Lee Shapiro

How Powerful Healthcare and Education Concepts are Blossoming at the University of Illinois

By Lee Shapiro

Animated YouTube videos to educate people in underdeveloped countries about medical advances and a portable HIV test lab the size of a toaster are just two of the recent innovations that have come out of the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana.

I was invited to the University of Illinois by the University’s Tech Transfer office in February. I spent a full day in meetings with entrepreneurs including some enterprising professors.

I also met with the team at EnterpriseWorks, an incubator on campus. After speaking with so many bright minds about innovative ideas that can make a real difference in our world, I wanted to share a few of the powerful concepts that are blossoming in Champaign.

SAWBO – Scientific Animations Without Borders

I met with the founders of SAWBO, Professor Barry Pittendrigh and Julia Bello Bravo. Their genesis was in creating animated videos to educate those in underdeveloped countries about important agricultural advances. They have a library of animations and voices in multiple languages and accents that are sensitive to local needs.  Their YouTube channel provides some great examples. The organization’s work on cholera and malaria prevention is illustrative of the impact they can have. Their work has been shared with the Clinton Global Initiative and the Gates Foundation.


Professor John Rogers is a brilliant serial entrepreneur. A former Bell Labs scientist, he has 20 different projects underway at any given time with some 200 researchers working with him. He has recently spawned three companies – one of which is MC10. MC10 creates flexible, stretchable electronics – which will be used in a variety of ways, including as medical sensors.

Daktari Diagnostics

Professor Rashid Bashir – another serial entrepreneur – is one of the founders of Daktari Diagnostics, an organization that has been funded in part by Merck Global Health Initiatives. Prof. Bashir and his team have developed a truly portable HIV test lab, the size of a toaster, that is being sold to governments in Africa. His work is now focused on creating a full cytology lab, which will measure the complete CBC. In addition, Prof. Bashir is working with theMayo-Illinois partnership in the areas of integrating genomic and EHR data (“clinomics”), point of care sensors and the microbiome.


I had the opportunity to meet with Lesley Millar-Nicholson, the energetic director of EnterpriseWorks, members of her team, and Tim Hoerr, one of the entrepreneurs-in-residence (from Serra Capital).  There are some 22 companies in the incubator at any time, receiving assistance from the staff as well as access to programs for professional support and funding.  Some of the interesting companies in education and healthcare that I met with included:

  • Common Ground Publishing, who have created a product called Scholar. It is a learning and collaboration platform that has been in the works for 5+ years and is in use at the University.
  • EText, which delivers textbooks and course content in multimedia format.
  • GlucoSentient, a company transforming the glucometer into a device that can detect non-glucose targets.
  • Neurogito, which has a software update for wearable devices that allows the device to capture information that is beyond what they collect today.  For example, it allows the user to train a wearable device, like a Nike Fuel Band, to recognize that user is doing curls, hammer curls, tricep extensions and more.


Professor Carl Gunter is the lead for a $15M federally funded project (other sites include Northwestern, Vanderbilt and Johns Hopkins) in healthcare information technology. The Strategic Health IT Advanced Research in Security, or SHARPS, has for example, looked at access logs of EHRs to better understand whether there was a security breach or to establish quality controls such as role based protocols for building care teams. The group is also looking at patient consent and document management which will better enable the sharing of Continuity of Care Documents  generated by multiple providers. For example, someone going to the doctor for an ear infection may not want to expose his or her mental health records.


Professor Ian Brooks is the health informatics director for the National Supercomputer at the University of Illinois (NCSA). Prof. Brooks’ team is doing surveillance on disease outbreak. The results of this idea could be influential to pharmaceutical companies, pharmacies and healthcare organizations to help them plan staffing needs. Indicator is currently sharing the data with local health departments.

I am so impressed by the ideas I saw coming to life during my trip to my alma mater. There is real progress being made at the University of Illinois towards developing new technology and innovative ideas to tackle key obstacles within the healthcare and education industries.

At 7wireVentures, we are looking for companies that use the power of mobility, connected devices, the cloud, and sophisticated analytics to further advance industries like healthcare and education. We like to make a difference in things that matter and the ideas and innovations being developed at the University of Illinois are on that same track, pushing the status quo in education and moving the healthcare industry closer to 7wire’s ideal vision of the Intelligent, Connected Health Consumer.