,000.
But here’s the rub. The official contest website, however, had a blank submissions page even after the deadline for the application ended. The five finalist entries were nowhere to be found on the website. They are T2D2, Palette, Lighthouse Voice, My Diabetes Coach and Proof.Work. And by the way, there are five prizes too that will be awarded in New York.
So MedCity News sent an email to the HITLAB generic media email address to which spokesman Ken Gardner responded. Among several questions, we asked why the submissions page was blank even though finalists had been announced. We also sent a tweet to Novo Nordisk about the contest given that @novonordiskus promoted the finalists announcement. The contest is being run on the Devpost platform and MedCity sent an email to the generic support email address as well.
Even though many submissions are belatedly visible, there are lingering issues.
Let’s consider one criterion for eligibility per the contest website:
Though contestants may be affiliated with larger organizations, for the Challenge a team of eligible individuals may not consist of more than three (3) individuals.
One finalist — Palette — lists nine team members and the submissions to the Devpost platform was created by four people. Look closer to find out that the Palette entry is actually to a different contest altogether and was created eight months ago. By contrast, the Novo Nordisk/HITLAB challenge was officially announced only on Aug. 25.
Another finalists’ submission — if T2D2’s even can be even called that — is bare bones. The submission links to the website, which contains a video of the solution.
But search the submissions gallery (again as of 10:00 PT on Oct. 30) and you won’t find the submissions of other finalists — Lighthouse Voice and My Diabetes Coach.
How were these five selected? No answers to that yet.
The contest was billed as an international one. Of the five finalists chosen, two appear to be based in California or have strong connections to it.
Palette is based in San Francisco and was part of the first cohort of a program run by seed investor Launchpad Digital Health, also based in that city. Another finalist — Lighthouse Voice — is a portfolio company of Launchpad Digital. The tipster noted that the CEO of Launchpad Digital was on a panel at the HITLAB symposium in Palo Alto on Oct. 23 where the finalists were announced.
The California-heavy connection aside, T2D2 is the third American finalist in what is supposed to be a global contest. It is a research project from the Columbia University Department of Biomedical Informatics.
Proof.Work Health is based in the U.K. And My Diabetes Coach has been developed at the University of Melbourne, Australia. In other words, a contest that is highlighting global innovation has three finalists based in the U.S.
Arguments for the expected American exceptionalism aside, this is a bit too much. Here are some facts that are important to innovation, per an upcoming California conference focused on cross-border investments.
So the question is, does any of this — the unavailability of participant submissions, the flouting of eligibility criteria, the timeline mismatch and entries to other contests being resubmitted — matter beyond to the individual entrepreneurs who applied and didn’t get selected to be a finalist?
The answer is a resounding yes.
Innovation and awarding innovation needs to happen in broad daylight for entrepreneurs, investors and every participant who calls herself part of the innovation ecosystem.
And for companies like Novo Nordisk that lend their name to such contests to encourage new ideas and perhaps to discover new startups and entrepreneurs, they should likely be demanding more from their innovation partners.
A conversation with Sarah Hogan of McDermott, Will & Emery
President and CEO of BioEnterprise, Aram Nerpouni, sheds light on the biomedical investment and innovation climate in the Midwest and how Cleveland is contributing to the region’s growth
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